It’s that time of the year again. The first major of the new decade is about to get under way in Australia and what a grand slam it promises to be. Everyone has had their Christmas and holiday season, and it was fun and everything, but this is the one we’ve all been waiting for. The Oz Open is one of my favorite grand slams. The atmosphere, the weather, and the fact that it is the only grand slam in the southern hemisphere, are some of the things that make this grand slam unique for me. Australia is such a great sporting nation, which means that the fans are really knowlegable about the sport, and they play a big part in making this a special event. Not to mention that Roger has become almost like a son to them, but then again that seems to be the case just about anywhere he plays.
There is no doubt that many Australians would love to see Roger triumph once more at their major, which means that there will be a lot of support for Roger again. Roger now has the all time record of 15 major titles, yet it doesn’t stop there. He has admitted himself of late that he has lost no motivation for the game, and why should he? There is a lot left for him to achieve and I don’t think he will ever get tired of winning majors. After all, he hasn’t won Down Under since 2007, and last year he lost in very disappointing fashion to Rafa in the final. I think he really wants to taste success in Australia again, thereby improving his grand slam tally to 16. It would be the peRFect start to the new decade for Roger, who says that he wants to continue playing until after the Olympic games in 2012.
So lets look at the favorites for the first grand slam of the decade then:
As we enter the new decade, Roger may not be the dominant force that he once was, and he has been struggling with his form since the US Open last year. Having said that, he must be the favorite once more to win this major. He won two majors last year and made two finals. That fact alone is enough for Roger to be the favorite yet again. On the other hand this will be one of the most open major tournaments in quite a while. Going into the new decade it’s going to be harder for Roger to dominate the slams like he used to. Guys like Del Potro, Djokovic, and Murray are all desperately looking for more grand slam success, and then there is always Roger’s old nemesis Rafa in the frame.
The fact that Roger has held off these youngsters for as long as he has, is an amazing achievement in itself. Del Potro made a big statement at last year’s US Open though, and he will no doubt be a threat from now on at the majors. It’s not just Rafa and Roger anymore at the slams, because Del Potro has shown he can beat both of them in the slams, as well as outside of them. Thus it is of great importance for Roger to make a statement going into the new decade. Should he win the title, it will be the best possible start to the decade, and a lot of pressure will fall of his shoulders. Winning the first major of year is always a good start, which can set Roger up for yet another great year. The bad news is that there is always the possibility that Roger’s semi-final streak in grand slams will be broken.
Reaching 22 grand slam semi-finals in a row is an astonishing feat, and unfortunately it is likely to end at some point. Certainly Roger will be tested in the quarter finals of this year’s Australian Open. Nikolay Davydenko has been in the form of his life of late, beating Roger twice in the process. He did so in the Masters Cup last year and again in the semi-finals of Doha last week. Davydenko has Verdasco in his section of the draw though, who just won the exhibition tournament at Kooyong. I won’t be all that surprised if Verdasco takes out Davydenko, but still Davydenko has a great chance of making the quarter finals and face Roger. Roger on the oher hand could have a tricky fourth round against Marcos Baghdatis, who won the tournament in Sydney today, when he beat Richard Gasquet in the final.
Baghdatis made the final of the Australian Open in 2007 where he lost to Roger, so we know he can play well there. He has hit form just in time, and should he get past Hewitt in the third round, he can give Roger a tricky match. Then should Roger win and face Davydenko, he will have and even tougher match. For once I am a little worried that Roger’s semi-final streak at major will be broken here, but should he beat Davydenko, he will also have a very good chance of winning the title. I think Roger’s draw is pretty decent though. The first three rounds won’t be that tough, which will get him some wins under the belt. Then he will play a pretty tough opponent, which should help him build some confidence for the Davydenko match.
Coming into the Oz Open, Roger is not full of confidence. Not like he was at the last three slams anyway. So getting some wins under the belt, before he faces someone who has beaten him in their last two meetings, could be crucial. The up side of facing Davydenko is that he has a chance to get his revenge when it matters most. But then again he may not face him at all. Verdasco against Davydenko could be one of the matches of the tournament, and Verdasco could win. Then looking at the semi-finals it will probably be Djokovic, who has also been in impressive form towards the end of last year. Roger has a good record against Djokovic in the slams, except for the 2008 Oz Open where he lost to him in the semi’s. On that occasions Roger had monocluosis though, and did well just to keep his semi-final streak going.
Roger and Rafa clowning around at the Haiti charity event.
I think if Roger passes the quarter finals, he is going to the finals. Then he could meet either Rafa or Del Potro I think, with Murray and Roddick also having chances of being there. I just hope that Delpo’s wrist injury does not become a problem for him. Again I think if Roger makes the final, he has a good chance to take the title. When he gets to the final, that loss against Rafa last year will come back into his mind, and he will really get hungry for that title. So it won’t be an easy road for Roger to the title, but it never is. Roger’s form coming into the event is slightly questionable for the first time coming into a major since last year’s Oz Open, but he is certainly in better physical and mental condition than he was back then. Therefor he is may favorite to win the title yet again.
2) Del Potro
Barring injury, Delpo is my favorite to make the final in the bottom half of the draw. Although Rafa has been playing well at the start of this year, I don’t think he is quite back to his old self yet. Del Potro made his breakthrough last year, and as far as I’m concerned, he is now a real threat to Roger and Rafa. He has a big serve which he is using well now, and his forehand is the biggest in the sport. Last year he was double bageled by Roger in the quarter finals, but believe me he is now a different player. I think the court surface in Melbourne will suit his game well too. The ball bounces pretty high and the surface is pretty slow, which will give him time to unleash those monster ground strokes. His first test will come in the third round, where he will face Chennai champion Marin Cilic.
That also happens to be my pick for the match of the first three rounds. Both players are pretty unlucky to meet each other that early on, especially Cilic, who would have had great hopes of doing well at this major. If Delpo’s wrist turns out to be serious, Cilic could well end up being the big surprise of the tournament. If Delpo’s withdrawal from Kooyong was just precautionary however, which i think is the case, then Delpo is my favorite to go all the way to the final. He has beaten Rafa three times in a row now, and should the two of them square off in the semi-finals, we could have one hell of a match, rivalling last year’s semi-final between Rafa and Verdasco for drama and quality. I still give him the edge should that match materialize though.
Lets not leave Roddick out of the equation, who has also won a title this year. He is always a threat at the slams and has done well in Australia over the years. I just think Del Potro will be a handful for him with his big base line game should they meet.
I’m not convinced Rafa is back to his best yet. Losing to Davydenko in the final of Doha after having match points is proof of that. Rafa had a torrid time of it during the second half of last year, and lost all of his matches at the Masters Cup in straight sets. That was probably the lowest point for him, after which he finally showed some of is best form in the Davis Cup final. It seems like that was the start of better things for Rafa, because he has started the year looking close to his best. I’m not so sure he can get back to his full best so soon after he has been out of form for quite a long time. It takes time to get your confidence back after such a slump. I guess it’s not impossible that he will get back to his very best in the OZ Open, but I’m not convinced.
The majors are a different animal as we know and Rafa has not been to a grand slam final since he won last year in Melbourne. Can he defend his title? Yes. A lot will depend on how the draw pans out for him as well. Already he got lucky with the withdrawal of Simon, which means that Isner will now face Seppi in the first round. This is a lucky break for Rafa, because Isner just won his first title in Auckland, and he is a dangerous player with a huge serve. Rafa does however have Murray in his quarter of the draw, and should he win there, he could face Delpo. With Rafa’s luck in draws I wouldn’t be surprised if Delpo gets injured or something, because Delpo is a big threat to him, just as he is to Roger. He can overpower Rafa and have done just that in their last three meetings.
The US Open semi-final was a demolition job, with Rafa only managing to win 6 games. Delpo has the serve and fire power off the ground to hit through the court against Rafa, even on the slower Oz Open courts. It may not be a demolition job like the US Open, but Delpo is definitely my favorite should he meet Rafa in the semi-finals.
If Davydenko had Djokovic’s draw he would have been my fourth favorite, but Davydenko has a pretty tough draw. Djokovic on the other hand is the weakest quarter of the draw. The other top 8 player is his quarter of the draw, Soderling, is struggling with an elbow injury. I think Djokovic will make the semi-finals, even though he was messing around at the Kooyong exhibition event. Then should he run into Roger, I think he will lose. If he plays Davydenko, I think he has a better chance to make the final. Djokovic was in the best form we have seen from him in a while towards the end of last year. In 2008 however, he won the Masters Cup, and then at the Oz Open in 2009 he was disappointing. And judging from what he has done so fat this year, that could be the case again.
We will only really know about Djokovic once the tournament starts to see what form he is in, because Kooyong doesn’t mean much. I know one thing though, and that is that Roger hates losing to Djokovic, and should they meet in the semi’s, I don’t see Roger doing Djokovic any favors.
Davydenko has been to semi-final stages of grand slam events before, and should he pull off a win over Verdasco in the fourth round and Roger in the quarter finals, he could well go all the way. He does have a pretty tough draw however, and if he is going to do it he will have to do it the hard way. This is why I think Roger, Delpo and Rafa is in a class of their own. They have done it all before, while someone like Davydenko hasn’t. To win he must potentially go through Verdasco, Roger, Djokovic and Rafa/Delpo. He has shown that he can do it at the Masters Cup, but this is a little different. The slams are and even bigger stage, and if Davydenko is going to go to the next level, he will have to do it in the Melbourne heat, over the best of five sets, and against grand slam specialists like Roger, Delpo and Rafa.
It will definitely not be an easy task, but this year’s Oz Open may yet be the Russians best chance of winning a major. He won his last two meetings against Roger and should he meet him in the quarter-finals, that fact will definitely give him confidence. And should he beat Roger, he may just have the confidence to go all the way. Davydenko has certainly been a hot player of late. I guess we will just have to wait and see if he can take his success to the grand slam level.
Andy Murray has not lived up to the big hype that has surrounded him in 2009. That hype wasn’t his fault though. He still got his best results at the French Open and Wimbledon, and did very well at Masters Series level. It’s true that he disappointed at the Australian Open and US Open after all the hype, which means that this year may just be his year. There is none of the hype that there was last year this time, when he was many people’s favorite to win the Oz Open. This year he has been under the radar and not so many people are talking about him. Maybe this lack of pressure will help Murray to finally make a big breakthrough in a slam. He has a tough draw though, already meeting Rafa in the quarters.
Like Davydenko, if he can upset Rafa, he may just go on to win the whole thing. He also has a 6-1 head-to-head record against Del Potro, although I do think that is somewhat misleading. Murray does have a tough draw, which means he would have to take it to another level to win this slam.
Roddick is getting a bit older now, but I can’t help but admire his determination. Last year’s Wimbledon final was enough to break any player, yet Roddick is back in business this year and have already won a title. He likes playing at the Oz Open, where he has reached the semi-fnals on three occasions. On two of those occasions suffered heavy defeats at the hands of yours truly. This time Roddick is not in the half of the draw of his nemesis however, and together with Murray he is a dangerous lurker in the bottom half of the draw. Guys like Del Potro and Rafa will be tough opponents for Roddick, but he has improved so much in his game since the start of 2008. His backhand is not the weakness it once was,while he is now a competent net player.
Therefor Roddick is capable of causing some upsets and has an outside chance of winning the title.
That’s it, all the players who I think has a legitimate chance of winning the title. I don’t see anyone else in the draw who can win the title, but I guess you never know. Australia is also the slam where we have seen many surprise runs by relatively unknown players over the years. I like that about the Oz Open, it’s not as predictable as the other slams. Who will it be this year? Cilic perhaps? Hopefully it’s not Davydenko! And aside from that it is starting to look like we are entering a new era, where Roger and Rafa won’t be as dominant as they were before. And frankly I don’t have a problem with that. Of course it would be nice to see Roger still dominating, but having new challengers to the throne is interesting and good for tennis.
Del Potro has now won his first major, Djokovic, Davydenko and Roddick has all gone through some sort of a transformation, and there is always the possibility of Murray breaking through. Then there are other guys like Soderling, Verdasco and Tsonga, who has all shown they can be a threat at the slams. This is what happens when you have guys like Roger and Rafa dominating the sport. It pushes the other players to take their game to a new level, which in turn is good for the game. So the fact that Roger and Rafa is not quite as dominant as they were before, coupled with the fact that the other players have raised their games, I think will make things interesting in the new decade. The Oz Open of 2010 could give us a taste of things to come.
Who knows, we could have yet another Fedal final, which would be very interesting indeed. Lets hope that happens and Roger gets his revenge over Rafa, and get a much needed win over Rafa in a major. Well just as I’m about to finish this post, the Oz Open action is about to begin. Roger is playing on Tuesday, but some matches on the first day to look forward to is Cilic vs Santoro, Blake vs Clement, Stepanek vs Karlovic, and for me personally, Murray vs Anderson. Kevin Anderson is the only player from my country in the draw, having come through qualification in confident fashion. I know him personally and he’s a nice guy. He’s a tall guy with a big serve and sports a win over Djokovic. It could be an interesting match, and I hope he can at least give Murray a tough match. Now let the games begin. Good luck champ!