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First Post: Australian Open 2011 Preview

Hello world

New year, new blog, same old me. 

I haven’t decided about the direction in which I will take this blog yet. Is tumblr even a blog? How does it all work? I have yet to figure out.

But seeing the Australian open will begin in less than 12 hours, this shall be my first post. Ready or not. First of all, all credit of the players who participated in the charity Rally for Relief the day before competition began to raise funds for the Queensland flood victims. 

WTA

The big story of the women’s draw is the absence of Serena Williams, who has been missing since last year’s Wimbledon due to foot injury. Does this open up the draw? Not really. I only see three women with a chance to win it. Unfortunately 2 of them are in the same quarter. 

The number one favourite is Kim Clijsters. She hasn’t won a Grand Slam outside the US open, but this could be her best chance. Fresh off her US Open victory and with no Serena Williams in the path, she is the odds on favourite. Seeing the way she strikes the ball at an exhibition against Caroline Wozniacki in Hua Hin and in the Rally for Relief, even if they were just exhibitions, shows that no women can strike the ball cleaner at this hour. Last year she exited due to a rare meltdown against Nadia Petrova, where she only won one game, but I say that was a one in a hundred performance, a rare, ‘just one of those days’ performance which will not come back to haunt her at the Open this year.

On paper, Caroline Wozniacki is the number one seed. However there is no denying she got there by playing lots of small tournaments that other big name players ignore. She follows Jelena Jankovic and Dinara Safina in the list of slam-less world number ones. Is it time that this changes? I doubt it. Wozniacki is an all around player with solid groundstrokes and serve, but unlike Clijsters, she does not possess the kind of aggression that wins her those tough matches. A match against an aggressive player on a good day could be difficult for her. 

Justine Henin is my other pick for favourties. She had one heck of a start to her comeback last year, reaching the Australian Open finals. Not much happened after that until an elbow injury that nearly cut her second career short real quick. Now she’s back. She says he elbow isn’t 100% healed but judging from her performance at the Hopman Cup, I think she is still in with a chance. Don’t forget that beautiful backhand. Henin and Wozniacki are drawn into the same quarter which would make a great quarterfinal should they both make it. 

Predictions

Semis: Henin d. Sharapova, Clijsters d. Stosur
Finals:  Clijsters d. Henin

Yep, all all-Belgian final. And I think Sam Stosur’s matured a lot in the past year following her run to the French Open finals and can handle more pressure that would inevitably come from the home crowd. The Sharapova pick is a wild one, with Venus Williams, Li Na and Victoria Azarenka also in the quarter with a chance. I just think she would want to erase the memory of her first round loss in Melbourne last year. 

ATP

Everyone’s talking about the Rafa Slam. Rafael Nadal, having won the French Open, Wimbledon and the US Open last year, is looking to become the first man since Rod Laver to hold all 4 Grand Slams at the same time (not to mention the very likely chance he’ll make it 5 in a row at the French Open). 

Up until the Qatar Open 2 weeks ago I would have picked Rafa to get his slam. There is no questioning how well he can handle the pressure. However, he suffered from a fever in Doha, losing in the semis to Nikolay Davydenko. It wasn’t the loss itself, it was the way Nadal lost. He was struggling with his fever and even though he should recover by the time the second week rolls around, the body would no doubt affect the mind. 

However he is still the favourite. This is probably the first non-French Open Grand Slam where I would pick Nadal ahead of Roger Federer. I don’t know why, but I just have a feeling Roger won’t win it this year. There is a fair bit of pressure on Federer. As Nadal aims to win 4 in a row, Federer will - should he not win - for the first time since his first Grand Slam victory (Wimbledon 2003- 7 and a half years now!) not have had won a Grand Slam in one whole year. It is clear he is no longer the dominant player he was in 2004-7, but going a whole year slam-less would give a clear indication that Federer is now just a contender, not a favourite. 

Novak Djokovic has always had trouble with the Melbourne heat and has yet to recapture the kind of form that saw him win in Melbourne in 2008, but his Davis Cup win with Serbia last month may reignite that spark. Andy Murray, on the other hand, seems to have lost the fire that accompanied his run to the finals last year. 

Robin Soldering is the man to watch for me and the man most likely to join Marat Safin, Djokovic and Juan Martin Del Potro as one of the few players to break the Federer-Nadal hold on Grand Slams since Wimbledon 2004. Even though outdoor hard courts aren’t his forte, neither was clay, and that never stopped him from reaching 2 consecutive French Open finals. He won the warm up tournament in Brisbane and despite being seeded 4th, is flying low under the radar compared to the man he replaced as World Nubmer 4, Murray. They are drawn in the same quarter, but with Garcia-Lopez, Del Potro and Jurgen Melzer in Murray’s way, I doubt he would reach the “Battle for Number 4”. 

Predictions

Semis: Soderling d. Nadal, Davydenko d. Roddick
Finals: Soderling d. Davydenko

Yep. I’ve picked Roddick to finally get one over Federer at a Grand Slam, it’s about time. Roddick won’t win a second Slam, but at least he deserves a victory over the man who has stopped him from winning at least 5 slams. And I’ve picked Davydenko to beat Djokovic to win his quarter, just can’t imagine Djokovic handling the heat and a resurgent Davydenko. And with his third attempt at a Grand Slam, I think Soderling will have it in him to finish off a below-par Nadal. Some wild predictions, I know, but we’ll see how it all turns out!

Only one thing’s for sure, it’s gonna be two great weeks at the Australian Open!