It’s hard to believe but the first Grand Slam of the year is already upon us. It wasn’t that long ago that everyone’s favourite Terracotta Warriors were battling it out in Shanghai to close out the 2007 ATP season. That tournament ended with Roger Federer putting an exlamation mark on his fantasic campaign, with a straight sets victory over David Ferrer. Federer is undoubtedly the favourite heading into Melbourne, although he has yet to test himself in battle this season due to flu-like symptoms. If the defending champ is not feeling his best, there may be an opening for someone else to come up big. Let’s look at some names to watchout for.
In the top half of the draw there are plenty of big hard court players lurking. Federer’s path to the semi’s seems rather clear, but there are some other interesting potential matchups. James Blake and Ivan Ljubicic could clash in round three with the winner prehaps moving on to face Fernando Gonzalez. Gonzo started 2007 off on fire in Australia, but the rest of the season he did not look like the same player and finished with a whimper. He could be tested early by Aussie Chris Guccione in round two. Further down in the top half of the draw we have an enticing third round battle between Dmirtry Tursunov and Novak Djokovic as a possibility. The winner likely to face either Hewitt or Safin. Also in this section is David Nalbandian and David Ferrer. Which Nalbandian are we likely to see in action at this stage of the season? He finished 2007 as the hottest player on tour, but was barely noticeable for the first eight months of the year.
Not as many early round matchups of note in this section of the draw. It looks like Andy Murray should be able to move through his first few rounds to reach the quarterfinals. Tsonga may give him a tough set in the opening round however. Either Russian Mikhail Youzhny or Nikolay Davydenko should likely meet Murray in the quarters. One player I expect a very strong tourney from is American Andy Roddick. He started very well in the Kooyong Classic last week, and doesn’t appear to have any true opposition en route to the quarters. Rafa Nadal should be his potential opponent at that stage, as he also has gained an easy draw.
First Round Matches of Note:
Isner/Santoro: One of the hardest servers in the game in Isner should contrast greatly with Santoro’s spins and drop shots.
Tursunov/Malisse: Two solid players meeting up in early round action. A five setter would not be a surprise.
Johansson/Baghdatis: Upset written all over this matchup. The experienced Swede could prove to be too much for Baghdatis.
Nieminen/Dancevic: Gotta give props to my fellow Canadian Frank Dancevic here. Nieminen holds the advantage 4-0 in career meetings, but I like Frank’s chances in a best of five hardcourt matchup.
Sleepers: Lookout for any of the following players to make an impact.
– Chris Guccione: local boy is fresh off the finals in Sydney
– Marat Safin: first round defeat as likely as a return to the finals
– Nicolas Kiefer: if healthy, a trip to the quarters would be no surprise
Federer vs Blake
Djokovic vs Nalbandian
Murray vs Davydenko
Roddick vs Nadal
Final: Federer d Murray