Men's Look Forward: Australian Open - Bob Larson
Men's Look Forward: Australian Open
Aaaall right, is there anyone here healthy enough to challenger Roger Federer?
It's a very genuine question. Rafael Nadal and Nikolay Davydenko both went down with injuries last week. Dmitry Tursunov didn't even try to play. Marcos Baghdatis played to the end, but he will likely be feeling the after-effects of his bad ankle. Lleyton Hewitt is hurting a bit and has a new coach. There are also several players -- Jurgen Melzer, Rainer Schuettler -- who have been sick.
On top of everything else, there aren't many past champions not named Federer. Only two, in fact: Thomas Johansson, who has been struggling horribly since his eye injury and is unseeded, and Marat Safin. And they've speeded up the courts this year. On the women's side, we spent a lot of RAM speculating on who might win. For the men -- well, we'll let you guess. What we see is mostly guys with strikes against them:
#2 seed Nadal? Hurt, and hasn't won a title since Roland Garros. Not much Rebound Ace experience, and what he has not very good.
#3 Davydenko? Hurt, and doesn't yet have a title at this level. Nor even a final.
#4 Ljubicic? Never won a big one. No Slam finals, either.
#5 Blake? Struggles at Slams (and he knows he does, which is worse), and perhaps somewhat tired -- bad news for a guy who doesn't win five set matches.
#6 Roddick? Rebound Ace isn't the same as ordinary hardcourts, and he'll be playing without coach Connors. He did beat Federer in an exhibition -- but the key word there is "exhibition." It may be a psychological boost, but he has to beat all the other players, too.
#7 Robredo. Two words: Not clay.
#8 David Nalbandian? Lost his only match of the year, citing tendonitis, and he's just too up and down.
The rest? #9 Mario Ancic clutches up. #10 Fernando Gonzalez goes for too much, and didn't play warmups. #11 Marcos Baghdatis is inconsistent and hurting. #12 Tommy Haas leaves it in the optional events and didn't play warmups. #13 Tomas Berdych is too likely to have a bad day. #14 Novak Djokovic is still awfully inexperienced. Ditto #15 Andy Murray. #16 David Ferrer does most of his damage at small events, and he'll be tired. #17 Jarkko Nieminen has only one career title, plus he's been sick. #18 Richard Gasquet has had most of his success on traditional surfaces that reward his backhand more. #19 Hewitt has always struggled at Melbourne, pulled out of Sydney last week, under-performed at Adelaide, and has all his personal issues. #20 Radek Stepanek is just coming back from a long injury, and he's newly engaged to Martina Hingis. #21 Dmitry Tursunov has been hurt -- plus the press will hound him more than most, just because of the great quotes he gives. #22 Dominik! Hrbaty is too good at making life hard for himself. #23 Robin Soderling is too vulnerable to guys who return well, especially if he gets stuck on a court that hasn't been juiced up enough. #24 Juan Carlos Ferrero is looking more and more washed up. #25 Mikhail Youzhny too often leaves his game on the practice court. #26 Marat Safin is the only seed other than Federer to have won here, but another title requires him to hold things together for seven matches, and he's seeded awfully low. #27 Jose Acasuso is a clay player. #28 Sebastien Grosjean is getting old, and wears out in long matches; his odds playing best-of-five in hot conditions aren't good. #29 Xavier Malisse is too likely to zone out. #30 Agustin Calleri is another clay fan. #31 Stanislas Wawrinka is another player who is too young and too inconsistent. And #32 Nicolas Almagro prefers clay.
Come to think of it, it appears we've just demonstrated why Roger Federer is overwhelmingly the world's #1 player.
To top it all off, Federer has on the whole a pretty nice draw: Two easy matches, then Youzhny in the third round, Djokovic in the fourth, Robredo or Baghdatis in the quarterfinal, then Ljubicic or Roddick in the semifinal. He pretty much owns the whole half. Unless Safin beats Roddick in the third round, anyway.
Nadal, on the other hand, has a very tough draw: Kristof Vliegen in the second round, Wawrinka in the third, Andy Murray in the fourth, then potentially his nemesis Blake in the quarterfinal, and Davydenko or Nalbandian in the semifinal.
Davydenko's draw is somewhere in between. His second round could be against Gaston Gaudio, on paper one of the top unseeded players, but this isn't clay. He would face the intermittently brilliant Malisse in the third, then Berdych or Tursunov, then Nalbandian. There are a lot of players there who could beat him on a good day, but who don't have that many good days.
#4 Ljubicic could be tested somewhat in the first round by Mardy Fish. Then it gets a bit easier: the first seed he would face is Calleri. And then comes Roddick or Safin. Certainly a worse draw that Federer's or Davydenko's; possibly worse than Nadal's as well.
#5 Blake opens with a rematch: He faces Carlos Moya immediately after beating him in the Sydney final (the two, in fact, travelled from Sydney to Melbourne together). The first seed he would face is Almagro. The fourth round, against Hewitt or Gonzalez, is a bigger test. Then comes Nadal.
If the Gambler's Fallacy were true and luck evened out, Andy Roddick should head straight for Las Vegas after this week, because he definitely had bad news. Oh, his first two rounds are among the easiest in the draw. But then he has to face Safin, then Ancic, then Ljubicic. And he tends not to like facing big servers.
#7 Tommy Robredo's draw initially looked pretty bad -- he could face Jurgen Melzer in the second round. But Melzer is sick. The first seed he would face is Jose Acasuso. Then the trouble starts, with Baghdatis or Gasquet, then Federer.
#8 Nalbandian really ought to be able to reach the quarterfinal: The first seed he would face is Grosjean (or maybe Olivier Rochus), then Haas or Soderling. Whether he can handle Davydenko is another matter.
If we seek guys who could do some stealth damage, we note that #14 Djokovic is drawn to face first Nicolas Massu then Feliciano Lopez. #11 Baghdatis could face Gael Monfils in the second round. We mentioned Melzer and his second round match against Robredo -- potentially trouble if Melzer recovers quickly. #9 Ancic could face Joachim Johansson in the second. #26 Safin opens against Benjamin Becker. #28 Grosjean could face first Christophe Rochus (who shouldn't beat him but could tire him) then brother Olivier (who could beat him, especially if he's tired). #13 Berdych opens against Hyung-Taik Lee, and Lee likes this surface a lot. #29 Malisse has to open against Arnaud Clement, then maybe Fabrice Santoro. #15 Murray's second round opponent will be Fernando Verdasco or Paul-Henri Mathieu. #17 Nieminen's second round opponent may be Juan Ignacio Chela. #31 Wawrinka could get stuck playing fast-rising Julien Benneteau. And then there is Kristof Vliegen waiting for Nad! al.
You know it, I know it, everyone knows it: Roger Federer is going to be #1 even if he's abducted by aliens and doesn't return to earth until the clay season. Rafael Nadal is equally secure at #2; he has almost a 2000 point lead, in safe points, over Nikolay Davydenko. And he can only add points.
The next few spots, though, are interesting. Nikolay Davydenko and Ivan Ljubicic are #3 and #4, but with quarterfinalist points to defend. James Blake is #5, but he has only third round points. Tommy Robredo has quarterfinal points, Andy Roddick fourth round points.
What that adds up to is that, in safe points, the order is Davydenko, Blake, Ljubicic, Roddick, Robredo -- but Davydenko's bead over Blake is only a little over 100 points, Ljubicic is about 150 behind that, Roddick another 50 back, and Robredo another 50 behind him. Then there is a 200 point gap to Fernando Gonzalez. So any of the five from Davydenko to Robredo could end up at #3 (though Robredo is a pretty poor bet). And any of them could theoretically end up as low as #7, though in practice Davydenko and Blake will surely be higher. This is something we'll have to watch and update you on.
David Nalbandian comes in at #8, but he has semifinalist points to defend. (It's almost hard to remember that, at this time last year, Nalbandian was looking like the best prospect to overtake Rafael Nadal and maybe even threaten Roger Federer. Does that ever seem like a long time ago now....) Nalbandian comes in at #10 in safe points, and if he has a really bad event, could end up in the #11 or #12 range. There are about six guys with serious chances to replace him in the Top Ten: Tommy Haas, Tomas Berdych, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, David Ferrer, and Richard Gasquet.
Last year's finalist Marcos Baghdatis is around #20 in safe points, meaning that he could end up below #20 if he loses early.
Lower down, a number of players are in significant trouble. The extreme case is Nicolas Kiefer, since he has semifinalist points to defend and isn't in the draw. He loses more than half his points, and will be ending up somewhere around #140.
No one else will be hit that hard, and the others with big point totals to defend are in the draw -- but Fabrice Santoro has quarterfinalist points to defend, which are about a third of his total; a bad result could leave him in the #80 range. Sebastien Grosjean also has quarterfinal points coming off; he could end up below #50 if he loses his opener. Juan Ignacio Chela has fourth round points and could fall out of the Top Forty. Paul-Henri Mathieu also made the fourth round. And so did Thomas Johansson. In Johansson's case, failure to defend could drop him to around #120.
Two Australians with weak singles results -- Peter Luczak and Nathan Healey -- made the third round last year and can be expected to fall. So too Igor Andreev. Not to mention Guillermo Coria. He's another who isn't playing this year. It looks as if he's going to fall below #140.