Sunday, January 17, 2010

Australian Open Preview: Once More, with Feeling?

The men's side of the Australian Open competition finds itself in a somewhat unfamiliar position this year -- it's most decidedly the "undercard" of the first slam of 2010, with the women's field being the must-see main event.



With the return of the likes of Henin and Sharapova, Clijsters seeking to follow-up her U.S. Open win and Serena's defense of her '09 Oz title secondary in the minds of many in comparison to how she'll do in her first slam since her little "tiff" in New York, the women's action has more stories than there are delicious flavors of Tim Tams (which are FINALLY being sold in the U.S. through Pepperidge Farm brands, by the way -- finally all my silent prayers have been answered!), while the men's field almost feels like an afterthought that's almost as hard to digest as Vegemite.

I said, "almost" of course. After all, anyone not born in Australia knows that NOTHING goes does harder than Vegemite.

Surely, everything could change if the men's big guns pull through to the latter stages and the suddenly-crowded men's field gets its first official sorting-out of the season. But, still, it says something that Roger Federer's reporting of his recent telephone conversation with Tiger Woods created far more headlines than anything regarding his and his fellow ATP stars' preparation for the Australian Open has in recent days.

Federer is just twenty weeks at #1 from matching Pete Sampras' all-time mark for total time in the top spot, but you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone who'd consider him the favorite to win this title. With Juan Martin del Potro now a slam champion, Nikolay Davydenko showing signs of MAYBE finally making a mark on the slam stage, Novak Djokovic lurking once again and -- oh, yeah, HIM -- defending Oz champ Rafael Nadal looking ready, willing and able to reclaim his position atop the ATP pyramid, Federer is no longer even an semi-safe choice to reach the final (the SF are a different story, though... as of now) anywhere other than in London.

The times are a-changin' on the ATP tour. Well, at least a little. In two weeks, we actually might be seeing a FAMILAR sight after the final match of this Australian Open.



*ATP Pre-Australian Open Awards*
=TOP PLAYER=
1. Nikolay Davydenko, RUS
2. Rafael Nadal, ESP
3. Andy Roddick, USA
4. Marin Cilic, CRO (Riser)
5. Daniel Nestor/Nenad Zimonjic, CAN/SRB (Veterans)
HM- John Isner, USA (Fresh Face)
=COMEBACK=
Marcos Baghdatis, CYP
=SURPRISE=
Arnaud Clement, FRA
=DOWN=
Roger Federer, SUI
=TOP MATCH=
Doha Final - Davydenko def. Nadal 0-6/7-6/6-4





**ROUND OF 16**
#1 Federer d. #17 Ferrer
#6 Davydenko d. #9 Verdasco
#3 Djokovic d. Gasquet
#8 Soderling d. #10 Tsonga
#9 Roddick d. #21 Berdych
#14 Cilic d. #4 del Potro
#5 Murray d. #12 Monfils
#2 Nadal d. #13 Stepanek


...I'd wanted to advance del Potro deeper into the draw than this. But he's at his best when he's on a roll and playing on a week-in, week-out basis. That hasn't been the case so far in '10, and he was bothered by a wrist injury in Kooyang. Anyway, Cilic is bound to have a big slam soon, so I'll pick him through here, even though I'd rather wait until Wimbledon. Roddick just won his first title in Australia the other week, but it's no given that he gets past Sam Querrey and into the Round of 16. Nadal is looking good, even with his loss to Davydenko after holding match point in Doha.

**QUARTERFINALS**
#1 Federer d. #6 Davydenko
#3 Djokovic d. #8 Soderling
#14 Cilic d. #9 Roddick
#2 Nadal d. #5 Murray


...Davydenko surely has Federer's number of late. Plus, Federer was pretty miserable on hard courts for most of '09. Still, he's reached 22 consecutive grand slam semifinals, while the reason so few people know of Davydenko beyond that questionable match that drew the attention of the authorites a few years back is because he never comes through in the slams. Speaking of not coming through in the slams, has the field of other young contenders caught Murray? Of course, losing to Nadal would be no embarrassment.

**SEMIFINALS**
#3 Djokovic d. #1 Federer
#2 Nadal d. #14 Cilic


...before Davydenko won the Masters Cup to end the '09 season, Djokovic has actually been the best 4th Quarter men's player on tour. He's already a past Australian Open champion. A healthy Nadal, a year after proving a point by winning his first hard court slam, might be too much for anyone to handle in Melbourne.

**FINAL**
#2 Nadal d. #3 Djokovic

...as long as he can stay on the court, it's hard to believe any scenario that doesn't see Nadal back in the #1 spot by, at the latest, the time the U.S. Open Series begins this summer.


All for now.

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2 Comments:

Blogger Timothy said...

Come on Spiker! Mens draw not interesting????? What about the drama of last years final, and the return to fitness of Nadal, and the recent form of Davydenko, and the emergence of Del Potro as a slam winner, and the struggle of Murray to win a slam......I could go on! And how's your lack of respect for Federer?! "....hard pressed to find anyone who'd consider the favorite to win this title....."?????? Hmmm, how about pretty much every major betting site in the world, check out the odds!

Sun Jan 17, 05:20:00 AM EST  
Blogger Todd Spiker said...

Late updates:

1) I wasn't talking about last year's final, just that this year's women's draw had more interesting stories going for it

2) unfortunately, Nadal's fitness didn't hold up, nor did Davydenko's form when it really mattered

3) I actually picked del Potro to finish the year at #1 in the preseason, though I figure I likely jinxed him

4) I don't really find Murray's struggle to win a slam all that interesting, though I could be convinced of it if he'd play a more aggressive game ala how he played vs. Nadal in the QF and Federer in the 3rd set in Melbourne

5) and the betting odds for sporting events don't really mean much, I think. That's largely based on who people are willing to bet money on, and bigger names with good histories usually have shorter odds because of that. Most actual commentary and analysis/predictions didn't have Federer as the favorite that he's so often been in the past. Of course, he did end up winning... so shame on them, and me, for doubting him. :)

Sun Jan 31, 05:30:00 PM EST  

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