So here we are, a few days away from the start of the first major of the year, the Australian Open. The are many questions heading into the big event. Will Novak Djokovic be able to repeat? Will Roger Federer capture his 17th major title? Will Rafael Nadal be able to find the form he showed in 2009 when he won? Will Andy Murray finally break through and win his first major, with the help of Ivan Lendl as his coach? We will get the answers to these questions and many more over the next few weeks.
The draw was released on Friday, and there are a few surprises. The biggest one is that for the first time since the French Open 2008, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic are NOT in the same half of the draw! That means that for the first time since the French Open 2005, Federer and Nadal are in the same half of the draw in a Grand Slam. Overall, the draw looks pretty favourable for Djokovic, Nadal, and Federer, the top three seeds. For World #4 Andy Murray, it is going to be very difficult for him to even make the final again like he has the past two years. So without further ado, a look at the draws of the top 4.
#1 Novak Djokovic
Djokovic has a very good draw and should make the semifinals easily if he is playing well. His hardest opponent in the early rounds would be Radek Stepanek, in the 3rd. In the 4th round, Novak could meet Canadian Milos Raonic. Personally, I
want to see this match, not only because Raonic is from my home
country, but because it would be a very compelling match. The best
server on tour versus the best returner on tour. Raonic won in Chennai
and has the kind of big game that can hurt a guy like Djokovic. The highest seed in his quarter is David Ferrer, and he would also be the toughest match. Djokovic dismantled 61 62 in the Abu Dhabi final a few weeks ago. Now, I don't want to say that Ferrer would have no chance, because he would. He beat Djokovic at the World Tour Finals and if he is at his best and Djokovic isn't then Novak could be in for a test there. Still, even if Novak has to face Raonic and Ferrer back to back, he should win both at the most in 4 sets. Then in the semifinals he could play Andy Murray in a rematch of the 2011 final or Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in a rematch of the 2008 final. Both Murray and Tsonga have been on fire lately and neither could be taken lightly. Murray could be especially dangerous for Nole if Lendl can convince Murray that he can win and helps him with tactics against the Serb. However, Djokovic is the best player in the world for a reason and should, on paper, get through to the final without any true difficulty. But that's why nothing is ever decided on paper, right?
#2 Rafael Nadal
Nadal has a good draw for his standards, but he could face some daunting tasks along the way. The highest seed in his quarter is Tomas Berdych. Berdych may not be playing as well as he was in 2010, but he is still a very dangerous player and not someone to be taken lightly by any means. A round before that, Rafa could play John Isner. You might remember Isner losing to Nadal in the 1st round of the French Open last year. On this surface, and with his serve, Isner can give Nadal headaches. Whether or not he will, that's a whole other story, but with Nadal's average returning abilities, a guy like Isner can hurt the Spaniard if he is at his best. Tommy Haas is the likely opponent for him in the 2nd, and Ivan Ljubicic in the 3rd. Ljubicic is a wiley veteran and he could give Nadal a tough early round match. I can't see Nadal not making the semifinals here, although don't be surprised if he gets upset with his recent form of late. I get the feeling these days that with Rafa, anything can happen.
#3 Roger Federer
Alright, let me start off by saying that Roger has a favourable draw because he does not have Tsonga in his quarter and Djokovic in his half. Alright now that I got that out of the way, let me start analyzing. The highest seed Fed has in his quarter is Mardy Fish. Would be a tough match, but one that Roger could get through in three close sets and not expend too much energy. Perhaps the most dangerous opponent he could meet is Juan Martin del Potro. The Argentine, while not as great as he once was in 2009, is still very lethal and could pose a big threat to Roger. I believe that if Fed is at his best though, Delpo won't stand a chance, not at the level that he is currently at. Only time will tell. In the early rounds, Federer could meet Jurgen Melzer or Ivo Karlovic in round three. Both would be good tests but I think Roger will be sharp in the early rounds and take either of them with ease. His 4th round is mighty interesting. He could play Bernard Tomic, Fernando Verdasco, or Alexandr Dolgopolov, all of whom would be hard matches. However, if Roger is feeling it on that day or night, all three won't stand much of a chance, even Tomic. Even if Roger gets through in three tight sets he will be plenty happy and move onto the quarters feeling confident. Overall, I think this is a GREAT draw for Federer, and I really think he can make the semifinals with only dropping one set at most. In the semis, of course, he may meet Nadal, which would be a challenging but engaging contest.
#4 Andy Murray
Murray has a tough one. In round one, he plays youngster Ryan Harrison. He is likely to meet Xavier Malisse in the second round, another tricky match. In the third, he could play Michael Llodra, Ernests Gulbis, or Alex Bogomolov Jr. In the 4th round, a compelling match with Gael Monfils awaits, and I'm sure we would all love to see that. In the quarters, a very difficult match with Tsonga could be waiting. Both men have been on fire lately so that one really could be a toss up. And then, the premier match, a semi with Novak Djokovic is set if they both get through. Even with this tough draw, I see Murray getting through to the semis and maybe even the final, depending on Novak's health and time on court at that stage of the tournament. Ivan Lendl will surely play a vital part if Murray is to beat Djokovic in the semis, which I do believe he can do. But HE has to believe he can win if he wants to have any chance at revenge for last year's defeat. Anyway, at this point the safest thing to guarantee would be a semifinal appearance, and he may not even get that far.
There is a great chance that all of the top 4 seeds will get through to the semifinals, but I am going to go out on a limb with my predictions as to who makes the final. I believe we will see a Federer/Berdych semifinal with the Czech taking out Nadal in the quarters. On the other side, we'll see a Djokovic vs Murray semi. I think we will see Murray upset Djokovic however, which will set up a Federer/Murray final, a rematch of the 2010 final. I think Novak will have some tough matches along the way and won't be at his best in the semi, and Murray will find a way to win with the new help of Ivan Lendl in his box.
So my predictions go like this, from the quarters on:
Djokovic vs Ferrer - Djokovic
Murray vs Tsonga - Murray
Nadal vs Berdych - Berdych
Federer vs Fish - Federer
Djokovic vs Murray - Murray
Federer vs Berdych - Federer
Federer vs Murray - Federer
I can rest assure you that I am not just picking Federer because he is my favourite. I understand that Djokovic is the overwhelming favourite and that it is quite absurd to pick him to go out in the semis. But should Djokovic and Murray meet in the semifinals, I do believe Andy will pull through this time around. It is also strange to think that Nadal won't make the semis, but I guess that is more understandable with his questionable form as of late.
As for Fed, he has a very good draw as I mentioned before even just from the fact that he doesn't have Tsonga in his quarter and Djokovic in his half. I firmly believe that his back will be ready to go by the time play gets underway, and that he only withdrew in Doha as a precaution, as he said. Risking a tough three-set match with Tsonga would put his Australian Open chances at harm if he furthered strained his back in doing so. I think Fed can roll through the first four rounds and even the quarterfinal, and I believe he will be a very strong contender come the final weekend.
My dark horse in the event is Milos Raonic. He is on quite a roll after winning in Chennai and with his huge serve, he will not get broken a lot, which gives him a great advantage over many players. (Yes, you can say John Isner all you want but Raonic is a much more rounded player than the American and is much more versatile.) Remember his name, because he will be something special some day.
Until the 2012 Australian Open starts,