I almost feel sorry for tennis players. Having only just downed their season finishing champaign and watched what they ate over Christmas, they find themselves ready to hit another long hard road ahead. Thank goodness for glamour privileges and the massive earnings they make eh? Is it any wonder that the Australian open traditionally each year springs up a number of surprises, with unexpected finalists such as Tsonga, Baghdatis and Clement to name a few. It’s most likely due to not having enough of an off season to rest and prepare, that attributes to Ozzy’s charms of the underdog. It can hardly be put down to lack of match practice, because they’ve only just finished last season. Even Djokovic commented that he didn’t need to enter a practice tournament, because he still feels match fit from last season. Although, I hope such complacency doesn’t come back to bit him in the preverbial, if you know what I mean.
Speaking of Djokers, what do I reckon his chances are this year? Well looking at the draw he has a pretty easy passage in his quarter. I doubt potential fourth round opponents Hewitt or Roddick should cause him any trouble, providing they are even consistent enough to make it that far, which recent seasons would suggest they are not (but does that mean we should we write them off?). He is likely to meet Ferrer in the QF’s (if Ferrer can get past Richard Gasquet), which should be tricky enough, but if it goes the distance you have got to favour Djokovic’s mentality, after his season last year, even when it is put up against ‘the wall’. The world no. 5, Ferrer is in good form himself, having just won in Auckland, but was it a bit foolish to have played so much tennis going into a slam?
Murray shouldn’t have any trouble prgressing to the second week either provided he doesn’t get in his own way, and having won last week, he is in great form. He has a tricky fourth round encounter with either Troicki or Monfils, where either opponent could be dangerous, but you have still got to hedge your bets on Murray. It doesn’t get any easier from there for Murray, as he will have to tackle the in-form, and beaten masters finalist, Tsonga, whom likes playing down under. It’s hard to call that match but whoever wins, it should give them bags of confidence to face Djokovic in the semi-finals. If it is Murray, perhaps he can use Djokovic’s lack of match practice, his own good form, and the wily experience of Ivan Lendl, to his advantage, and he was one of only few who troubled Novak last season. Surely if Murray were to make another final, he couldn’t choke again? Can he put those defeats behind him, and finally get that long overdue notch on his belt that he so craves? If he doesn’t, who knows what kind of annual capitulation may occur.
What about the fortunes of Roger Federer. Well at 30 years old, and having won last seasons masters final, one might argue he is playing his best ever tennis again? You can be rest assured that he wants another slam this year, even if the olympics is the main prize he is after. He plays for the pure love of the game now, which has freed his tennis up magnificently. I fully expect him to make the final, even though he could meet a difficult opponent in Bernard Tomic, inspired by a partizan ozzy crowd. He also could face either Fish or Del Potro in the quarters. Del Potro is capbable of playing top 5 tennis, but he has been a shadow of his US Open winning heroics of 2009. As a purist tennis fan, one can only hope that he regains that form someday, and perhaps Australia his the surface for him to achieveit, where his big hitting should thrive.
Finally, we come to Rafa. One writes of Rafael Nadal at their own peril. He suffered as Federer’s no.2 for years, but he kept on his relentless pursuit, until he was able to permanently topple the king from his throne. Now comes a new challenge – he has been one step behind Djokovic all of 2011. You can be sure that Nadal will hunt him down, in the same way he did Federer, until he finds that right solution to reign supreme again. However, I do not think that reign will begi, here in Australia 2012. He was not even close to his usual standards in the fall of 2011, and I expect a huge improvement this year. He has perhaps the trickiest of early draws, with seasoned pro’s in the shape of Haas, Ljubicic, Nalbandian, Davydenko, Lopez lying in wait. Not to mention the Big hitters such as Isner, Wawrinka and Berdych in his quarter. If he can come through all of that to meet Federer in the semi’s; which on any normal business day, he should; that might just give him enough confidence to reach the final, and we all know how he relishes a battle with Roger Federer.
So in summary, as usual, the temptation is to sit on the fence and say it’s too close to call between the top 4, and australia is too unpredictable, but this year I think I will go out on a limb and say that I expect a Djokovic vs Federer final. I would like to see Murray win it, and he’s in with a chance, but I’m sticking with my gut on this one. Also, one final side note on the British front. Look out for James Ward – he has a winnable first round match against Kavcic, and could face a dream tie with Juan Martin Del Potro for his efforts, so lets cheer him on, and indeed the 4 british girls that made it into the ladies draw proper. Well done, and here’s to a brighter future for British tennis.