Greetings and welcome to the 2015 Australian Open and the beginning of two 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 of 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
Is it just me, or does the men’s tournament feel more open than it has for many a year? Four-time champion Novak Djokovic has been battling illness, Rafa Nadal is on the comeback trail, Andy Murray still hasn’t hit top form since his own back surgery in late 2013, while Roger Federer, despite being in top form, hasn’t won a Grand Slam since Wimbledon 2012. Add to that the fact that defending champion Stan Wawrinka has exhibited patchy form over the last 12 months, and the fact that reigning US Open champion Marin Cilic is out injured, and you have the makings of a fascinating fortnight of tennis at Melbourne Park.
Djokovic has some dangerous opponents in his quarter of the draw, namely Verdasco and Isner, with Raonic his likely quarter-final opponent, but I favour the Serb to work his way through to the semi-finals. If Kei Nishikori can overcome the Spanish workhorse David Ferrer, I think a quarter-final against Stan Wawrinka awaits, with the winner likely to face Djokovic for a place in the final. Last year saw Wawrinka finally get the better of Djokovic in a major, but I suspect the Serb will turn the tables if they once again meet at Melbourne Park. Likewise, if Djokovic meets Nishikori, expect the Serb to gain revenge for his surprise exit in New York last year at the hands of the Japanese player.
In the bottom half of the draw, Federer has a tough bracket, with the likes of Chardy, Karlovic and Robredo lurking before a potential quarter-final against Andy Murray. But Federer is in sensational form, and I fancy him getting the better of Murray if the pair do meet. Nadal’s quarter is the big unknown, with the Spaniard’s iffy form giving Tomas Berdych a major opportunity to make a deep run. I’ll back Federer to overcome Berdych and set up a showdown with Djokovic for the title. As much as I would love to see Federer claim another major title, it’s hard to argue with Djokovic’s record in Melbourne.
Winner: Novak Djokovic
Finalist: Roger Federer
Semi-finalists: Nishikori, Berdych
I’ve said it before, but I will say it again – at her best, Serena Williams is head and shoulders above the other players on the WTA Tour. Of course, Serena is often not at her best – sometimes she’s injured, sometimes she’s distracted or loses concentration, and sometimes she simply just implodes. Who knows which Serena will emerge in Melbourne this time around, but for me she always starts as the favourite.
Williams has dangerous players in her section of the draw, with potential match-ups against Zvonareva and Svitolina before a possible quarter-final clash with good friend Caroline Wozniacki (assuming the Dane can get through her own tough section of the draw). Petra Kvitova, winner of the title in Sydney last week, looms as Williams’ potential semi-final opponent, although Agnieszka Radwanska, who beat Williams in Perth, might beg to differ.
In the bottom half of the draw, Maria Sharapova is the favourite to work her way through to the final. Eugenie Bouchard, last year’s Australian Open darling, starts this year’s tournament seeded seventh, but this year I think she might wilt under increased scrutiny. I predict a semi-final showdown for Sharapova against either Simon Halep or Ana Ivanovic, both of whom had terrific seasons in 2014. Sharapova got the better of Halep in Paris last year, but don’t be surprised to see the Romanian turn the tables this time around. In any event, I think they will be vying for the runner’s up prize – assuming she is focused, I think this tournament is still Serena’s to lose.
Winner: Serena Williams
Finalist: Simona Halep
Semi-finalists: Kvitova, Sharapova
1. Rafael Nadal vs. Mikhail Youzhny
The Spanish superstar has laboured like an ordinary player in his return to the ATP Tour after a variety of injuries and ailments ruined his 2014 season. Whilst 2013 saw Nadal return to the circuit after time off and put together a stellar season, the early indicators in 2015 in Abu Dhabi and Doha suggest that this time around it will be tougher going for Rafa.
Youzhny is a tough first round opponent for Nadal, the Russian having ventured to the US Open semi-finals on two occasions and having been ranked as high as 8 in the world previously. That said, Youzhny hasn’t beaten Nadal since 2008 and has drifted to 49 in the world rankings. I can’t see Rafa winning the title, but I expect him to grind out a solid enough win over Youzhny. Nadal in 4.
2. Roger Federer vs. Yen-Hsun Lu
Swiss legend Roger Federer begins his campaign for Grand Slam title number 18 against Taiwanese veteran Yen-Hsun Lu. A former Wimbledon quarter-finalist, Lu is a solid all-court player who moves well and doesn’t make a whole lot of unforced errors. For lesser players, he can be a tricky opponent, but I don’t think there is anything in the Lu game to really worry Federer.
After a shaky start against John Millman, Federer stepped up his game during the week in Brisbane, finishing with the title, and I think he fancies himself as a major contender in Melbourne this year. Look for the Fed to make a statement early by dismissing Lu with a minimum of fuss. Federer in 3.
3. Julia Goerges vs. Belinda Bencic
Former top 20 player Julia Goerges enjoys playing at Melbourne Park – the German made the round of 16 on consecutive occasions in 2012 and 2013. But the last couple of years haven’t been kind to Goerges, who has seen her ranking slump to 73 in the world.
Young Swiss Belinda Bencic is a rising star in the women’s game, the teenager garnering the world’s attention with a stunning run to the quarter-finals of the US Open last year. Bencic is crafty player, who shows maturity beyond her years, often earning her comparisons with compatriot Martina Hingis. Goerges may have the firepower, but I think Bencic has the tennis smarts to win this one. Bencic in 3.
4. Dustin Brown vs. Grigor Dimitrov
Dreddy Tennis, as Dustin Brown is known to his fans and Twitter followers, is an exciting player to watch, his dreadlocks flying around as he belts serves and jumps all around the court. That style has seen him claim wins over the likes of Nadal and Hewitt, but the German has his work cut out for him today against tenth seed Grigor Dimitrov.
Bulgarian Dimitrov is coming off the most consistent season of his career, which was capped by a run to the Wimbledon semi-finals, and 2015 for Dimitrov will be all about cementing a spot in the top 10 and making some more deep runs at the majors. This match should be thoroughly entertaining, but I expect Dimitrov to prevail without too much trouble. Dimitrov in 4.
5. Ernests Gulbis vs. Thanasi Kokkinakis
Eleventh seed Ernests Gulbis enjoyed a fairytale run to the semi-finals of the French Open in Paris last year, knocking off Roger Federer en route to the final 4. Since then, the Latvian’s form has been patchy, but one wouldn’t really expect anything else from one of the ATP Tour’s most erratic and enigmatic players.
Plenty of expected of young Aussie Kokkinakis who, along with the likes of Nick Kyrgios, is supposed to be ushering in a new golden age of Australian tennis. I’m not sure about that, but Kokkinakis did look impressive in beating Julien Benneteau in Brisbane. If the Aussie can get inside Gulbis’ head early on and keep his level steady, this has upset alert written all over it. Kokkinakis in 5.
Put your house on: Three-time Australian Open finalist Andy Murray. The Scot should sail past Indian qualifer Yuki Bhambri, who is ranked a lowly 314 in the world.
Upset alert: Young gun Borna Coric could trouble French seed Jeremy Chardy, while French veteran Paul-Henri Mathieu might spring a surprise against Philipp Kohlschreiber. I also think Aussie John Millman, who pushed Federer all the way in Brisbane, could cause some anxious moments for Argentine seed Leonardo Mayer.
Likely to go the distance: Pencil in 5 sets for the first round clash between two recent winners on the ATP Tour, Viktor Troicki and Jiri Vesely. I also think the pugnacious American veteran Michael Russell push Belgian seed David Goffin to a deciding fifth set.
That’s it for today. Enjoy the tennis and I’ll be back with another serve tomorrow. In the meantime, you can follow all the action on Twitter: @satelliteserve.