Australian Open 2013 Issue 1: 14 January
January 13, 2013 · Print This Article
by: Tom Cochrane
Greetings and welcome to Day 1 of the 2013 Australian Open Championships and the beginning of 2 weeks of coverage of the year’s first Grand Slam, courtesy of The Satellite Serve.
Coming to you daily during this year’s tournament, The Satellite Serve is back with predictions, opinions and analysis in relation to all the action from Melbourne Park. As usual, the first issue showcases my overall tournament predictions as well as taking a look at the day’s feature matches.
Tournament predictions – Men’s Singles
After a year of even competition on the ATP Tour in 2012, which saw the four majors split between the Big Four, will 2013 be a similarly competitive year? Rafael Nadal’s continued problems with injury and illness make it unlikely that the Spaniard will be anywhere near his ferocious best before the start of the clay-court season, making this Australian Open a race in three in my book.
Going for an unprecedented (at least in the men’s tournament) third successive Australian Open title, Novak Djokovic is the world number one and incredibly difficult to beat at Melbourne Park, where the slightly slower hard-court surface aids his tremendous defensive abilities as well as his punishing groundstrokes.
Having won a seventh Wimbledon last year, Roger Federer has reminded critics that he still has the ability and the desire to claim majors. The Swiss great might be half a step slower now than he was at his absolute peak, but there’s no denying the second seed’s wealth of experience or his unquenchable thirst for success.
Murray, having finally captured his first Grand Slam in New York last year, will look to go one step further at Melbourne Park than his previous best efforts, which have twice resulted in his taking home the finalist’s plate. Coach Ivan Lendl has added some resolve and spine to Murray’s on-court creativity and shotmaking flair, and the Scot will be using his Flushing Meadows success as a launchpad for a run at the world number one ranking in 2013.
Of the trio, Djokovic has the easiest path to the semi-finals. A somewhat tricky first round encounter with Paul-Henri Mathieu is likely to be followed by a second round clash against talented American Ryan Harrison, while big-hitting Tomas Berdych looms as a likely quarter-final opponent. David Ferrer is Djokovic’s most likely semi-final opponent, and the recent drubbing Djokovic handed Ferrer in Abu Dhabi is a clear reminder of the gulf that exists between the top few players on the ATP Tour and the best of the rest.
Federer and Murray look set for a blockbuster semi-final showdown, with the second seeded Swiss likely to negotiate his way through a quarter of the draw that also features Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Richard Gasquet, along with the big-hitting Canadian Milos Raonic. Murray’s biggest threat is likely to be Juan Martin Del Potro, whom is he drawn to face in the quarter-finals. Del Potro can destroy anyone on his day, but Murray’s form day in day out suggests the Scot would enter that match as the favourite.
A Murray-Federer semi-final is likely to be a toss of the coin in my opinion. Federer has gotten the better of Murray in the majority of their most recent hard-court battles, but in the brutal Melbourne heat and in a best of 5-set encounter, I back the Scot to come out on top. However, taking down Federer and Djokovic in consecutive matches is an enormous ask, and I favour the Serbian superstar to claim his fourth Australian Open crown.
Winner: Novak Djokovic
Finalist: Andy Murray
Semi-finalists: Federer, Ferrer
Outside Chance: Tsonga, Del Potro, Berdych
Tournament predictions – Women’s Singles
She might not be the world number one, but in the second half of 2012 Serena Williams showed that, at her best, she is unquestionably the best player on the WTA Tour. Winning the Olympics, Wimbledon, US Open and the season-ending championships in Istanbul proved that, and the American has started 2013 in the same fashion, strolling to victory in Brisbane whilst barely breaking a sweat.
There are some talented players in Williams’ quarter of the draw, such as Maria Kirilenko and Nadia Petrova, but Williams should stroll through to a quarter-final match-up against Petra Kvitova. If she can get past the former Wimbledon champion, Williams is likely to face Victoria Azarenka in the semi-finals. The top seed narrowly lost the US Open final against the American, and she will be out to make amends for that loss and to defend her title in Australia.
In the bottom half of the draw, Maria Sharapova has a tough section of the draw to navigate, with a potential third round match against Venus Williams and a possible quarter-final clash with the dangerous leftie Angelique Kerber. Provided she can work her way into the semi-finals, Sharapova is likely to face the ultra-consistent Agnieszka Radwanska, who has already collected a pair of titles in 2013 and wants another shot at Grand Slam glory after going down to Williams at Wimbledon last year.
Whilst I think Sharapova will have too much firepower and composure for Radwanska on the big stage, I think the Russian will struggle against the might of Williams or Azarenka in the final. In other words, I’m backing the winner of the Williams-Azarenka semi-final (assuming it goes ahead) to claim the trophy. I’ll back Serena, but Azarenka, as she showed in New York, is not far behind the American superstar.
Winner: Serena Williams
Finalist: Maria Sharapova
Semi-finalists: Azarenka, Radwanska
Outside Chance: Li Na, Kvitova, Kerber
Matches of the Day – Day 1
1. Novak Djokovic vs. Paul-Henri Mathieu
After a prolonged absence from the ATP Tour due to injury, the amiable Frenchman Paul-Henri Mathieu made a successful comeback last year, enjoying success at Roland Garros among other players. Mathieu is a wonderful shotmaker and at his best would be capable of giving the world number one a few anxious moments.
Unfortunately for Mathieu, he’s approaching the twilight of his career, while Djokovic is smack-bang in the middle of his. Djokovic’s superb fitness and agility, combined with his lethal backhand and return of serve spell danger for the Frenchman. Djokovic in 3.
2. Lleyton Hewitt vs. Janko Tipsarevic
Fresh from claiming the Kooyong Classic exhibition event in emphatic fashion, Lleyton Hewitt will enter Melbourne Park full of confidence. Plagued by injury over the last few years, the former world number one is still capable of mixing it with the best when fit and injury-free. Hewitt will be up for this clash against an opponent who is incredibly talented but somewhat shaky mentally.
Tipsarevic has improved the mental side of his game immensely in recent years, and it’s not surprising that this has coincided with his rise into the world’s top 10. However, the Serb has a tendency to drift in and out of matches, and I suspect the Aussie will be waiting ready to pounce whenever Tipsarevic suffers a loss of concentration. Hewitt in 5.
3. David Goffin vs. Fernando Verdasco
Young Belgian David Goffin announced himself on the world tennis stage at Roland Garros last year by reaching the fourth round after being a “lucky loser” out of the qualifying draw and then having the audacity to pinch a set from the best player of all time, Roger Federer. There have been a few growing pains adjusting to life on the ATP Tour, to be sure, but Goffin is an assured ball-striker and he will have nothing to lose against the seeded Verdasco.
Verdasco will be out to prove a point at Melbourne Park this year. The scene of his greatest Grand Slam memories (the Spaniard is a former Australian Open semi-finalist), Melbourne Park is also home to last year’s opening round nightmare, where Verdasco squandered a two sets to love lead over local talent Bernard Tomic. This time around I’ll back the Spaniard to wield his enormous forehand to great effect and grab a win over the young Belgian. Verdasco in 4.
4. Julien Benneteau vs. Grigor Dimitrov
Thirty-second seed Julien Benneteau is a talented albeit inconsistent member of the legion of French players one finds on the ATP Tour. Benneteau was on the cusp of a famous victory over Roger Federer at Wimbledon last year when he led the legend by two sets to love, but Benneteau couldn’t finish the job. His opponent today, Grigor Dimitrov, is similar in many respects.
Long touted as the “next Federer” due to some over-hyped similarities in his game compared with the Swiss master’s, the Bulgarian is very good at his best (as evidenced by a run to the final in Brisbane a week or so ago) and awful at his worst (as evidenced by a straight sets whipping dished out by Fabio Fognini in the opening round in Sydney). If Dimitrov is on song, I think he can cause the upset, but the odds favour Benneteau. Benneteau in 5.
5. Viktor Troicki vs. Radek Stepanek
After leading Serbia to Davis Cup glory in 2010 alongside Novak Djokovic and Janko Tipsarevic (Troicki won the decisive fifth rubber in the final), big things were expected of Viktor Troicki. However, whereas Djokovic and Tipsarevic has used the Davis Cup win as a springboard to greater personal heights, Troicki has regressed in the past couple of years.
I’m not sure if it’s a question of lingering injuries or just a loss of confidence, but Troicki is not playing with the same hunger and momentum that he had in 2010. Radek Stepanek, by contrast, continues to shine well into his thirties, the Czech veteran having helped his nation capture the 2012 edition of the Davis Cup alongside Tomas Berdych. Still incredibly fit, I’ll back Stepanek to see off the slumping Troicki. Stepanek in 4.
Put your house on: Maria Sharapova to make extremely short work of her Russian compatriot, Olga Puchkova. I’m backing Sharapova to be off the court in under an hour.
Upset alert: Hewitt to defeat Tipsarevic is the big upset alert, but the way Sam Stosur plays in Australia, unheralded Kai-Chen Chang has to be an outside chance of upsetting the ninth seed. On a more serious note, I’ll give young Aussie Matt Ebden a chance of knocking off Russian seed Mikhail Youzhny. I also think eleventh seed Marion Bartoli is a bit vulnerable against Anabel Medina Garrigues.
Likely to go the distance: Other than the matches previewed above, I think the other men’s clash that is very likely to go to 5 sets is the showdown between sixteenth seed Kei Nishikori and the veteran Romanian Victor Hanescu.
That’s it for today. Enjoy the tennis and I’ll be back with another serve tomorrow.