Sunday, January 15, 2012

Australian Open Preview

Another year and another tennis season begins. There have already been title winners and injury withdrawals and in that sense it's as if the tennis season didn't even have an off-season. And so it goes as the Australian Open, the first Grand Slam event of the season, begins in a few hours. Here's a preview of the the men and women's draw and its top contenders...

Last year's champion and world no. 1 Novak Djokovic begins his daunting task of defending the massive amount of points he earned last year going undefeated for the first half of the season. Winning Doha a couple of weeks ago, he seems fit and ready to go. His toughest "test" will be from a couple of North Americans in the fourth round where he'll either face American Andy Roddick or Canadian Milos Raonic. It's worth noting that Lleyton Hewitt has a potential second round clash with Roddick. The quarters are a bit more dangerous with a potential match-up with 5th seed David Ferrer or 9th seed Janko Tipsarevic.

On the same side of the draw as Djokovic and his likely semifinal opponent, world no. 4 and two-time Australian Open finalist Andy Murray will try to win his first Grand Slam trophy. It won't be easy. His first round match with Ryan Harrison will probably be straightforward, but it's something to watch as is his possible third round clash with Alex Bogomolov Jr. Victor Troiki or Gael Monfils are his potential fourth round opponents and should give him some trouble. Troiki himself has a very tricky first round with Juan Carlos Ferrero. The biggest obstacle for Murray to reach his third Australian final in a row however will be 6th seed and also former finalist Jo-Wilfred Tsonga, his likely quarterfinal foe.

Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer are on the same side of the draw for the first time since 2005 and it's easy to pencil them both in for the semifinals. For world no. 2 Nadal, it's less about his opponents and more about his physical condition. He had shoulder problems late last season so we'll see. His first real test will be big-serving John Isner in the fourth round though we'll also see how John deals with not only the Australian heat, but also a possible second round match-up with David Nalbandian. Even in the quarterfinals, Nadal should be favored over 7th seed Tomas Berdych, 10th seed Nicolas Almagro, or Stan Wawrinka. The latter could meet former finalist Marcos Baghdatis in the 2nd round.

Three-time champion and world no. 3 Federer should be okay in the early rounds which will be good for him after retiring from Doha a couple weeks ago with a bad back. Before that, he was on a 20-match win streak going back to his phenomenal fall season last year. His fourth round opponent include Alexandr Dolgopolov or Fernando Verdasco. The latter will have to contend with the highest ranked non-seeded player in the draw Bernard Tomic in the first round. Eight seed Mardy Fish and 11th seed Juan Martin Del Potro await Federer in the quarterfinal with the latter being a lot more dangerous.

Novak Djokovic d. David Ferrer
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga d. Andy Murray
Roger Federer d. Juan-Martin Del Potro
Rafael Nadal d. Tomas Berdych

Novak Djokovic d. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
Roger Federer d. Rafael Nadal

Novak Djokovic d. Roger Federer

Defending champion Kim Clijsters thrilled many by winning last year's Australian Open title, but she was out with injury for most of the year and is just returning to the game. She also admitted this was most likely her last year playing. She can meet and should win her third round match with Daniela Hantuchova, but the draw gods were mean and her fourth round clash with 5th seed Li Na will be a rematch of their final from last year. Whoever wins that should be favored for the semifinals since world no. 1 Caroline Wozniacki and 13th seed Jelena Jankovic await them in the quarters.

Third seed Victoria Azarenka heads up a pretty easy quarter giving her a real good chance to make it all the way. Potential fourth round opponents include Shuai Peng and Flavia Pennetta. The quarters will be a little trickier, but still doable with 10th seed Francesca Schiavone and 8th seed Agnieszka Radwanska as her biggest threat.

Second seed Petra Kvitova and defacto "best player on tour right now" will try to get her second Grand Slam event victory after capturing last year's Wimbledon. She should be able to handle the early rounds including possible fourth round match-ups with Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova or Ana Ivanonic. Sixth seed Samantha Stosur will be her biggest obstacle in the quarterfinals especially since she won last year's US Open and is playing in her home country (though latter could be more a curse than a blessing sometimes). Also on this side is the always unpredictable and should never be underestimated 9th seed Marion Bartoli.

Finally, fourth seed and former champion Maria Sharapova will have to get through a very tricky draw starting with her first round match with Gisela Dulko. The third round could see her meet up with Angelique Kerber and then the fourth round could bring either Sabine Lisicki or Svetlana Kuznetsova. If she gets through all of that, 7th seed Vera Zvonareva and more notably 12th seed Serena Williams await in the quarterfinals. The latter is also trying to make her comeback, but Serena is Serena.

Kim Clijsters d. Caroline Wozniacki
Victoria Azarenka d. Julia Georges
Serena Williams d. Sabine Lisicki
Petra Kvitova d. Samantha Stosur

Kim Clijsters d. Victoria Azarenka
Serena Williams d. Petra Kvitova

Serena Williams d. Kim Clijsters

FINAL WORD: I'm looking at my Women Predictions and just shaking my head. Do I honestly believe these results? My heart and head says no, but here they are anyways. As for the men, I'm probably less off since the top men are THAT consistent, but Federer in the final isn't as automatic as it once was. Then again I'm predicting Serena to win, so I honestly don't know.

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