Another season starts, and brings with it lots of questions and expectations. Will Rafael Nadal bag his fourth Slam is at the top of this list, with the expectations from the reinvigorated Roger Federer, who recently paired with Paul Annacone and had an excellent fall 2010, not far below. Novak Djokovic has given enough to his fans to look forward to after his runners-up performance at New York (and Melbourne is place where he has bagged his maiden major), while Robin Soderling (surprise, surprise! In a repeat of last year, Andy Murray doesn’t find himself at No. 4 at Melbourne) expects to increase his cushion in the top-4 by gaining points even he wins his opener.
Andy Murray, and Great Britain, is still in search for his elusive feat, while the other Andy, Roddick, says he has never been more motivated. There is a small matter of Juan Martin del Potro coming back in the circuit, while Nikolay Davydenko performed well at Doha too.
Lots of action await, and the year’s first Slam is due for a major surprise this year. The last two years had surprisingly predictable finalists considering the history of this court to produce dark-horses (Thomas Johansson, Rainer Schuettler, Marcos Baghdatis, Fernando Gonzalez to name a few) and Melbourne cannot get third time lucky. The distorted seedings due to injuries will make the earlier rounds very interesting, and to add to the unpredictability, we’ll have the wrath of rainfall too, adding the unnecessary breaks in between and spoiling player’s rhythms.
Amidst all this, a draw analysis is an indispensible part of the event, whether important or not, differs with one fan to another.
Rafael Nadal’s Quarter
Promises to be a blockbuster. Right from the start, we will revisit an old rivalry—Lleyton Hewitt vs David Nalbandian. While they are more famous for being the two counter puncher finalists at Wimbledon, it was the last time at Melbourne, when they played an epic, which went 9-7 in the fifth. Both men have lost their firepower since then, but this promises to bring back some of it—the war of two great return of serves, and two great backhands.
Other than this highlight opening round match, this seems to be a fairly routine draw for Nadal, with compatriots Feliciano Lopez expected in the third (Lopez can only trouble Nadal on a fairly fast surface, and given that he was unable to even break him at New York, Melbourne should be a breeze), and David Ferrer expected in the quarter finals. Ferrer has troubled Nadal in past, but that was way back in 2007 where he was having the year of his life, and Nadal was …. well, not quite the Nadal we know today. He may be very well troubled by Marin Cilic, though, even if he is out of form. He likes Melbourne, and would be hoping to repeat his semifinal performance this time around.
Richard Berankis is the kid to look out for after having a great season last year to spring himself in the top-100 and earn a place in the main draw. Michael Llodra, who brought Paris Masters to life last year, is also the one to look out for, even though he may not like the slower surface here.
First Round Matches: Hewitt vs Nalbandian
Dark Horse: David Naldandian
Semifinalist: Rafael Nadal
Robin Soderling’s Quarter
Or if we want to go back to the routine top-4 we have enjoyed for most part of the past two years—Andy Murray’s quarter. This also promises to be the most exciting quarter of them all, with lots of potential upsets on card, and a great chance of a dark horse to emerge. Both the top seeds expect to have smooth sailing for the first three rounds, and things will start getting explosive by then. Murray might get any one from the former finalist, Baghdatis, Melzer, or ….. del Potro, who finds himself nicely hidden in the draw. Soderling would also find it difficult in round four, with any one of Tsonga, Gulbis or Dolgopolov opposite his net. There are also dangerous players in Thomaz Bellucci or Phillip Petzschner lurking around.
All in all, this promises to be a very exciting quarter, and look out for a definite dark horse emerging from here.
Potential matchups to lookout for: Gulbis vs Dolgopolov, Tsonga vs Petzschner, Baghdatis vs del Potro.
Dark Horse: Ernests Gulbis
Semifinalist: Jo Wilfried Tsonga
Novak Djokovic’s Quarter
Again, not much to choose from. Berdych has been out of form since ages, Kohlschreiber has enjoyed some upsets in Melbourne, Verdasco achieved a dream run (albeit with a bitter ending) in 2009, Davydenko almost upset Federer last year, while Djokovic has had his own personal problems with the heat and humidity here. Adding up the veteran Ljubicic, and the unpredictable Almagro and Gasquet only add to the confusion. Djokovic might struggle against the fellow Serb Troicki, while Davydenko and Verdasco may light up the Melbourne night in the third round. All in all, your guess is as good as mine.
Potential matchups to lookout for: Davydenko vs Verdasco, Djokovic vs Troicki, Gasquet vs Kohlschreiber (the battle of two one handed backhands)
Dark Horse: Can Davydenko be called one?
Semifinalist: Fernando Verdasco
Roger Federer’s Quarter
Federer may not have won as many titles in Melbourne, as he has won in New York or London, but all of his four victories here have been ruthless dominations—in 2004 against Safin, in 2006 against Baghdatis, in 2007 against Roddick and Gonzalez, and in 2010 against Tsonga and Murray. When he is in form, he enjoys this surface as much as, if not more than, Wimbledon or U.S. Open. And given his form over the last few months, it is hard to see any player coming even remotely close to upset Federer before the semis. Sure, Simon may have beaten him twice, but he is half as good as he was in 2008, while Federer is twice as much efficient. Monfils, Roddick, Wawrinka …. All are capable of giving him a scare, but not outdo him in the war of attrition.
Federer is fit, fresh, motivated, match-fit, confident, and on a winning streak. Anything less than something really special will be insufficient to stop this man.
Semifinalist: Roger Federer
Semifinals: Tsonga d. Nadal, Federer d. Verdasco
Champion: Roger Federer