First, I suppose an introduction is in order. I am Fetch, and I am an internet superstar a blogger. To drop in a couple shameless plugs right off the bat, you can find me writing about Kansas athletics at Rock Chalk Talk, the Twins at Twinkie Talk and college hockey at the creatively named The College Hockey Blog. You can also follow me on twitter @fetch9 if you would like.
Now that that’s out of the way, let’s get to the Australian Open preview. The Aussie Open is the first grand slam on the tennis calendar and probably my favorite. It could be that it comes after a long 5 month layoff after the US Open, or that it is a nice distraction from the cold January weather and the dreary school that goes with it. Or it could be that traditionally it is the one that features the most wide open field.
In any event, I love watching it, and it is one of the four times a year when I get to wear my serious tennis fan hat. Let’s begin the preview with the ladies:
The big news here is that there will be no Serena Williams. She withdrew in November after cutting her foot in a restaurant and then aggravating that injury by trying to get back to training too soon. Without her, the field is pretty wide open.
The person ascending to the role of favorite is defending champion Kim Cljisters. She’s ranked #3 in the world, but has all the momentum coming into the tournament after defeating #1 ranked Caroline Wozniacki to win the year end tour championships. Clijsters’s game is perfectly suited for the synthetic surface of Australia. She may be a mother, and getting up there years wise, but she moves really well on the court, and hits the ball very well.
Although she lost in the second round at Sydney, my favorite is the aforementioned Wozniacki. At just 20 years old she is the youngest #1 ranked player in 15 years, and is the youngest serious contender in this tournament. It gets unbearably hot in Melbourne at this time of the year, and Wozniacki has the youth to shrug off heat related fatigue problems, but she also has the experience to know how to deal with it as well. She’s probably the best defensive player in the world, and can withstand the hard shots of stronger players like Clijsters and Venus Williams. She also has enough offensive game in her own right to be able to shorten up a point when she needs to, helping her get through the earlier rounds quickly, but I think later in the tournament she will want to wear down her opposition.
Another contender whose chances I like is Venus Williams. Williams has probably the best serve amongst the contenders, and although she plays best from the baseline she has a good net game that has developed as she has gotten more experience. She’s struggled a bit with her forehand lately, but if she harnesses that I can easily see her winning the title.
Final prediction: Wozniacki over Clijsters
Now to the men:My #1 rule in tennis is never pick against Roger Federer. Probably the best player of all time, Federer has looked more mortal lately, but last year he still won the Australian Open, made the quarters at both the French and Wimbledon, and then made the semifinals at the US Open. He capped off his 2010 by winning the year-end title, defeating Rafa Nadal in the final. When he is on no one can beat him, not even Nadal in my opinion. His serve isn’t the most famous part of his game, but it is very effective when he needs it to be, and he uses it both for aces but more usually to coax his opponent into a weak return and a short point. His game is more varied than any player in the world: he can sit at the baseline and defend all day, either hitting rocket forehands, precise backhands, and devastating drop shots. Or he can serve and volley and put opponents away with short points. The man has it all.
The main obstacle in his path is obviously #1 seed Rafael Nadal. He lost to Federer in the 2010 year-end finals, and split a two match series with him for charity in December. Nadal lost in the second round in Sydney in straight sets, so even though he is the top seed, he clearly isn’t in the best form right now. Though he will be well rested. Nadal’s game is all about power. He has a hard serve that gets tremendous lefty kick, and his forehands, while not having the speed of some of the bigger hitters, has a kick that is unlike any other in the sport due to the high finish of his raquet. One downside to his game is that it is so hard on his body, with him running behind the baseline all the time. As such his knees have really started to deteriorate and it is unsure how much time he has left on the tour.
Novak Djokovic lost in the finals of the US Open last year, but when he is on I think he is the best challenger to Nadal and Federer. He is a very smooth player with a great serve and a varied game. I don’t like his rallies as much as some other guys, but there is no question that it is good enough to win a grand slam. I think he probably needs to get ahead in matches and then go for the kill, rather than be a guy who stays even with someone and takes it to a tiebreaker. He has been criticized a bit in the past for letting his emotions get to him and dictate his play, but the Aussie fans really like him, and they are more of a party type crowd rather than a snobbish crowd you see at Wimbledon. As such I think they will inspire him to play good tennis rather than hold him back.
Before I pick my winner, the final two contenders I would like to profile are the two Andys. Murray is a defensive type player who relies on the counter punch, but I think he has really improved his offensive game as well. Murray hasn’t won a grand slam yet but after making it to the finals of last year’s Aussie Open he appears poised to break through. I think he is kind of the Wozniacki of the men’s game where he is much better defensively, but he has the offensive game to win as well.
Roddick meanwhile is known for having the best serve on the planet. John Isner’s and Ivo Karlovic’s is probably as fast right now (though Roddick still has the fastest one ever recorded), but Roddick can place his wherever he wants and vary it up and get not only aces but easy points. But in recent years he has made a real commitment to his fitness and to his ground game, and as a result he can outlast opponents as well as chase down drop and lob shots that he previously would have given up on. It didn’t really translate into grand slam success last year, as his best result was a quarterfinal appearance at the Aussie Open, but he made it to the finals of last week’s Sydney tournament. As long as he avoids Federer I think he has a chance to go to the final.
One other player to watch is perhaps a bit out of left field: Juan Martin del Potro. The Argentine won the US Open in 2009, then missed last year’s event with an injury. Unlike most of the top players, del Potro’s game is not smooth at all. Both his forehand and backhand look like he is fighting it back into the other court. But he has a ton of power and has one of the highest ceilings on tour. Due to not being able to defend a lot of points at the end of last year his rank has plummeted to 258th, so he would have to win as an unseeded player, but he has the talent to do so.
Final pick: Federer over Djokovic.
note: the bracket wasn’t released at the time I wrote this post, so I’ll update my pick in the comments if these finals are impossible