By Yeshayahu Ginsburg
There are two things that we always need to keep in mind while watching these tournaments right before the Slams. The first is that there is a ton that we can learn about who is ready and who isn’t; the second is that it is very easy to overreact to results. Also, every match is a tale of two players. You can’t just look at a scoreline to determine how well or poorly a player is playing.
The most glaring result from the first week of the year was the Doha semifinal, where Nikolay Davydenko beat World No. 5 David Ferrer in straight sets. It was Davydenko’s first win over a top 5 player since the Doha semifinals in 2011, where he beat Rafael Nadal. So what does this match teach us and how much does that mean? First of all, it really doesn’t say anything bad about Ferrer. Ferrer plays a very strong counterattacking defensive style, which is prone to get beaten down by heavy hitters. He played his game and did not play badly. He was just not the better player on court that day and that’s okay. It doesn’t say anything bad about Ferrer’s chances of going deep in Melbourne next week.
Davydenko, on the other hand, looked incredible. He played at a level that we haven’t seen from him in years. He was striking the ball hard and true and would have troubled even Federer or Djokovic with that level of play. He really looked like a player that could challenge to win the Australian Open, something that we haven’t been able to say about him since 2010, really. This, however, is where we need to keep in mind not to overreact to individual results. Davydenko showed a sustained high level for an entire match for the first time in a long time. He seemed to sustain it also for a while against Richard Gasquet in the final until an injury surfaced. He is definitely one to keep an eye on in Melbourne (assuming he’s healthy), but we have to be careful not to expect too much at this point. A little more than one good match does not indicate the ability to sustain success, but it definitely would be nice to see if he could do it.
The runner-up in Chennai also deserves for us to take a look at. Roberto Bautista-Agut played the best tournament of his life so far (well, at the World Tour level), upsetting Tomas Berdych and reaching the final. This result, also, is something that we should not overreact to. Bautista-Agut played well and scrapped his way to winning those matches, but those wins came over players who were not playing at their best. Bautista-Agut has good upside, but he is not quite a top tour-level player yet. If he fights just as hard in Melbourne he could get a few wins with a favorable draw, but don’t expect this Chennai result to be indicative of future performance.
The final two players I want to look at heading into the Australian Open are two who met in the semifinals in Brisbane—Marcos Baghdatis and Grigor Dimitrov. Baghdatis is a former Australian Open runner-up who peaked in his third year on tour and hasn’t really done much since. He reached the Australian Open final and Wimbledon semifinal in 2006 but has only been past the fourth round of a Slam once afterwards (quarterfinalist in 2007 Wimbledon). Baghdatis has shown flashes of that old brilliance since then but has never really kept it up. He showed flashes once again in Brisbane, so maybe he can gain some confidence and momentum going into the Australian Open and make a nice run. Until then, though, he will still be more famous for his racket-smashing than his performance on the court.
Dimitrov is a player that a lot of fans have been waiting to see come out of his shell for a long time. Once known as “Baby Fed”, due to a perceived similarity in talent and playing style, Dimitrov is often mentioned along with Ryan Harrison as an undeveloped talent. He is not at the top mentally yet, but the more I see him play the more impressed I am. Yes, he still loses bad matches. But he is clearly developing and clearly has incredible potential, and seems to get more consistent as time goes on. I think he learned a lot from playing Andy Murray in the final and he, more than anyone else mentioned here, has the potential to do something special in Melbourne. A real test will be if he can keep this good form in Sydney this week as well. You don’t want to see him playing too much so that he isn’t too fatigued heading into Melbourne, but you want to see him at least have good showings. A lot depends on the draw, obviously, but if Dimitrov can continue this form, I expect to start seeing the big things that we all know he is capable of very soon.