Written by Jay Jarrahi
The first Grand Slam of the season is almost upon us; the draw has been made, and has thrown up the usual dissections of the 128 man field. Here is a look at what the draw has delivered and the possibilities over the next two weeks.
Easy pickings for Federer
The first quarter of any slam draw in the past few years has seen the same man waltz through each time – world number one, Roger Federer. Between 2004 and 2006, Federer has failed to negotiate his quarter only once (Roland Garros 2004), often ending up with the trophy or a semi-final place at worst. Few would be brave enough (or indeed foolish enough) to suggest he will not continue his efficiency in disposing of his quarters. His toughest test looks likely to come in the 4th round in the form of Novak Djokovic.
Other players and matches to keep an eye on; Can Juan Carlos Ferrero break the losing streak? The former King of Clay has lost six matches on the spin dating back to last season, and will be hoping to remind himself of what victory tastes like against Jan Hajek. Before Djokovic can think of a meeting with Federer, he will first have to get past double Olympic gold medallist, Nicolas Massu. Last year’s final could be this year’s quarter-final, if Marcos Baghdatis can get that far for a re-match with Federer. Three of the ATP’s current crop of young talents have been drawn in close proximity, Baghdatis, Gael Monfils and Richard Gasquet. However, 7th seed Tommy Robredo will be looking to uphold his ranking and make the quarter-finals at the expense of these youngsters.
The quarter of aces
A quarter containing Ivan Ljubicic, Mario Ancic, Joachim Johansson, Marat Safin and Andy Roddick can be described as nothing else. Despite the excellent serving likely to be on show from these players, only one at best will be making it out of this quarter in what would be a likely showdown with Roger Federer. Undoubtedly, the most anticipated match up of the first week is a possible 3rd round encounter between Safin and Roddick.
Mario Ancic and Joachim Johansson are set for a 2nd round meeting, meaning that at least two of these four big servers will be gone by the start of the 4th round. Ivan Ljubicic will like his chances of at least equalling his Melbourne performance from 2006, where he reached the quarter-finals. Before last year’s Australian Open, Ljubicic had never been beyond the 3rd round of any Grand Slam in 25 attempts. He backed up his Australian Open effort, by making the last four at the French Open, but has since reverted back to type with 3rd and 1st round exits at Wimbledon and the US Open respectively.
Who wants it?
The highest seeds in the third quarter are Nikolay Davydenko (3) and David Nalbandian (8), not only do they share the same quarter but they also share doubts over their fitness after early season injuries. At the time of writing both players are expected to start the tournament, but whether that remains the case is to be seen, or how long their injuries will hold up if indeed they do begin the tournament at all. There is never a good time to be injured, and both players will be cursing their luck, as each of them will consider they have strong possibilities to come through this quarter.
Brotherly love may be in order in the 2nd round if the Rochus (Olivier & Christophe) brothers can win their 1st round encounters and meet in the following round. Both face tough challenges in the form of Chris Guccione (for Olivier) and Sebastian Grosjean (for Christophe).
Looking to take advantage of the doubts surrounding Davydenko and Nalbandian, will be Tomas Berdych and Tommy Haas. It is approaching the time where tennis fans want to see if Berdych can realise some of his potential in Slams, or whether he will prove to be more hype than substance. The Czech has not yet been past the 4th round of a Slam in 13 attempts, and has an especially poor record to date in Melbourne (2 wins in 3 years). Tommy Haas has been to two Australian Open semi-finals in his career and will be hoping he can take advantage of a draw that sees him avoid Roger Federer (in early 2006 Haas saw Federer block his path in a number of tournaments).
Xavier Malisse versus Arnaud Clement is the pick of the 1st round matches from this quarter.
Who wants it II?
Number two seed, Rafael Nadal, cannot be considered a hot favourite to come through the bottom quarter given his form since Wimbledon 2006. The Spaniard began the season in Chennai, but was disposed of by Malisse, and then had to withdraw in the first set of his tournament in Sydney against Guccione. The injury is not considered serious enough to put his participation in doubt, but nonetheless it is a possible factor counting against him going deep.
In the match of the 1st round, James Blake faces Carlos Moya (both players will be meeting later today in the final in Sydney). The winner of the clash in Sydney will not only pick up a title, but also a huge psychological boost going into the battle in Melbourne. The pressure is on Blake to start delivering in Slams, as of yet, he has failed to reach the quarter-finals of a Slam outside of the USA.
Lleyton Hewitt comes into the 2007 tournament with a new coach, Scott Draper, after Roger Rasheed cut his ties with the former world number one. Hewitt will be encouraged to have avoided a number of players with the potential to blow him off court, and this represents an opportunity for him to build on the quarter-finals he made in the final two Slams of 2006. His first big challenge could come in the form of Fernando Gonzalez in the 3rd round. The Chilean has the firepower to shoot Hewitt down, and it could be another explosive 3rd round match to go with Safin-Roddick.
Another player who will be hoping to go deep into the second week is Andy Murray. A possible 4th round match with Nadal awaits him should both players reach that stage.
Written by Jay Jarrahi