Australian Open 2011: Marking The Continual Rivalry Between Nadal and Federer
Today—the 17th of January—marks the start of the 2011 Australian Open.
History will be made at the Asia-Pacific Grand Slam if Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal clinch the men’s title.
It will be Roger Federer’s 17th major. It will be a Star Trek landmark—going where no man has been before. If Nadal wins, it will be the culmination of the Rafa Slam—an event much anticipated by players and fans.
Of Slams, Serena and Tiger
The only current player to hold all four Grand Slams simultaneously is Serena Williams. The younger Williams completed her Serena Slam in January 2003, adding the Australian Open to the French, Wimbledon and US Open crowns she secured in 2002.
(The other Slam of note—in the past decade—is the Tiger Slam. Tiger Woods held all four Slams at the same time—the US Open (2000), the British Open (2000), the PGA championships (2000) and the Masters tournament (2001).)
Nadal, too, has a chance to create some history of his own (an understatement) and goes into the tournament as the experts’ favourite—ranked No.1.
If Nadal were to lose early, would the headlines scream "An Angel Falls From The Sky"?
Or will it be "Raf Times For Nadal"?
A fever and cold coming into the Australian Open means that though the mind is more than willing, the body might not be there.
Is Rafael Nadal Afraid of Roger Federer?
Roger Federer is the reason why Nadal is not the overwhelming odds-on, blue-eyed boy. The iconic Swiss bounced back in the hard-court season and is the form player-of-the-moment. The tie-up with Paul Annacone has borne fruit.
Can the Swiss last the grind of five sets, a sea change from the shorter matches he has dominated in the past four months or so?
Federer's quest for renewed glory begins with his attempt to defend his only major last year.
His form has sent out a warning to all comers. Roger that!
The Challengers I: Novak Djokovic
Close on the heels of the great rivalry are Serbian Djoker—Novak Djokovic, Britain’s Great Hope—Andy Murray and Sweden’s Gasp At Lost Glory—Robin Soderling.
The Serbian is one of only two men—aside from the Mallorcan and the Swiss—in the past three years to clinch a major. The other is Argentinean Juan Martin Del Potro.
Djokovic led his nation to the Davis Cup in 2010. He thus comes into the 2011 edition on a high. His exploits at the 2010 US Open lead him to believe that another major is just around the corner.
Can he reprise his 2008 triumph?
There can be no Vaking the ball past this Djoker!
The Challengers II: Andy Murray and Robin Soderling
Andy Murray has promised much, but failed to deliver at the final hurdle. He and Robin Soderling have made two major finals, but have been unable to convert great runs into podium finishes. Can one of them make it to the final and make it third time lucky?
It will surely be a Whole New Level should any one of them emerge victorious.
Can Murray scotch the whispers about his mental fragility that have reached a crescendo?
Or will Robin soldier his path to the title?
Form Players Can Upset Apple Carts
Form players in the first Slam of the year include Lleyton Hewitt,Gilles Simon,Stanislas Wawrinka,Andy Roddick and the two Davids—Ferrer and Nalbandian.
Can the Davids slay their Goliaths?
Nalbandian finished runner-up to Ferrer at the Auckland Open.The Argentinean is a dangerous floater and takes on home favourite Lleyton Hewitt in the first round.
The Australian No. 1 picked up his first title in the continent in five years, winning the Kooyong AAMI Classic. He eked out wins over Nikolay Davydenko, Mikhail Youzhny and Gael Monfils on his way to the title.
Gilles Simon takes on Taipei’s Yen-Hsun Lu in the first round. His Australian Open will probably end in the second round.No.2 Roger Federer looms large.
The Frenchman won his eighth ATP title beating Serbian No.2 Victor Troicki in the Medibank Sydney International finals.
Victor Is a Troicki Opponent
The Serbian takes on Russian Dimitry Tursunov in the first round. Nicholas Mahut lurks in the second. Troicki is seeded to meet fellow Serb, Novak Djokovic, in the third.
For Novak, it will be a chance to reprise his US Open victory against his compatriot---another Troicki prospect.
"The Battle Of The Serbs" is just one headline one envisions.
Is Nishikori Kei to the Future?
A young player to watch out for—Kei Nishikori.
The Japanese has Russian Nikolay Davydenko to account for in the second round. If he crosses that hurdle, a possible match-up against American teenager Ryan Harrison is on the cards.
Can the Brad Gilbert ward Kei O his adversaries?
The Women’s Draw: Care a Bit for Caroline
The women’s singles will miss Serena Williams. She is undoubtedly the best woman player on tour—when she plays.
The ladies' draw looks a lot more open.
Danish pastry—Caroline Wozniacki—heads the field—the third No .1 in last three years to not have won a major. The Dane has struggled in her recent outings, losing to Vera Zvonareva and Dominika Cibulkova. Can she throw off the self-imposed shackles and clinch her first ever Australian Open?
Can the WOZ take on a new meaning? Wizard of Oz?
Will Kimmy Make It Mother’s Day Out?
Think about Belgians and you have to mention Kim Clijsters. She extended her winning run at the US Open to 21 in a row, winning back-to-back championships in 2009 and 2010.
This is her ninth appearance at the Australian Open. Her best result was the finals in 2004. She has yet to win a major outside the US Open. Can she make this her fourth major?
Lleyton Hewitt was her last Australian conquest. Can she unleash another bulls-eye from her quiver?
Justine:Is There Another Major in the Belgian?
Justine Henin—the other Belgian making a return to centre court—is back from an injury layoff. She made it all the way to the finals last year, losing in three sets to Serena.
Another stunning run at the championship cannot be ruled out.
Can Justine crown herself queen this time around?
Henna's first round opponent is India's Sania Mirza.
The head says yes, the heart wishes no.
Home Court and Advantage: Is Sam Looking a Gift Horse in the Mouth?
The Australians could have one of their own inscribe a name on the trophy. No, it’s not Lleyton Hewitt. Samantha Stosur is the highest ranked local. She comes in at No. 5.
The one-time doubles specialist and journey-woman is a late bloomer on the tour. 2009 and 2010 have witnessed a huge change in her game and attitude.
The Brisbane native will believe that partisan home crowd support can propel her all the way to her first ever major. Can Sam crack the code to Grand Slam glory?
Is There Life in Venus?
Sailing under the radar once more will be the other Williams—Venus. Venus has been written off way too many times in recent times.Yes, she’s 30, but does tennis life end at 30?
She can draw inspiration from Federer, who has eased into a whole new gear. What better way to prove her critics wrong than to take up the gauntlet and make the 2011 Australian Open her own?
The seven time Grand Slam champion has not won a major since Wimbledon 2008. She did finish strongly at the 2010 US Open, losing in the semis to eventual winner Kim Clijsters. Can the erratic Williams conquer her fears and make it her eighth Slam? It will be her first Australian Open title.
The Bridesmaid Goes Shopping in Melbourne
No. 2 seed Vera Zvonareva is always the bridesmaid—never the bride. Two major finals in 2010 shouts volumes for the strides the Russian has made over the past two years.
Her best at the Australian Open is a semi-final result at the 2009 edition. This is her ninth appearance at the Ozzie Slam. Is it going to be her time in the antipodean sun?
Can Zee finish the course with Australian alphabet soup?
Knowing the Chinese Threat: Li Na
The women’s draw has never been as open as it is in this year’s inaugural Grand Slam. (I have to repeat this for emphasis).
Li Na is a front runner to cause an upset. The 28-year-old knocked out Kim Clijsters at the Sydney International, becoming the first Chinese to win a Premier title. She won in straight sets 7-6 (3), 6-3.
Li is seeded ninth. Her first real test should be Belarus’ Victoria Azarenka in the fourth round.
Will it be a Chinese New Year in Melbourne?
The Groth of Australian Talent
Australia has another daughter-of-the-soil to support in Jarmila Groth. She clinched her second WTA Title at Hobart, prevailing over Bethanie Mattek-Sands 6-4, 6-3. She is currently ranked No. 40 in the world.
Her recent results encompass a win over fellow countrywoman Samantha Stosur at Brisbane. Jarmila has to feast on hot cake Yanina Wickmayer, the Belgian No. 3 in the first round.
Maria Sharapova: Need I Say More?
Maria Sharapova is followed closely—by the press and her fans. The Russian has not quite hit her straps. Her form has been a disappointment to her multitude of fans. But she is always a dangerous opponent.
The three-time Grand Slam winner is scheduled to play Thailand’s Tamarine Tanasugarn in the first round. Another Russian, Elena Vesnina, is drawn against her in the second. Kaia Kanepi is her probable third round rival. It will be a battle of big serves and baseline slugging when Maria takes on Venus Williams in the fourth round—a mouth-watering clash.
Sharapova has an interesting bit of trivia against her name. She has won one each of Wimbledon, US Open and Australian Open titles during her chequered career. A French Open title will make it a Career Slam.
Of Jelena and Francesca
Other players to keep an eye on: Serbian Jelena Jankovic and 2010 French Open champion Francesca Schiavone.
Jankovic takes on Russian Alla Kudryavtseva in her opening match.The youngest Bondarenko sister, Kateryna, is her expected second round antagonist. Romanian Alexandra Dulgheru is drawn to meet the Serb in the third round.
It is the fourth round that could prove to be Waterloo for the former World No. 1. Red-hot Alisa Kleybanova bars her progress to the quarter-finals. The Russian almost upset Kim Clijsters at the Sydney International in the semis. The Serb might be a piece of cake.
Francesca Schiavone should have no trouble progressing to the fourth round. Her opponent could be either former champion Justine Henin or two-time Grand Slam winner Svetlana Kuznetsova.
Sania Mirza: Qualifying Her Quality
The Indian interest at the Australian Open centres around Somdev Devvarman, Leander Paes, Mahesh Bhupathi, Rohan Bopanna and Sania Mirza .
Mirza has rediscovered a rich vein of form. She qualified for the Australian Open beating Canada’s Stephanie Dubois 6-2, 6-3 in the third and final round. Can she trick her way past Justine Henin?
Sania Mirza also features in the women's doubles. She partners Czech Renata Voracova. Voracova is ranked 80th in singles and 50th in doubles.
Somdev Is Really,Really Wild
Somdev Devvarman had it much easier, conjuring up a wild card—awarded for his recent Asian Games gold medal finish. He will face Tommy Robredo in the first round. A victory over the unseeded Spaniard will see him take on Mardy Fish or Victor Hanescu. The Fish leads 2-0 in their head-to-head meetings.
A good showing here will see the Indian clamber up the rankings. Watch out, Tommy—Somdev coming through.
Bhupathi, Paes and Bopanna: Doubling Their Rewards
The Indian Express pair of Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi have belied any doubts about their fitness, skills and reflexes, beginning 2011 with a bang. The duo clinched the Aircel Chennai Open, brushing aside all opposition on their way to the title. They carry their form into the Australian Open. Can Leander make the men’s title his 13th major and Mahesh’s 12th?
Also in the fray is Rohan Bopanna’s Peace Locomotive partnering Pakistani Aisam-Al-Qureishi. The pair finished runner-up at the 2010 US Open, losing to the Bryan brothers. What does the Australian Open hold in store for the pacifist chums?
Thought For Today
If you think you can do a thing or think you can't do a thing, you're right.