It’s not long now before the first grand slam of the year gets under way in Australia on the 19th of January, so a good time to look at the possible contenders for the title. Once again the big three will be the ones to look out for and of course Andy Murray who would love to claim his first slam and make it the big four. Murray wouldn’t be a bad bet actually and already many people are picking him to win the first slam of the season. These four are certainly the main title contenders in my opinion, but as we have seen last year an unknown like Jo-Wilfred Tsonga can appear out of nowhere. Tsonga’s best grand slam result before his run to the title match last year in Melbourne was the round of sixteen at Wimbledon in 2007. For me Tsonga is the single biggest threat to the top four when it comes to the 2009 Australian Open.
Rafael Nadal will look to continue his dominance from 2008 and once again silence the critics who doesn’t think he can keep playing at the intensity that he does. Nadal’s best result came at last year’s Australian Open where he reached the semi-finals. So I’m sure he would like to go one better this year and maybe win the title. And who would bet against the irresistible Spaniard? If the trend continues from last year he might even win the grand slam itself, but that is unlikely with all the competition around. The fact that Nadal had to withdraw from the Masters Cup due to injury might be a sign that his body is indeed starting to feel the strain. My feeling is that Nadal will have a hard time winning the Australian with Murray, Federer, Djokovic and others like Tsonga around. He could beat one of these players on a given day but he would be hard pressed to beat two or three of them in a row. These players have really perfected hard court play whereas Nadal’s main surface is still clay and even grass.
I think Roger has got a terrific chance of winning the Australian, and not just because i like him the most. He has won three slams down under so far and I’m sure he’d absolutely love to make it number four. And few would bet against him as well. Roger knows how to win in Australia and I’m sure his been dubbed ‘the wizard of ozz’ a few times. Hadn’t it been for a loss to an undeniable Marat Safin in 2005 and a loss of form in 2008 he would have had five titles in Australia as well, a feat he has achieved at both Wimbledon and the Us Open already. So i’m sure he’d like to increase his tally at the first slam for the year and show everyone he is putting 2008 behind him. Judging from his form during the end of 2008 and the way he won the Us Open, beating both Djokovic and Murray along the way, i’d have to say he is my favorite to take the title again. It’s all a question of form and desire and i’m sure Roger has plenty of both at this point.
Novak Djokovic is another player who had a great ending to the 2008 season winning the Master’s Cup. He didn’t play against any of the top four though and lost to Tsonga in the round robin. After beating Tsonga in last year’s Australian Open final Djokovic has really struggled against him and lost their three next matches in 2008. I have a feeling if he was to come up against Tsonga again down under he might struggle. Having said that he is the defending champion and has to be one of the favorites. He was very dominant in Australia last year and has the perfect game to win there. If he hits form there he will be a hard man to stop. Djokovic has never defended a title though so this will have to be his first.
As all the top players Andy Murray would absolutely love to win this title, but unfortunately there can be only one. But really Murray must have as good a chance as anyone judging by his form during the end of 2008. Reaching his first slam final at the US was no surprise then. However this was new territory for Murray and he came up against the greatest of all time who didn’t feel like losing on the day, so he got clobbered 6-2,7-5,6-2. I’m sure Murray would do better the next time he shows up in a slam final though and it might just be in Australia. One other thing to consider is his fitness, it is definitely something he has worked hard at but everyone knows how hot the conditions is at the first slam and only those in peak physical condition get to take home the title. In the US Open Murray had a tough four setter against Nadal in the semi’s and he seemed kind of flat in the finals against Roger. Also in the Master’s Cup in Shangai he had a tough match against Roger in his final group match, and then lost surprisingly easily against Davydenko in the next match.
I wonder if he had the choice between losing to Roger but making it through to the finals or beating Roger but losing to Davydenko what he would choose, since he was through to the semi’s anyway win or lose. Of course this would have meant that Federer would have gone through in the other half with a distinct possibility of them meeting in the finals. Obviously this is all irrelevant now but just something to think about.
The players who I consider to have an outside chance is first of all Tsonga as I said. He obviously likes the surface and his game is big enough to beat any of the top players, as he has shown by beating Djokovic in their last three meetings. France is the country with the second most players in the top hundred and he would certainly have the best chance of them all to take the title. A close second to him would be Giles Simon, but it is doubtful wether any french player besides Tsonga have the mental capacity to win a slam. There is also Gasquet who of course have enough talent to beat any player but once again he lacks in the mental department, as most french players do.
Andy Roddick and Nicolay Davydenko is another two players who is dangerous dark horses and both have an outside chance of winning the title. They have both shown that they can beat the top four in a given tournament but whether they can do it at a slam is another question. Other players to look out for is the Argentinians Juan Martin Del Potro and David Nalbandian. Del Potro is an exciting young player who has shown in 2008 that he will be a force to be reckoned with in the future and Nalbandian will probably always be a danger to any tennis player as long as he is competing.
Whoever emerges triumphant down under in 2009 will have made a real statement. Right now the top four players in the world is pretty close and there is not much to choose between them. Whoever wins will gain ever so slight an edge over the rest of the field, even if it’s just a mental one. But then again it’s all about mental edges in this game…