Australian Open Round 1: Federer beats Seppi 6-1, 7-6(4), 7-5

The Australian Open of 2009 is under way and I will be covering all Roger’s matches as well as other matches of interest in the men’s draw.  I thought Roger had a good start today and looks ready for yet another Australian Open title. Judging by what he said in an interview and the way he performed today there should be no doubt as to how motivated Roger is to win this grand slam title for the fourth time. In the first set against Andreas Seppi the Swiss legend was in sublime form, not giving Seppi much of a chance to get into the match. There was one point where Seppi lobbed over Roger’s head twice and the second time Roger ran back and calmly hit a winner with Seppi approaching the net, shot of the tournament thus far! Here it is:

Seppi is quite a talented player though and in general he is quite impressive to me. It was only a matter of time before he would start being more competitive and in the second set he held a set point on Roger’s serve. Roger would have none of it though and  they went to a tie break which Roger would end up winning 7-4. The third set remained competitive until Roger got a match point at 5-4 on Seppi’s serve but could not convert. He would however take advantage of one of the match points got in Seppi’s following service game to close out the match. I think Roger really wanted to prove a point and obviously did so in the first set. After that Seppi just settled down a bit more and Roger was trying to end the points a to quickly on the slowish courts. I’m sure he will be better adjusted to the court in his next match.

Seppi really struggled to take advantage of his opportunities and it showed in the fact that he converted 0/10 break points on Roger’s serve. It has to be said though that Roger played well on those points and I felt his serve was really good on those occasions. All in all I feel Roger would be pleased at winning the match in straight sets against a quality first round opponent. Next up for Roger is Evgeny Korolev, the Russian who beat former world number one Carlos Moya. Once again I don’t see Roger having too many problems here and hopefully he will win in straight sets. If both Roger and Marat Safin wins they will meet in the thrid round which should be an interesting clash. But first things first.

The other member of the top 4 that was in action was Novak Djokovic who looked pretty comfortable in his first round match with a 6-2, 6-3, 7-5 win against Andrea Stoppini from Italy. He was down 4-0 in the third set so quite impressive to have come back from that. Djokovic is such a dangerous player that it would be a big mistake to count him out as a favorite to defend his title. He might have had a shaky start to the season but he has too much quality to be underestimated. Other first round winners who can go deep in the tournament include Andy Roddick, David Nalbandian and Juan-Martin Del Potro.

Post match interview:

See you soon and enjoy your viewing!

The War of Words

http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,25197,24918160-2722,00.html

ROGER Federer began a psychological battle yesterday on another front, questioning the merits of reigning Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic’s decision to change raquets so close to his title defence.

The world No2, who failed against Djokovic in a semi-final at last year’s Australian Open when ill with glandular fever, tipped Djokovic could struggle in tight moments, given a lack of familiarity with his new equipment.

“It’s tough because there’s always a factor with the weather, how do you play, day form, you know, other contenders, the pressure, now a new racquet,” Federer said.

“I’m quite surprised he made a switch like this in the best phase of his career, you know. He can for sure play good tennis, but I think when it comes down to the crunch you just have that bit of a doubt maybe, you know, because you are not quite that comfortable with that racquet.

“But we’ll see what happens. It’s going to be a big test for him.”

While it is worth noting that Federer is sponsored by Wilson, the brand dumped by Djokovic, his questioning comes after he repeatedly highlighted this week Andy Murray’s failure to capture a Grand Slam tournament.

Although the Swiss star trails Murray 5-2 in head-to-head battles, Federer proved superior in their US Open final clash last September and says that to prove himself, the Scottish world No4 needs to win a Grand Slam tournament.

Djokovic, who moved from Wilson to Head, has already complained of his struggle to adjust to his new racquet, blaming his failure in Brisbane last week in part on the change.

“I changed the racquet and it’s not easy to get rhythm right away,” Djokovic said.

“I’m under the contract so I have to play with the racquet. It’s not the end of the world. It’s the first match. I’m trying not to be pessimistic.”

In contrast, Federer is full of praise when questioned about Rafael Nadal, the player who seized both his Wimbledon crown and No1 ranking last year.

Asked to remove himself from the equation when considering the likely Australian Open winner, the $3.50 equal favourite with Murray for this year’s title said he would always choose Nadal ahead of every other rival.

The Swiss champion did have some kind words for another rival yesterday, praising Davis Cup hero Fernando Verdasco after beating the Spaniard narrowly 6-3 3-6 7-6 (7-5) at Kooyong.

Federer, who will play the winner of today’s match between Swiss Olympic team-mate Stanislas Wawrinka and Chilean Fernando Gonzalez, said Verdasco should now be considered a real threat at Grand Slam level.

“He seems like he’s playing more consistently and he’s got that big shot that everybody is scared of. So he’s got that going for him,” Federer said.

“I think he’s got confident more and more, so that he can hang with normal players and occasionally beat the top players.

“The Grand Slam level, I guess it comes down a lot to mental and physical as well. I think this is what he has to prove this year.”

Former world No1 Carlos Moya is certain his compatriot, who lost to Radek Stepanek in last week’s Brisbane final to continue his rise to world No15, can challenge for a major title.

“Verdasco, I think he’s a really top guy,” Moya said.

“He has the tennis inside of him to be a top 10 player.

“Now he has to believe in himself. And once he does he can become a very dangerous player and one of the top guys.”

It is self-belief Verdasco, 25, who is dating Ana Ivanovic and met the King of Spain following the Davis Cup victory in December, says is the difference between now and last year.

“With the Davis Cup it was a great moment for me, a lot of confidence after that tie also, because it was really tough,” Verdasco said.

“In this position I was thinking different than in other years. All the things and all the motivation, believing in myself much more, and I think that is the key.

“I’m so motivated in this 2009 to be top 10 for the first time. And I will try so hard. I will do my best to be there and I’m already practising so hard, trying all that I can to be there. And I will not stop until I am there.”

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Gotta love it! This is the second time in a week that Roger has directed a psychological attack on one of his main rivals, and I’m really enjoying it. In my previous post he was playing mind games with on form Andy Murray, this time it’s defending Australian Open champ Djokovic. And it seems to have worked. Djokovic lost against the Fin Jarko Nieminen today in Sydney 6-4, 7-6(3). The significance of this loss can’t be overstated. If Djokovic won this match he would have overtaken Roger in the ATP rankings, therefor going into the Australian Open as the number two player in the world. That would have been a significant psychological boost for Djokovic, especially since he is drawn to meet Roger in the semi-finals.

Now it doesn’t even look likely that he will make the semi-finals, with another disappointing loss before the Australian Open. Some of you may remember the psychological warfare that was going on last year at the same time. After losing to Roger in the final of the US Open in 2007, Djokovic went into the Australian Open saying that Roger wasn’t as dominant as he once was. Roger was ill at the time and when the two met in the semi-finals Djocovic won in straight sets. So i’m sure Roger would not have forgotten that little incident and have responded in grand fashion. Talking about Djokovic’s new raquet certainly seems to have unnerved the Serbian, and taking the number two spot form Roger was a mental barrier he couldn’t pass. 6-0 Roger.

As I said the draw for the Australian Open is out and you can view it HERE. What i like about this draw is that Roger and Murray is not in the same half and therefor as the two favorites they could meet in the final. But both of them have some tough obstacles to overcome first if they want to get there. Murray has last years finalist and danger man Jo-Wilfred Tsonga in his quarter of the draw. If he gets to the semi-finals he also have some potentially tough opponents to deal with. Potential opponents in the semi’s for him include Richard Gasquet, Gael Monfils and the number one seed Nadal. Roger has in form danger man Juan Martin Del Potro in his quarter of the draw and potential semi-final opponents for him include David Nalbandian and Djokovic.

So neither of them have an easy road to the finals but they are probably the most likely two players to make it to the finals. It has to be said though that Murray probably has the tougher draw of the two, and if he gets into long drawn out matches the heat may take it’s toll on him. Murray’s best result at the Australian Open has been a round of sixteen appearance in 2007. Other then that he’s had two first round losses, including last year against Tsonga. So really Murray has a lot to prove, and his first big test will be in the form of Tsonga in the quarter-finals if he can get that far. Murray has been working very hard at his fitness so it will be good, but not going very deep in the tournament before  will make this unknown territory for him and it’s yet to be seen if he can deal with the heat.

On the other hand Roger has gone the full distance on three occasions where he won the title and he will know all too well what it takes. So in the end Roger is still my favorite to win the title, and for good reason.

Is Roger's mind games working?

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Murray Favorite To Win The Australian Open?

“Roger Federer questions Andy Murray being installed as favourite with British bookies

ROGER Federer has backed his own chances for lifting a fourth Australian Open title while marvelling that British bookies are tipping untried Andy Murray for the trophy.

“MURRAY’S THE FAVORITE? GOOD FOR HIM, BUT IT DOESN’T HELP HIM A LOT”, said the Swiss player at the presentation of the eight-man Kooyong Classic, considered the top tune-up for the grand slam starting on Monday.

But after losing twice to the Scot this month, once at an unofficial exhibition and in the Doha ATP semi-finals, Federer does give the number four player his due.

“He’s put himself into a great position,” said the 13-time grand slam champion who could pull level on the all-time best of 14 held by Pete Sampras with a title in Melbourne.

“He’s playing well and finished well last year.

“BUT I’M SURPRISED THAT  THE BOOKIES SAY HE’S THE FAVORITE.

“HE’S NEVER WON A SLAM, IT’S SURPRISING TO HEAR.”

Murray, losing US Open finalist to Federer four months ago, has come out on top in his most recent meetings against four major rivals: Rafael Nadal, Federer, Novak Djokovic and most recently Andy Roddick in the Doha final.

“Andy shown for a year that’s he’s knocking on the door,” said Federer.

“He’s playing with good confidence.

“BUT WINNING A SLAM IS A DIFFERENT ANIMAL, NOT MANT GUYS HAVE BEEN ABLE TO DO IT.

“RAFA AND I HAVE TAKEN A LOT OF THEM.

“They don’t come easy, but he has a chance like many other players.”

Federer will open his Kooyong campaign on Wednesday when he faces likeable Spanish veteran Carlos Moya, whom he has beaten all seven times they’ve met.

The rest of the opening-day lineup at the promotion-relegation special event includes former Melbourne finalist Marcos Baghdatis against Federer’s Swiss Davis Cup teammate Stan Wawrinka, Croatian Marin Cilic facing Brisbane finalist Fernando Verdasco and event veterans Ivan Ljubicic taking on Fernando Gonzalez.

Federer said he is pleased to be on full fitness and feeling good with his game after missing Kooyong a year ago with illness.

And he still feels his lengthy run of grand slam success gives him the edge.

“I have high hopes and aim to play well from the start,” said the world number two.

“Of course I’m trying to beat the record of 14 from Sampras so we will see how it goes.”

The Swiss player said he feel much less pressure at this stage than he did a few seasons ago.

“I felt the most (pressure) when (I) reached six or seven slam titles and everyone was expecting me to win every match I played. That’s gone away and it’s a relief.

“BUT I’M VERY MOTIVATED AND WILL REMAIN SO FOR A LONG TIME. I JUST DON’T FEEL A LOT OF PRESSURE NOW.”

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This is a recent article from Fox Sports that I quoted. I emphasized the sentences that I thought was the most important. I have to say I agree with Roger that it’s surprising Murray is the favorite. He’s probably the hottest player on tour at this point but that doesn’t make him the favorite. Surely he must be ONE of the favorites but not THE favorite. I wouldn’t be surprised if he wins the Australian Open, but then again I wont be surprised if Roger wins it either. To make Murray a bigger favorite then Roger is a mistake I think, if I was betting money i certainly wouldn’t be putting it on the Brit :-)

Before Murray can lift the trophy he has to get past the big three, which is no small task. Djokovic might not have had the best start of the season but he only needs to make the second week in Australia and he will be a serious threat. Then there is Nadal who of course shouldn’t be counted out. His fitness will be a huge asset down under, where the heat is always a big factor. And of course it’s no given that Murray will beat Roger if they happen to meet, even though he has a 5-2 career record against him.

Then there is other dangerous players around like Tsonga and Monfils. So it’s pretty obvious it’s a long hard road to the title.Some people may think that Roger has come off as arrogant, but for people to suddenly make Murray the favorite is arrogant in my view. Federer has after all got thirteen grand slams behind him and Murray a big fat zero. And not only that but Roger won the last grand slam, easily disposing of Murray in the process. In the end this is all just talk anyway, what matters most to me in the end is Roger’s last words. Just like I said in my previous post, Roger is as motivated as ever and he even feels less pressure these days.

Murray favorite? No. Murray contender? Yes.