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Men's Look Forward: The Australian Open

And now, time for the big clash.

Over the past couple of years, Lleyton Hewitt and Andre Agassi have clearly been the best two players in the world. They have also been, historically, the two best Rebound Ace players in the world: Agassi's three Australian Opens are the most for any man since the event moved to Rebound Ace. Hewitt hasn't won Melbourne (yet), but he already has four Rebound Ace titles in his career. And it's the perfect surface for his game. (That may not be coincidence; Hewitt is the first player to really grow up on Rebound Ace.)

But last year -- the first Australian Open since Hewitt reached the very top level of the game -- they proved a fizzle. Agassi was injured and didn't play, and Hewitt was suffering the aftereffects of chicken pox and for practical purposes didn't play either.

And you have to think that this year is Agassi's last real chance. He's almost 33 -- and while he's an incredibly fit 33, and he's learned over the years how to be very efficient on the court, at some point the years will tell. Especially on a player who is best on hardcourt, and who as a result has played a very high fraction of his matches on hardcourts. (Just for the statistically-minded: We show Agassi, over the past two years, with 69 matches on hardcourts plus 21 matches on indoor hardcourts, five matches on carpet, eight on grass, and 24 on clay; that means that he's played 54% of his matches on outdoor hardcourts, plus another 17% on indoor hard.) Eventually, that will take its toll on the Agassi knees and back.

And so Hewitt and Agassi will face off, perhaps for the last time, for the record books.

The two are surely the clear favorites at Melbourne this year. Not just because of their rankings; the ATP's ranking system being what it is, it's possible to be ranked high without really being the absolute best. But there are other reasons to like these two. Among other things, because their chief rivals are out. Pete Sampras, the only other active player with multiple Australian Open titles, isn't here. Last year's surprise winner, Thomas Johansson, isn't here (if you noticed a Johansson in the draw, well, it's Joachim). Last year's finalist, Marat Safin, is scheduled to play but is hurting. Yevgeny Kafelnikov is, other than Agassi, the only past winner in the draw, and he's out of form and seeded low. There are really only three candidates to win this event: Hewitt, Agassi, and Surprise. And Surprise's odds aren't very good.

Let's take a look at some of the candidates and see why. We aren't looking at the seeds (e.g. we think you'll agree that, on this surface, Nicolas Escude isn't a real candidate to win the thing; similarly, Jan-Michael Gambill has never won a match at Melbourne; it's hard to imagine him winning seven), but at players who are threats to win a Slam somewhere. If we omit your favorite player (as, e.g., we're omitting one of our favorites, Guillermo Canas), well, blame it on Rebound Ace.

(30) Gustavo Kuerten. After Agassi, he has more Slams than anyone in the draw, and he likes slow surfaces. But he's tired after Auckland, and until this year, he'd never done much on Rebound Ace -- and he faces Hewitt in the third round.

(9) Andy Roddick. Roddick seems to induce extreme reactions in watchers: Either he's the greatest thing since Sampras, or he's nothing. We fall in between. But it's hard to believe that he could win his first Slam here; he has trouble with his ankles, and if we have a hot day (and this is Australia in January, which means we will have hot days), he could very well stick to the court.

(3) Marat Safin. We all know he has the tools. But he goofed up in last year's final, and this year he's playing hurt. Maybe some year. Not much chance in 2003.

Richard Krajicek. If this were Wimbledon, he might have a chance. But this court is too slow, and he's unseeded.

(13) Fernando Gonzalez. Has the stuff, in spades. But he's still learning to play on non-clay surfaces. Rebound Ace is slow enough, but the bounces are different.

(6) Roger Federer. If we had to name an Emergency Backup Candidate to Win, it might well be Federer. He has the game, and he is young enough to survive the heat and the wear and tear. And he has a nice draw. But he's still too inconsistent.

(5) Carlos Moya. A genuine candidate, since he's won a Slam and has made the final here. And he's finally healthy again. But he'll have to relearn Rebound Ace.

Thomas Enqvist. With the draw as depleted as it is, the one-time finalist might have a real chance if he were healthy. But he isn't.

(11) Paradorn Srichaphan. He has the results over the last half-year. But fitness remains a minor question, and he still has to learn to win the big ones.

(4) Juan Carlos Ferrero. Has the game, but he's turned inconsistent lately. Can the guy who lost Sydney to Hyung-Taik Lee really win at Melbourne?

(8) Albert Costa. It's not clay. 'Nuff said.

(22) Yevgeny Kafelnikov. Has the game and the experience. But he's slowing down. Or something. And he's seeded too low.

Big Matches. Having proved that no one but Hewitt or Agassi can win (which doesn't mean they will win, tennis being tennis), we proceed to conduct our usual hunt for matches to watch. As usual, there are a lot of them; here are our picks for the first three rounds:

First Round.

Arazi vs. (30) Kuerten. Two shotmakers who like slow courts. Arazi is rested but slumping; Kuerten is tired but having the best Rebound Ace season of his life. Big edge to Kuerten, but it could be fun to watch.

(25) Youzhny vs. Gasquet. It's not often that the 20-year-old Youzhny is the veteran, but this is one of those times.

(10) Nalbandian vs. Golmard. Golmard is still trying to recover from a horrible year of injuries, but he's a good player who is probably happier on hardcourts than Nalbandian.

Ilie vs. Qualifier. Not likely to be a great match -- but we haven't heard much of Andrew Ilie for a while.

W. Ferreira vs. (26) Robredo. Talk about a difference in experience!

(17) Gaudio vs. Enqvist. It's Enqvist's Rebound Ace experience vs., well, Enqvist's shoulder. Much depends on the state of the latter.

Second Round.

(18) El Aynaoui vs. Ljubicic. A steady slowcourt game against a big serve. Experience vs. Youth. This one has all the elements. Unfortunately, both have fallen a bit below their peaks of last year, so one or the other might fizzle.

(25) Youzhny vs. Mirnyi. The slow court surely helps Youzhny, but no one can afford to take the Beast of Belarus lightly.

Krajicek vs. (31) Schuettler. Krajicek is the better player, but he's old and tired and still recovering his form. Schuettler hit a peak last year, then fell off a little, but this is the ideal surface for him. And on this court, he could hit a lot of passing shots.

(23) Blake vs. Acasuso. Acasuso is still learning the game, but he has a lot of talent waiting to emerge. The surface is fairly neutral between the two.

Philippoussis vs. (11) Srichaphan. Whether this is actually interesting probably depends on what shape Philippoussis is in on the day of the match.

(28) Santoro vs. Arthurs. OK, sure, Santoro should win. But don't you just want to watch him hit passing shots off of the Arthurs serve?

Mantilla vs. (27) Gambill. Gambill, who opens against Michael Llodra, might be able to break his Australian Open jinx. But can he handle the experienced Mantilla?

(14) Canas vs. Coria. One Internet wacko claims Canas will lose in the first round to Vladimir Voltchkov. That seems pretty unlikely, but the Battle of the Argentine Guillermo C's should be quite interesting. Canas has much better hardcourt credentials, but Coria is improving fast.

Nieminen (or Davydenko) vs. (22) Kafelnikov. This will be the Russian's big test. On this slow court, can he get balls past the speedy Nieminen? Or if it's Davydenko, how will he handle facing a young countryman?

Third Round.

(1) Hewitt vs. Kuerten. Do we really need to talk this up?

(18) El Aynaoui vs. (15) Corretja. So how much does the old guy have left? ...which old guy? Take your pick.

(9) Roddick vs. (19) Chela. Two young guns with games tuned for different surfaces, and this court splits the difference.

(3) Safin vs. (31) Schuettler. If Safin is healthy, this is no contest. If Safin is really hurting, he won't even get that far. If Safin is semi-healthy, this will be quite interesting as Schuettler tries to outrun Safin's power.

(23) Blake vs. (13) Gonzalez. Both count their forehands as their biggest weapons, but Gonzalez has the edge in power. Blake counters with perhaps a better backhand and speed. Again, the court splits the difference between their skills, and neither has much Rebound Ace experience.

(10) Nalbandian vs. (20) Malisse. Nalbandian has the higher ranking, but Malisse has the hardcourt game.

(32) Koubek vs. (6) Federer. It's Koubek's ideal surface, and he has a lot on the line. Federer, of course, is much better overall. But steady players can give him trouble.

(28) Santoro vs. (4) Ferrero. Big edge to Ferrero, of course, but the Spaniard remains inconsistent, and if anyone can exploit that, it's Santoro.

(8) Costa vs. (27) Gambill. Someone has to win this. Unless Mantilla disposed of Gambill, anyway.

(14) Canas vs. (22) Kafelnikov. Kafelnikov will have been tested by Nieminen, and Canas by Coria. They'll get tested again.

The Rankings. When Stefan Koubek lost at Auckland, it made it certain: The winner of the Australian Open would be #1 in the Race next week. Even if Koubek is the finalist and the Melbourne winner has no other Race points, the winner will lead Koubek by 2 points. And Koubek isn't going to be the finalist anyway.

The real rankings are even more open-and-shut: No matter what happens, Lleyton Hewitt will remain #1 and Andre Agassi #2.

Below that, all is chaos, with Marat Safin having finalist points to defend, Juan Carlos Ferrero nothing, Carlos Moya second round points, Roger Federer fourth round points, and Jiri Novak semifinalist points. These guys could end up in almost any order, though Safin seems likely to fall, and Novak also. Ferrero has the best shot at the #3 ranking, but Federer or Moya could easily block him.

Albert Costa, somewhat surprisingly, has fourth round points to defend, which means he probably can't get above #7 (barring a real surprise). Tim Henman, who isn't playing, has fourth round points to defend; he can kiss the Top Ten goodbye. Which spells real opportunity for Andy Roddick; it wouldn't take all that much for him to move up to #7.

Further down, Tommy Haas will fall to around #15 when his semifinalist points come off, and Pete Sampras is going to fall to the lower reaches of the Top 20. That's nothing like what Thomas Johansson will suffer, though; the defending champion is going to end up somewhere around #55.

bob larson's tennis news
 

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tennischick said:
(9) Andy Roddick. Roddick seems to induce extreme reactions in watchers: Either he's the greatest thing since Sampras, or he's nothing. We fall in between. But it's hard to believe that he could win his first Slam here; he has trouble with his ankles, and if we have a hot day (and this is Australia in January, which means we will have hot days), he could very well stick to the court.

LMAO :D :D

thanx TC :kiss: :kiss:
 

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Discussion Starter #3
you're welcome!

yes that cracked me up too! :D :D
 

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Another good analysis...
 

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also Corretja-Lopez. aren't these two Spaniards playing in the first round? i think Feliciano will take out the veteran Alex C.
 

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(18) El Aynaoui vs. (15) Corretja. So how much does the old guy have left? ...which old guy? Take your pick.
PFFF! Alex has the legs of a teenager!:p
 

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:bounce: Good Luck Andy!!!! :bounce:
 

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Leo7 said:
also Corretja-Lopez. aren't these two Spaniards playing in the first round? i think Feliciano will take out the veteran Alex C.
Indeed it was a very closed match but the veteran is out. Congretulation for Lopez.
 
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