The amount of questions their are heading into the year's opening slam are a plenty, but one thing is for sure: the ATP is no longer the Roger and Rafa show. The men's tour has gone from being a 2-man show back in 2007, to a "six-pack" this year. Andy Murray, Novak Djokovic, Juan Martin del Potro and Nikolay Davydenko have made their presences heard, and each have the talent to win seven straight matches at a Grand Slam. Djoko and JMDP have already done it, but both suffered post-slam droughts, while Murray and Davydenko have made their livings in lower-level tournaments, but have failed to last through the five-setters in the majors. Adding to the mess are Andy Roddick and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who have both reached atleast the semifinals on Melbourne. Here's a breakdown of the draw with predictions:
Roger Federer is obviously not playing his best tennis, and many people say, that despite his current world number 1 ranking, his best days are behind him. I happen to agree, but even 80% of RF could beat the majority of the ATP. Regardless of his recent losses (he hasn't won a tournament since Cincy in August), the Swiss is still a force to be reckoned with. He starts with the always-dangerous Igor Andreev, who pushed Fed to five sets at the 2008 US Open. Awaiting Roger in a possible quarterfinal matchup is Nikolay Davyenko, the hottest player on the tour. After losing to Federer 12 consecutive times in his career, the Russian beat his nemesis en route to victories in the World Tour Finals and last week in Doha. Davydenko is playing the best tennis of his career, but five set matches have proved to be an obstacle that the sixth seed has yet to overcome. Many times before we have witnessed stellar starts by Kolya, followed by mental breakdowns in the latter stages of matches. Fernando Verdasco played outstanding tennis on bhis way to the semifinals in Melbourne last year, and if he can return to that form, he will most definitely go far,. Unfortunately for the Spaniard, it isn't often someone routinely hits 90 winners per match. Lleyton Hewitt and David Ferrer pose minor threats to make a run, but both have the experience to cause an upset or two.
Quarterfinals: R. Federer def. N. Davydenko
The 2nd of the four quarters is filled with feisty personalities and heavy groundies. Novak Djokovic leads the pack, and the memory of his wimpy retirement in last year's quarterfinals is fresh in everyone's minds. He does claim, however, that he has better learned to cope with the exhausting Autralian heat. If true, Djokovic has a pretty comfortable route to the semifinals. Attempting to crash the party are Robin Soderling, who is currently dealing with an injury sustained during the warm-up tournaments, and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who lost to the Serb in the finals in 2008. No threats await Nole until the quarterfinals, as Tommy Robredo and Mikhail Youzhny don't posess the weapons to cause an upset, and even then, the world number 3 will have an easy time outing Soderling or Tsonga. Djokovic is thanking the tennis Gods rightabout now.
Quarterfinals: N. Djokovic def. J. Tsonga
Juan Martin del Potro leads the pack in the 3rd section, playing in his 1st major since taking the title in New York last September. The Argentine suffered a wrist injury forcing him to pull out of the exhibition tournament in Kooyong, but has looked fine in practice. Despite how impressive JMDP looked ending '09, Andy Roddick, the 7th seed who could meet DelPo in the quarters, has a history of handling the 20 year-old with relative ease. Coming off a victory at the Brisbane International, Roddick should be confident after reaching the semifinals last year, but his opening round match against Thiemo de Bakker is no gimme, and Sam Querrey and Tomas Berdych could test the American. But the real story here is the dark horses. Marin Cilic, a very popular upset pick, and Fernando Gonzalez both posess the skill set to beat both Roddick and Del Potro, and the hardcourts suit them both to perfection. Stanislas Wawrinka is another potential upset-maker, but often the Swiss crumbles under pressure. Back in 2007, Gonzo reached the finals here, and Cilic has made it to the 4th round the last two years. Quarter number three will certainly be a wild one.
Quarterfinals: F. Gonzalez def. M. Cilic
With Andy Murray falling out of the top four, the Scot could unfortunately meet Rafael Nadal as early as the quarterfinals. Sounds more like a championship match, doesn't it? The Spaniard is the defending champion, and played the tennis of his life in Melbourne a year ago. Last week Rafa lost to Davydenko in the Doha finals, but played very well in taking the first set 6-0. If his performance then is any sign of what will happen down under, Nadal could push the envelope again. Murray got a taste of what it is to play with expectations last year, when he was picked to win his first career slam and came up way short. Although he is still a popular pick, the load on Murray's shoulders could be a little lighter this year, and we all know of the talent he has. Gael Monfils could be the one that continues Murray's misery, as the outlandish Frenchman is one of the most athletic players on tour, and knows how to play in the heat. At the way bottom of the draw is Ivo Karlovic, a 6'10 Croatian who noone wants to see near them. His gargantuan serve could cause problems for Rafa, who would run into Dr. Ivo in the fourth round. Radek Stepanek is also one to watch, but he usually saves his best tennis for the lower level events.
Quarterfinals: R. Nadal def. G. Monfils
Semifinals: N. Djokovic def. R. Federer; R. Nadal def. F. Gonzalez
Finals: R. Nadal def. N. Djokovic
Take a look at the draw for yourself here.