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Posts Tagged ‘Juan Martin del Potro’

PostHeaderIcon Novak’s Time to Shine: My Wimbledon Men’s Preview

Novak Djokovic (Billie Weiss/AELTC)

Novak Djokovic (Billie Weiss/AELTC)

Owing to the unpredictable nature of grass court tennis, Wimbledon is always ripe for early round upsets. Remember Rosol and Darcis’ triumphs over Nadal, or Stakhovsky’s takedown of Federer? Nothing is a given on grass if your opponent gets hot. This year is probably no exception, with a handful of potential upsets looming early. Still, I don’t see anything stopping Novak from a second Slam title after Paris disappointment. Let’s dive in for a “best guess” at who’ll be the last man standing on grass.

(* – Expected R16 matches)

Top Half, Top Quarter

Djokovic [1] – Tsonga [14] *

Wildcards: Simon (Djokovic), Querrey (Tsonga)

Gulbis [12] – Berdych [6] *

Stakhovsky or Verdasco (Gulbis), Cilic (Berdych)

Now is as good time as any to stake my claim on Djokovic as my Wimbledon favorite. Away from the clay (or even on the clay in best of 3), Novak has proven to be the most consistent of the Big Four at making the late stages of his tournaments. And his loss in the French Open final will just add fuel to the fire for another Slam title.

After dispatching Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in R16, Novak’s likely opponent in the quarters will be former finalist, Tomas Berdych, after he gets through his own tricky R16 with Ernests Gulbis. Gulbis won their last encounter a few weeks back at Roland Garros, but Berdych won their earlier meeting in Rotterdam, and also has a few more grass matches under his belt. So, barring another ’12 first-round upset (ironically, to Gulbis), Berdych takes this by a razor-thin margin.

Gilles Simon doesn’t really pose a threat to Novak, but he’s always dangerous when he cares enough. Querrey, a former Queen’s Club champion, could cause problems for Tsonga (see above for Simon). Gulbis will need to watch out for Sergiy Stakhovsky or Fernando Verdasco, and Berdych will definitely need to watch out for Marin Cilic. In the end, however, look for a Novak – Tomas quarterfinal.

Top Half, Bottom Quarter

Murray [3] – Fognini [16] *

Wildcards: Bautista Agut (Murray), Anderson (Fognini)

Dimitrov [11] – Ferrer [7] *

Wildcards: Thiem or Dolgopolov (Dimitrov), Brown (Ferrer)

Mauresmo notwithstanding, Andy Murray will be lucky to make it out of this quarter…and I’m just not sure he’s going to be THAT lucky. Odds are good that he’ll make a quarterfinal appearance, but then he’ll likely face off against Grigor Dimitrov, the newly-crowned Queen’s Club champion. And with Grigor’s much-improved game and 5-set match fitness, Andy could be hard put to reach the semifinals.

Though he is the expected R16 match for Murray, Fabio Fognini is a non-starter. Kevin Anderson is more likely to reach the R16 than Fognini. To a lesser extent, the same could be said of David Ferrer in the bottom section with Dimitrov. He’s the expected match, but comes into Wimbledon on the heels of an injury. His first test could come in the form of Dustin Brown, a talented-yet-unpredictable player who knocked off a tired Nadal in Halle. But even if he gets past Brown, he won’t get past Dimitrov.

Though I might be selling Andy short in this quarter, Grigor finally looks primed to reach his first Slam semifinal.

Bottom Half, Top Quarter

Wawrinka [5] – Isner [9] *

Wildcards: Istomin (Wawrinka), Lopez (Isner)

Janowicz [15] – Federer [4] *

Wildcards: Janowicz (Janowicz), Muller/Benneteau (Federer)

This quarter, titled “The Monte Carlo Rematch”, will likely pit the current Swiss No. 1 against the former Swiss No. 1.

Though he’s had an uneven season, Stan Wawrinka is still one of the game’s elites, and not half-bad on grass. He might receive a challenge from John Isner, but it’s not likely. Big John hasn’t had the best season, however, and hasn’t been able to use his big serve for success at SW19 a la Andy Roddick. But his presence should keep Stan on his toes, as should the presence of Feliciano Lopez; a surprisingly adept grass court player.

Roger’s path to the quarters goes through Jerzy Janowicz, which could be tough. Jerzy hasn’t had the best year, but could catch fire like he did at last year’s Championships (semifinal loss to Murray). Roger will also have to watch out for two potential upset artists: Julien Benneteau and Gilles Muller. Benneteau had him on the ropes in 2012, and Muller always seems to lift his game on grass.

But even with all of the potential challengers, it’s hard to see this quarter being won by someone NOT from Switzerland.

Bottom Half, Bottom Quarter

Raonic [8] – Nishikori [10] *

Wildcards: Kohlschreiber (Nishikori)

Gasquet [13] – Nadal [2] *

Wildcards: Kyrgios or Monfils (Gasquet), Klizan or Rosol or Karlovic (Nadal)

Rafa Nadal is about as vulnerable this year as any year I’ve seen. Yes, he won a record ninth French Open title, and he’s the World No. 1, but there’s a greater sense now at the ripe old age of 28 that his body is becoming more and more uncooperative to the stresses of the game. Grass is one of the biggest stresses for him (knees) because of the low/unpredictable bounce. And let’s not forget that troublesome back, which nearly took him into a fifth set against Novak in Paris.

Rafa’s draw doesn’t help either, seeing as it’s littered with potential landmines all the way to (and including) the quarterfinal match. Klizan, Karlovic, and his 2012 slayer Rosol all have a chance at an early Nadal scalp. Richard Gasquet has grass-court credibility as well. If Gasquet can get by the surging, young star Nick Kyrgios AND countryman Gael Monfils, Rafa will have his hands full.

And that’s only in his section of the quarter. The other side poses even greater threats with Milos Raonic and Kei Nishikori.  Raonic has improved his movement over the past year, but still gets challenged on grass – even with his huge serve. Luckily for him, he has no real challengers up until he faces Nishikori.

How that match might swing will depend on many factors. The first is Nishikori’s body. He always seems to be at risk of retiring or breaking down in way too many matches. Longer Slam matches don’t help. The good thing for him, however, is that he’s playing some of his best tennis and is a better mover than most. If he can get by Kohlschreiber, I think he’ll get past Raonic for a spot in the quarters.

My gut tells me that Rafa won’t make it out of this quarter. Then again, my gut told me that his knee wouldn’t hold up for last year’s US Open; and we all know what happened there, right? In all seriousness, Rafa’s best chance this year is to pray for a hot and dry fortnight that will make for drier grass and, eventually, a more clay-esque environment for his game.

Quarterfinal Picks

Djokovic – Berdych, Murray – Dimitrov, Wawrinka – Federer, Nishikori – Nadal

Notable First-Round Matches

Steve Johnson (USA) v Roberto Bautista Agut (ESP) [27]

Grigor Dimitrov (BUL) [11] v Ryan Harrison (USA)

Donald Young (USA) v Benjamin Becker (GER)

Samuel Groth (AUS) v Alexandr Dolgopolov (UKR) [21]

Martin Klizan (SVK) v Rafael Nadal (ESP) [2]

PostHeaderIcon Rafa and Maria Ousted In An Epic BNP Paribas Open “Shock or Not”

dolgopolov-header

Dolgopolov knocks out No. 1 Nadal

Rafa is out, Maria is out, and Mohamed Lahyani desperately needs either glasses or a good night’s sleep! Let’s jump right in on one of the most momentous days in recent BNP Paribas Open history that saw both defending champions sent packing.

rafa-sit

Rafa Nadal
David Sweet Photo

camila

Camila Giorgi

maria-pleads

Maria pleads her case to the chair umpire

agut

Roberto Bautista Agut
Jayne Kamin-Oncea / USA TODAY Sports

tsonga

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

mo-lahyani

Mohamed Lahyani

reach

Jiri Vesely reaches across the net to hit the ball against Andy Murray

EPIC

Alexandr Dolgopolov defeats Rafa Nadal: Shock or Not? Seismic SHOCK

Dolgopolov hadn’t taken a set from Nadal, let alone beaten the World No. 1 in previous meetings.  But there they were on Stadium Court, Nadal struggling and Dolgopolov ripping crosscourt backhands as if it were the easiest thing to do on earth. For a brief, it appeared as though Rafa would pull off a miracle late-match comeback: but not this time, nor against this opponent.

However, we shouldn’t be that surprised that Rafa lost given his “Hail Mary” win against Stepanek in the first round. Bypassing any talk of potential back issues, Rafa mentioned in press that he hasn’t felt comfortable since arriving in the desert. It was clear to see that didn’t play with the sufficient serve speed or depth of shot that we’ve become accustomed to seeing from him since his return from the “knee hiatus”. And both of those deficits hurt him against Dolgopolov, a deft shotmaker who hit screaming winners off of anything Rafa left short.

“It’s true that I played against two opponents that probably didn’t help me to get the rhythm in the tournament. But that’s it. I was there. I saved tough situation the first day. Today I was close to save another one.”

Close but not close enough.

Camila Giorgi defeats Maria Sharapova: Shock or Not? Not

As with Vika’s first-round exit, I also called this one when in my tournament preview piece. Maria hasn’t had time to get match tough because of her late ’13 injury/early ’14 schedule, and it showed. “You can train for so many hours on end, and it just doesn’t replicate what you’re doing out there in the tournament.” Too true Maria.

Even with this loss, it’s nice to know that coach Sven Groeneveld’s head isn’t on the chopping block. “I mean, results-wise, it’s obviously not where I want to go. But I’ve never been the person that comes out and wins the first tournament as a partnership. It took me a little while from when I started working with Thomas [Hogstedt].”

NOT QUITE EPIC

Roberto Bautista Agut defeats Tomas Berdych: Shock or Not? Shock

Roberto is certainly a great player, but these are the matches that Tomas must win if he is ever to be taken seriously as one of the game’s top challengers.  If you can’t win these tough “upstart” matches, you can’t win the big titles.  But even though he lost, he still managed to keep his sense of humor on Twitter:

Julien Benneteau defeats Jo-Wilfried Tsonga: Shock or Not? Shock

I don’t want to give up on Jo-Willy, but I don’t know what else to do right now with his baffling/pending slide out of the Top Ten. Injury issues aside, he is utterly lost. He stopped working with Roger Rasheed last year to solo for a bit. Now that he’s with former player Nicolas Escude, he seems more lost than ever. Is it the coach or is it the player? We’ll find out soon enough.

CHAIR UMPIRE SHOCK

Lahyani Makes 3 Bad Overrules, Misses Net “Reach Over”: Shock or Not? Shock

Mohamed Lahyani is one of the most charismatic of all the chair umpires, and one of the better Gold Badge chairs working the circuit. So it was surprising to see him make some pretty horrific overrules in Andy Murray’s match against Jiri Vesely. And in a “Shades of Rogers Cup” moment, he completely missed Jiri reaching over the net to hit a winner on a Murray lob (a big no-no).

(Mo missed a similar net event in last year’s Roger’s Cup when Milos Raonic touched the net while retrieving a shot from Juan Martin Del Potro. Raonic went on to win the match.)

We’re all human and make mistakes, but the certainty with which Lahyani made his overrules only to be proven wrong, back to back in Andy’s match, was startling. Here’s hoping that he gets a good night’s sleep for a better day in the chair on Tuesday.

 

PostHeaderIcon Wide Open for the Women, and the Big Three +1: My Indian Wells Quarter Picks

indianwells-preview

WTA

A Serena Williams-free BNP Paribas Open means a much more realistic chance at one of the year’s biggest titles for the other top women. Conservatively, I’d say that 6 out of the top 8 seeds have a realistic chance to win, along with a couple of other Top 20 outliers! If the chips fall the right way, it’s anyone’s title to win. Let’s take a look through the quarters to see which women have the best chances to make it through to the semifinals.

Top Half/Top Quarter

Li Na – Petra Kvitova

In spite of her Doha hiccup, Li Na has a great chance to take this quarter and go on to the final. She’s finally found a coach that she can hear, and a path that she can navigate to manage her emotions against her expectations. Besides Petra, there aren’t a lot of other women in this quarter, save Dominika Cibulkova and Ekaterina Makarova, who have a reasonable chance to beat her.

As for Petra, one never knows what to expect from her these days. Sometimes her fitness is good, sometimes it’s not. Sometimes she plays like a Top 10’er, other times not so much. That lack of consistency is why Li Na will move through to the semifinals.

Top Half/Bottom Quarter

Maria Sharapova – Angelique Kerber

With torch-bearing/commentary duties in Sochi, Maria’s had a whirlwind winter. Unfortunately, it’s led to a distinct lack of matches for a player who needs a lot of match play in order to reach her best form. A R16 loss in Australia and semifinal loss in Paris don’t bode well for her confidence. A healthy Flavia Pennetta could spell trouble: healthy being the operative word. There’s been no word on her recurring wrist issues, but you never know.

Angelique has a chance to make it from the bottom part of this quarter, but will likely be knocked out by a resurgent Ana Ivanovic, who leads their H2H 4-2. (Please note that I’m weary of referring to Ana as resurgent.) All things considered (Maria’s lack of matches, Flavia’s wrist, Angie’s losing record against her), Ana probably has the best chance to take this quarter.

Bottom Half/Top Quarter

Simona Halep – Victoria Azarenka

There are a couple of question marks in this quarter. The first is the status of Vika’s leg. She’s said that she still feels pain in it, but will attempt to play. But even if she does, I can’t imagine that she’ll have the sharpness necessary to make it out of this quarter.

The other is how will Simona react to the expectations of her new status? A first round loss in Brisbane was followed by a quarterfinal showing in Melbourne. But that was followed by another first-round loss, which was then followed by a title…and then another first-round loss. If the pattern holds true, she’s got as good a chance as anyone of reaching the semifinals. Then again, so does Genie Bouchard.

With Vika on the mend, look for the Simona/Genie winner to reach the semifinals. My gut tells me to go with the plucky Canadian, so I’ll go with Genie.

Bottom Half/ Bottom Quarter

Jelena Jankovic – Aga Radwanska

Jelena and Aga, the two highest seeds in this quarter, look to be the odds-on favorites to reach the quarters. Kaia Kanepi, Carla Suarez Navarro, Alize Cornet, and Elena Vesnina are all solid, but definitely not true contenders without Doha-like misfires from Jelena and Aga.

Since Aga leads their H2H 4-1, look for Aga to reach her second Indian Wells semifinal.

Quarter Picks: Li Na, Ana Ivanovic, Genie Bouchard, and Aga Radwanska

ATP

No disrespect meant to Andy Murray, but the Big Four is now temporarily back to being the Big Three (Nadal, Djokovic, Federer). Back surgery at the end of 2013 pushed back Andy’s preseason fitness timeline, rendering him less than optimal for this spring season. But he’s not the only one with performance issues coming into this tournament. Rafa got a title win in Rio. Roger got a title win in Dubai. Novak, however, has nothing to show for 2014.

When you add a guy like Grigor Dimitrov to the equation, you have some interesting title prospects in the desert. Let’s take a look at the men’s draw and see which guys have the most likely paths to the semifinals.

Top Half/ Top Quarter

Rafa Nadal – Andy Murray

There’s no way that Andy can get past Rafa at this point in the season. But Rafa’s place in the quarters isn’t assured either. He’s got a tough top section of this quarter with the likes of Alexandr Dolgopolov, Gael Monfils, and Fabio Fognini. He should make it by all three, but anything can happen in a best of three set tournament.

In the bottom section, Milos Raonic and Jerzy Janowicz have the best chance to make it through if Andy wobbles, which is possible given that his confidence isn’t at its highest. But he can take heart from some gutsy play to reach the semifinals in Acapulco before losing to eventual champion, Grigor Dimitrov. Moreover, Andy has better ‘tennis smarts’ than both and much better defense.

Look for him to reach the quarters before losing to Rafa.

Top Half/ Bottom Quarter

Stan Wawrinka – Roger Federer

Look for this quarterfinal to be a battle for Swiss bragging rights between the newly-crowned Australian Open champ and the Greatest of All Time.

Before that, however, Stan needs to get through a likely opening match against Ivo Karlovic. Even with 2 titles under his belt in 2014, Stan hasn’t played a tournament since his Aussie Open win. An upset isn’t likely, but it’s still a tricky match against an opponent who’s more than capable.

Roger, on the other hand, has probably the best path to the quarters of any top guy. Kei Nishikori is his only real challenger, and that’s not going to be much of a challenge for a guy who just notched some huge wins en route to a title in Dubai. Look for Roger to make it through to another meeting with Rafa in the semifinals.

Bottom Half/ Top Quarter

Richard Gasquet – Tomas Berdych

This is one heckuva tough quarter! At a glance, there are 5 guys with a legitimate shot at making it to the semifinals. In addition to Richard and Tomas, you can add Philipp Kohlschreiber, Grigor Dimitrov, and Ernests Gulbis. In terms of the draw, Richard and Philipp will battle for one quarterfinal spot while the Grigor/Ernests winner will battle Tomas for the other quarterfinal spot.

Richard lost to Philipp in Rotterdam, and has had an unspectacular year so far. So Phil looks good to get through on his side of the quarter. On the other, Grigor is on a roll now that the pieces of his game have finally come together. He should get by Ernests in a tough encounter. Tomas is at a higher level than Ernests, but will still be susceptible to Grigor’s newfound confidence, and superior defense.

In a battle between Grigor and Philipp, sign me up for the Bulgarian Express.

Bottom Half/ Bottom Quarter

Juan Martin Del Potro – Novak Djokovic

Honestly, I don’t know why Juan Martin is playing here after retiring due to wrist pain in Dubai. Defending points at the expense of further injury isn’t necessary or smart. Look for Gilles Simon to step up and make a run for the quarters in his absence (when he retires again). Jo-Wilfried Tsonga is in this section as well, but he’s become as unpredictable as Petra Kvitova these days.

In the bottom section, Novak could receive a test from Marin Cilic, but that’s about it. He might be struggling in the latter stages of tournaments against Nadal and Federer, but he’s still a class above everyone else. And that includes all the guys in his quarter.

Quarter picks: Rafa Nadal, Roger Federer, Grigor Dimitrov, and Novak Djokovic

PostHeaderIcon A Special Australian Oven, I mean Open, Week One “Shock or Not”

Maria Sharapova under duress!

Maria Sharapova under duress

Now that the Melbourne heat wave has subsided and we don’t have to question the competence of the AO tournament referee & doctor, let’s take a moment to review some of the crazy heat-related results in this Week One “Shock or Not” from the Slam of the Sahara.
[BTW, I take no credit for Australian Oven. I saw Kirsten Flipkens mention it first on Twitter. Thanks Kirsten. :-)]

WTA

Julia Goerges defeats Sara Errani: Shock or Not? Not

Sara’s been in a steady decline since her breakthrough year in 2012. Maxed out, maybe?

Ekaterina Makarova defeats Venus Williams: Shock or Not? Not

Makarova, a doubles champion at last year’s French and a quarterfinalist at the Australian and US Open, is no slouch. This was always going to be a tough one for Venus to win. And the heat didn’t help matters.

Luksika Kumkhum defeats Petra Kvitova: Shock or Not? DEFINITELY Shock

I’ll certainly give Petra the benefit of the doubt, and chalk this one up to the heat. But as I wrote in my AO Ten Speed, the time has come for Petra to make the move to being a serious contender for greatness, or merely a contented Top-5er. She has all the talent needed for the former, but does she have the heart for the hard work?

Sloane Stephens defeats Yaroslava Shvedova and Ajla Tomljanovic: Shock or Not? Shock and MORE Shock

With sluggish starts in both matches, Sloane’s lucky to still be in this tournament. I hope she sent gift baskets to both of her opponents for doing their best to help her win.

Elina Svitolina defeats Svetlana Kuznetsova: Shock or Not? Not

You never know which Sveta will show up these days, even to a Slam.

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Scott Barbour

Li Na defeats Lucie Safarova: Shock or Not? Not

I’m not shocked that Li Na won this match, but I am shocked that Lucie Safarova lost this match after holding match points, fading (mentally) horribly at the end. The heat was awful, and the oven-like conditions could make many lose focus and meltdown (figuratively AND literally), so I won’t fault her too much. However, this loss is gonna stick around for a long time with the lefty Czech. I hope Li Na sent Lucie something nice afterward…

Maria Sharapova defeats Karin Knapp: Shock or Not? Not

I’m not shocked, but I am sure as all heck impressed with Maria’s ability to fight deep through her heat despair to win this match. And I also give mad ‘props to Karin for pushing Maria to the brink.

Samantha Stosur defeats Klara Zakopalova AND Tsvetana Pironkova: Shock or Not? Shock and Shock

Ana Ivanovic defeats Sam Stosur: Shock or Not? Not

It’s a mixed bag here of two “shocks” and a “not”. Sam has always faltered in Australia, so I’m shocked to see her play so well to defeat two troubling opponents. But all good things must come to an end, and Sam came back to Earth with a very disappointing loss in a winnable match to Ana.

ATP

Andreas Seppi defeats Lleyton Hewitt: Shock or Not? Not

I love the old guy’s fight, and am happy he won in Brisbane. But his AO history hasn’t been great the past few years, no matter how well he’s done in the tune-up events.

Donald Young defeats Andreas Seppi: Shock or Not? Shock

Donald’s struggles with match confidence and combat “heart” are legendary at this point. The fact that he hung tough in that fifth set showed a maturity that we’ve all been waiting to see.

Roberto Bautista Agut defeats Juan Martin Del Potro: Shock or Not? Shock

The heat claimed another victim with JMDP. Still, he’s too great of a player not to rise to the occasion. Heck, if Maria can do it why can’t he?

2014 AAMI Classic - Day 3

Scott Barbour

Gilles Simon defeats Daniel Brands and Marin Cilic: Shock or Not? Beaucoup de Shock

Gilles was on crutches after an ankle injury at the Kooyong exhibition, and headed for the closest French physical therapy studio only two days before his epic R1 win over Brands. He followed it with another epic win over Cilic, who’s played decent tennis in his post-suspension comeback. What’s the French translation for “Rope-a-dope”?

Teymuraz Gabashvili defeats Fernando Verdasco: Shock or Not? Shock

Gabashvili is a solid player, but has never been what anyone would call a “standout”. Verdasco, on the other hand, has played some of his best tennis in Melbourne; just maybe not this year under these conditions.

Fabio Fognini defeats Sam Querrey: Shock or Not? Shock… I think

I can’t decide if I’m shocked that Fabio pulled it together to win, or that Sam went away so badly after serving for the first set and ultimately losing it 7-5. Someone help me out here! Either way, I should never be shocked when it comes to the “colorful” Italian. And yes, I’m being nice. 😉

PostHeaderIcon The 2014 AO Men’s Draw, or The Road to Another Novak-Rafa Final

Novak Djokovic (Ben Loke)

Novak Djokovic (ausopen.com/Ben Loke)

Oddly enough, the Australian Open, the first Slam of the New Year, looks set to return us all to the 2013 ATP status quo.  Before the draws were made, I was fairly certain we’d see a 40th meeting between the tournament’s top two seeds, Rafa Nadal and Novak Djokovic, in a second AO final. Now that the draw is out, I still believe that’s the outcome; though it will be slightly tougher for Nadal than for Djokovic.

Let’s dive in to see the likely path each will take to arrive at the final Sunday.

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Rafa Nadal (ausopen.com/Graham Denholm/Getty Images)

Top Half – Top Quarter

Nadal – Hewitt/Nishikori R16 (Sock/Monfils 3rd round)

Raonic – Del Potro R16

This quarter promises a few rematches, and even one “grudge match”. After drawing an unfortunate first-round match against Bernard Tomic (sorry Bernie), Rafa will likely face the winner of the Sock/Monfils second-round match. While it’s not ideal to start a Slam facing opponents of this level, I think it will force Rafa to start the tournament immediately focused and ready to play his best, not relying on “working his way into it”.

His likely R16 opponent will be the winner of the Lleyton Hewitt/Kei Nishikori match. Hewitt got the best of Nishikori in Brisbane, but this could go either way depending on how Hewitt’s body holds up in the first couple of rounds. In either case, it won’t stop Rafa from getting through to the quarters.

The bottom part of this quarter promises a R16 grudge match between Milos Raonic and Juan Martin Del Potro. After an unfortunate net touch (and non-admission/non-apology) incident in last year’s Roger’s Cup, Del Potro got the upper hand on the Canadian with a win in the Tokyo final. I’m looking for Del Potro to take this match as well because of his deep-run Slam experience; something Raonic still has yet to achieve.

In the ultimate Nadal versus Del Potro quarterfinal battle, I give the razor-thin edge to Rafa. DelPo has never made it past the quarters in Melbourne, and those ghosts are hard to shake. Rafa is 35-7 in Melbourne, and has made it to the final twice with a title run in 2009. It’s hard to ignore those numbers.

Top Half – Bottom Quarter

Murray – Lopez (3rd round), Kohlschreiber – Isner (3rd round)

Tsonga – Cilic (3rd round), Federer – Verdasco/Stakhovsky (3rd round)

It’s good to have Andy Murray back in the mix, and hopefully with his assorted niggling back injuries long behind him. That said, there’s no way he’s going to make an impact in this Slam so soon after surgery with so few matches under his belt. In fact, there’s a good chance he could get knocked out in the third round by Feliciano Lopez. The player most likely to make it through the top part of this quarter is either Philipp Kohlschreiber or John Isner.

Things get a little more interesting in the bottom part of this quarter. Even though Jo-Wilfried Tsonga might have his hands full with a newly-unsuspended Marin Cilic, he will likely end in an R16 rematch against Roger Federer; with Tsonga getting the upper hand over this current (and slightly-diminished) version of tennis’ GOAT.

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Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (ausopen.com/Ben Solomon Tennis Australia)

Jo has grown a ton over the past couple of years and, barring injury, looks poised to get himself back into the discussion. Roger’s struggles with his back, his age, and his new racquet are a known quantity, so I won’t rehash them here. Suffice it to say, Tsonga’s ability to get through in this match, then the likely quarterfinal against Isner, is greater than Federer’s. Tsonga through to the semis…

Bottom Half – Top Quarter

Berdych – Anderson R16

Janowicz/Youzhny (3rd round) – Ferrer R16

At least on paper, this quarter is likely to have the least amount of fireworks. Tomas Berdych and David Ferrer, the top seeds in this section, are more than likely to be this section’s quarterfinalists.

Berdych won’t face any probable tests en route to the quarterfinals. Additionally, he might even gain confidence from beating up on Kevin Anderson for a 10th. On the other hand, Ferrer, in spite of his loss to Yen-Hsun Lu in Auckland, will plug away in his usual workman-like fashion to work his way into the tournament.

Because of his playing style, Ferrer might have some difficulties working his way through the draw; particularly against the Jerzy Janowicz/Mikhail Youzhny winner. However, I don’t see the hard-working Spaniard being derailed en route to a quarterfinal meeting with Berdych… WHERE HE WILL EDGE OUT THE CZECH for a spot in the semifinals.

Bottom Half – Bottom Quarter

Wawrinka – Gasquet R16

Gulbis – Djokovic R16

The only name that really matters in this quarter is Novak Djokovic, the defending champion and the man most likely to win a fourth consecutive AO title. He could potentially see a few tests along the way, but nothing that he won’t be able to overcome. Ernests Gulbis looms as a potential R16 opponent, but there’s no comparison between these two on a Grand Slam stage, and there’s no way that the Latvian will be able to pull off such a monumental upset.

On the other side of this quarter, we’re looking at a likely R16 match between World #8 Stan Wawrinka and World #9 Richard Gasquet. Though these guys are evenly-matched with a 1-1 head-to-head record, Stan typically plays some of his best tennis Down Under. Look for Stan to meet Novak for another barn burner five-set quarterfinal, with Novak again outlasting the Swiss #2.

Notable First Round Matches:

Rafa Nadal versus Bernard Tomic

Tournament Picks

Please take these tournament picks with many grains of salt. After all, anything can (and usually does) happen in this game!

Quarterfinals

Rafa Nadal/Juan Martin Del Potro, John Isner/Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Tomas Berdych/David Ferrer, Stan Wawrinka/Novak Djokovic

Semifinals

Rafa Nadal/Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, David Ferrer/Novak Djokovic

Final

Rafa Nadal/Novak Djokovic

Champion: Novak Djokovic

PostHeaderIcon More Post-Sleep Pre-Australian Open Tune-up Thoughts

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Due to sleep constraints last night (got to bed around 5AM) I didn’t get a chance to include discussions of WTA stars Sloane Stephens, who injured her wrist playing the Hopman Cup competition, or Aga Radwanska, who lost in the first round of Sydney. Sloane’s participation in this year’s Australian Open is in jeopardy because of the injury, and that’s not a good thing for her at the start of the year. Sloane has semifinal points to defend, and that’s a huge chunk of points that can make her life easier or harder as the year progresses. I’ve got my fingers crossed for her.

Aga I’m not as concerned about because she lost to a surging Bethanie Mattek-Sands, a dangerous player who can knock out many players on her good days. Then again, she might end up retiring due to injury like she did against Madison Keys.  And while it’s true that this is a disappointing result from a defending champion, I have no doubts about Aga’s ability to step up when needed for a deep run in Melbourne.

Madison Keys took a nice step forward in her development by reaching the Sydney semifinals, but still gets too lost in her match strategy to contend deep in a Slam. Angelique Kerber, one of the Sydney finalists, confirmed her top 10 credentials with this run, but still needs way more offense to take on the likes of Serena Williams or Victoria Azarenka. Tsvetana Pironkova? I’ll be generous and be glad for this deep run in Sydney. But there’s no reason for us to expect a Melbourne run come next week.

Over at Hobart, Sam Stosur is the class of the field in the women’s singles draw. Then again, this is Australia, and Sam NEVER plays her best tennis in Australia. The fact that she should win this title is irrelevant to whether or not she will actually lift the trophy. And that will still have little bearing on Sam’s Aussie Open chances, which are pretty reminiscent of Amelie Mauresmo’s French Open chances back in the day.

On the ATP side, Juan Martin Del Potro is having a good tune-up in Sydney, and should take the title. And after a trip back up to the game’s second-tier elite in 2013, he must always be considered a threat at the Slams. But has he gotten over his laid back/nice guy status in order to get the title from the Rafa Nadal or Novak Djokovic remains to be seen.

Over in Auckland, what can I say about David Ferrer in the New Year? Not much that’s different from last year, which can either be viewed as a good thing or a bad thing. There’s certainly no crime in being a Top 5 player with the talent that he faces in Novak, Rafa, and to a lesser extent, Roger Federer.  But “more of the same” won’t take him across the finish line at the Slams…Aussie Open included.

John Isner is also having a good run in Auckland, but a bum ankle on the big guy doesn’t set him up for a good run in Melbourne (or anywhere else for that matter). He made great strides in 2013 by upping his aggressive ante and doing a better job of imposing his game on the top guys. However, he can only do this effectively if he’s healthy and has good mobility; Howitzer serve be damned! But if he managed a nice win over Phillip Kohlschreiber on said ankle, he might be capable of hanging in there long enough to do some damage.

Honorable mention goes to Steve Johnson and Jack Sock for making the Auckland quarterfinals. Johnson’s chances in Melbourne are, in my opinion, limited. Jack Sock, on the other hand, has more firepower at his disposal, plus a real desire to become the next top American. I’m hoping that this stated desire comes from a newfound more mature mentality and work ethic for the New Year. If that’s the case, we might see some decent results from him this year…but not in Melbourne.

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