Sports Illustrated senior writer Jon Wertheim breaks down the men's and women's seeds at the Australian Open. Read on for the top first-round matchups, dark horses to keep an eye on and his predicted winners.
It's hard to recall a major so ravaged by injuries. If you ever needed proof that tennis injuries have officially reached crisis proportion, note the All-Star team of players who won't be in Melbourne. And be assured, there are more to come. Before the game cannibalizes itself, will someone -- anyone! -- address this in a meaningful way?
Depleted cast and all, the show will go on. Inasmuch as anyone can withstand seven matches in two weeks, here is our 2006 Australian Open seed report:
Top 16 seeds
1. Roger Federer: Much as we would like to tip and underdog, in good conscience it's awfully hard to pick against the Fed. Playing on a choice surface, against a somewhat depleted field, with a benign draw, the '04 champ is a heavy favorite.
2. Andy Roddick: After a forgettable '05, the top American has been gearing toward this event since. Besides, redemption doesn't hit the ... oh, never mind. A mushy draw should enable him to get in top a groove for he second week.
3. Lleyton Hewitt: The hometown favorite played some of his best tennis of '05 to reach last year's final. While Hewitt is not the type to be distracted, his play in the tune-ups was unpromising. Say this: a) Take note when he loses; Hewitt has lost his last seven Grand Slam matches to the eventual champ; b) The lengths Hewitt will go to shield his family from the spotlight will become a national cause celebre.
4. David Nalbandian: El Mullet is coming off the confidence-building Shanghai title. Plus the surface suits his strengths. But, like so many, he is less than 100-percent physically.
5. Nikolay Davydenko: The consensus is that he had his year to shine and will now turn into a pumpkin. We disagree. A steady artisan who doesn't do a lot of missing. Brutal first-rounder against Ivo Karlovic. Then his draw opens a bit.
6. Guillermo Coria: Still looking for the breakthrough in a non-clay Slam. Footspeed is always as asset, but when he loses off the bat to Vic Hanescu, you can say you read it here first.
7. Ivan Ljubicic: Strains belief that Lubey -- one of the less wholesome nicknames in sports, come to think of it -- has never made the second week of a major. That ought to change in Australia. Look for him in the round of 16 at least.
8. Gaston Gaudio: That Gaudio's seeding suggests that he will reach the quarterfinal is testament to just how denuded this field is. Streamin' Gaudio's draw is unimposing, but it's easy to see him losing to, say, former finalist Rainer Schuettler in Round 2.
9. Fernando Gonzalez: Odds always catch up with him and he can never sustain his go-for-broke ball-striking over seven matches. On the other hand, when he's on, he sure is fun to watch.
10. Thomas Johansson: The surprise '02 champ is always dangerous. Will have to to survive a tricky section of the draw (Mikhail Youzhny, Tomas Berdych, Ljubicic) for the right to play Roddick.
11. David Ferrer: Compactly-built Spaniard can play on faster surfaces, but it's hard to see him surviving Mario Ancic in round three.
12. Dominik Hrbaty: Always dangerous, but always susceptible to a bad loss.
13. Robby Ginepri: Can he build on U.S. Open success? You wish he were a bit healthier (and weren't destined to play Roddick) but the surface and conditions favor his game.
14. Richard Gasquet: Now that he has resuscitated his career, is the ultra-talented Frenchman ready to take the next step? Brutal first-rounder against Tommy Haas will either galvanize him or result in a first-round loss.
15. Juan Carlos Ferrero: Former French Open champ was a semifinalist in Melbourne two years ago, but a bad loss in a tune-up doesn't bodes well.
16. Tommy Robredo: The fast surface doesn't afford him the time to line up his big shots. If the Tim Henman/Dmitry Tursunov winner beats him in Round 2, it would be less than shocking.
Let me preface this by saying you take away Federer, Roddick and Hewitt, I would take the 17- to 32-seeded players over the 1-16 seeds.
17. Radek Stepanek: A powerful player with nice hands around the net. Never a threat to win but one to watch.
18. Mario Ancic: Star this pony. On the heels of Davis Cup heroics, Croatian ace machine is in-form.
19. Tom Berdych: Safin Jr. might pick up where his forbear left off.
20. James Blake: Since the U.S. Open series, he has acquitted himself like a top-10 player.
22. Gael Monfils: The '05 Rookie of the Year will be a true top-flight player before long.
26. Jarkko Nieminen: The pride of Turku, Finland, is coming off a quarterfinal performance at U.S. Open.
24. Olivier Rochus: As always.
32. Carlos Moya: After a dismal '05 that looked like a retirement announcement was forthcoming, Moya had come out of the gate strong.
Tommy Haas: New haircut. New coach. A win over Federer. So far it's been a good year.
Tim Henman: Okay, he's on the downside of his career. But he's still capable of stringing together a nice run.
Joachim Johansson: Big-time serve always an indispensable asset. Plus -- even before factoring in the Hewitt connection -- Swedes traditionally play well in Melbourne.
Gilles Muller: Remember him?
First-round matchups to watch
Haas vs. Gasquet: A reasonable final at most events.
Andrew Murray vs. Juan Ignacio Chela: Good test for best players, one a poised teenager, the other a steady vet.
Sebastein Grosjean vs. Mark Philippoussis: Does the native Melbournian have any game left in him?
Henman vs. Tursunov: A rematch of their Wimbledon throwdown.
Bob and Mike Bryan: Lost in a tune-up, but hard to go against a team that made all four Grand Slam finals in '05.
Ancic vs. Roddick
Federer vs. Gael Monfils
Roddick vs. Federer
Sports Illustrated senior writer Jon Wertheim covers tennis for the magazine and is a regular contributor to SI.com.