Tag Archives: Rafa Nadal

Australian Open 2013 Preview and Predictions

While probably the least heralded of the four Grand Slams; the Australian Open has a considerable claim to being the best of the bunch. Were it not for the majority of play generally occurring during the middle of the night in Britain then this tournament would surely be receiving a great deal more credit. Even with this caveat, an unfeasibly large number of the best matches of the 21st century have taken place in night-time slot – the slot coinciding with those in the United Kingdom arriving at their desks for a morning of discreetly following along online.

So, why is it the best? Most importantly, the tournament produces a greater quantity of high quality matches, from start to finish, than any other Grand Slam. Additionally, the meteorological issues which plague the other three majors are absent – apart from the occasional excessive heat warning, rather an insignificant problem to have. And finally, it has the best crowd of any of the Grand Slams– an audience there to enjoy the tennis and support the players fairly and passionately; free from the sorry disrespect frequently in evidence at Roland Garros, the snobbery occasionally prevalent at Wimbledon, and the ignorant catcalling of Flushing Meadows.

Recent evidence of Melbourne’s superiority? The 2012 Australian Open latter stages surely matched any Grand Slam in the history of the game: Rafa Nadal took down Roger Federer (again) in a mini-classic in the first semi-final; Novak Djokovic then outlasted Andy Murray over five hours and five sets in the second semi before –almost incomprehensibly, in one of the greatest athletic feats of all-time – returning to defeat Nadal in an epic six hour final less than two days later.

2012 was another incredible year for men’s tennis (comfortably the highest quality sport on the planet right now), but the combined standard of play and drama probably never equalled that which was on show Down Under in January.

So to 2013 and a tennis landscape which has shifted dramatically at the summit of the game. Nadal is out injured, has been since Wimbledon, with no definite return date. Murray is now a Grand Slam champion, and in possession of dramatically increased confidence and a transformed forehand. Federer is on the wane, capable of fleeting brilliance but lacking consistency. Only Djokovic is recognisable from 12 months ago – remaining a frightening warrior, world number 1 and deserved favourite to win his fourth Australian Open.    

Interestingly, Murray has a chance in Australia to accomplish something that has never been previously achieved in the Open Era (1968 – present). No player has ever won their second Grand Slam immediately after winning their first.  Indeed, of the 49 first time Grand Slam winners in the Open Era, only Federer, Jimmy Connors, Guillermo Vilas and Ilie Nastase managed to win their second Major at the second attempt. (Thanks to the Sporting Intelligence website for that wonderful little nugget).

The other element of interest in this year’s draw is the potential rise of young contenders, Bernard Tomic, Milos Raonic and Grigor Dimitrov. All have weaknesses in their games, but the appearance of a real challenger to the top 4 is long overdue. Australian, but by no estimation the home favourite, Tomic has a penchant for throwing the towel in too easily and Dimitrov is flashy, if erratic – but both young men have started the year exceptionally and could go well. Raonic has a monstrous serve but struggles with his movement.  Could Tomic possibly end Federer’s remarkable streak of reaching every Grand Slam quarter final since Wimbledon 2004.

The draw has set up the tournament immaculately with big matches potentially on schedule from early on in the first week: Lleyton Hewitt vs. Janko Tipsarevic (R1), Tomic v Federer (R3) and David Ferrer vs. Marcos Baghdatis (R3) to name but three. Here’s to another January of attempting to balance overnight tennis and work the next day – something I’ve never managed with any great success before.

Predictions

Q/Fs

Djokovic bt. Berdych (Djokovic in 3); Ferrer bt. Dimitrov (Ferrer in 5); Murray bt. Del Potro (Murray in 4); Tomic bt. Gasquet (Tomic in 4).

S/Fs

Djokovic bt. Ferrer (Djokovic in 3); Murray bt. Tomic (Murray in 4).

Final

Murray bt. Djokovic (Murray in 5).

Analysis

It is hard to look beyond a Murray Djokovic final. The pick here is for Murray to take him down in 5 sets again, gaining a measure of revenge over Djokovic for heartbreaking defeats in 2011 and 2012. Should this occur, a rivalry to match any of the greatest in history will be officially, inarguably born.  

The majority of the draw should progress according to seeding with Ferrer’s quarter unquestionably the most open. However, if Ferrer can survive Baghdatis in the third round, one would still expect him to reach the semi-finals.

Once there, Ferrer would face Djokovic, a nightmare matchup for the little Spaniard – and one which he has no hope of winning. In fact, it is difficult to see any significant challenge to Djokovic before the final.

The only outlandish selection here is for Tomic to go deep into the second week. But if not now, then possibly never for Tomic. I think he raises his game in front of a raucous home crowd and snaps Federer’s remarkable quarter-final record –just a hunch, plenty evidence to the contrary – and takes down Raonic and Richard Gasquet before eventually falling at Murray’s hands.

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The Trouble with Tomas Berdych

Firstly, an admission – I had planned to write this fairly negative article about Tomas Berdych, regardless of the outcome of his first round match at the US Open today. That he beat David Goffin fairly straightforwardly (7-5 6-3 6-3), is beside the more important point: that is, given Berdych’s prototypical physical stature and the attacking weaponry at his disposal, The Berd should be The Word.

Instead, Berdych is the most anonymous member of the world’s top 10. Consider it: the Big Three speak for themselves; as does Andy Murray, if to a slightly lesser extent. Based on pure ability, Juan Martin Del Potro is perhaps the nearest to crashing the Federer/Nadal/Djokovic closed shop. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga brings verve and boundless exuberance to the party. David Ferrer; a remarkable ability to run forever, in addition to some underratedly weighty groundstrokes. John Isner has a massive serve, huge heart and a penchant for epic matches.

Tomas Berdych? Well, nothing really – other than an overwhelming sense that the Czech just doesn’t really want it enough. His genuinely powerful groundstrokes, huge wingspan and colossal serve should, at very least, have made him a poor man’s Ivan Lendl (a compliment). Unfortunately, Berdych is apparently contented with his position near, but not at, the pinaccle of the game.  Lacking in heart, somewhat strategically naïve and mentally frail – these are deficiencies that even an abundance of talent cannot overcome.

For, despite these criticisms, Berdych undoubtedly has great ability – you don’t reach a Grand Slam final as he did at Wimbledon in 2010 without at least a modicum of said asset. However, the giant Czech seems curiously loath to display this virtue on the biggest stages. Take this year’s top level defeats: an encouraging start before tame submission to Rafa Nadal at the Australian Open. A similar, resigned loss to Del Potro at the French Open. And more recently, an incomprehensible annihilation by Ernests Gulbis at Wimbledon.

However, the nadir was probably a woeful straight sets loss at the Olympics to Steve Darcis. Yes, Steve Darcis. (World Number 74, since you didn’t ask). And while Berdych could possibly be excused that debacle on the grounds that ‘it was only the Olympics’; remember that the Olympic tennis tournament and a victory over Roger Federer created Berdych’s reputation in 2004, a reputation that he arguably existed upon for the next six years.

Many of Berdych’s best results have taken place on clay, a strange scenario given the apparent suitability of his game to faster, harder courts. While this may be due to the dubious ‘Martin Verkerk principle’: the clay giving Berdych more time to line up his shots than on other, quicker surfaces – it is an invalid excuse for a player possessing such serious firepower on both forehand and backhand, and with legitimate aspirations of winning Grand Slam titles. In fact, Berdych’s game – so similar in many aspects to Del Potro’s – should be ideally suited to the US Open; instead, he has never progressed beyond the 4th round. A dismal record for a player with his unquestionable ability.

While a permanent fixture in the top 10, Berdych is not seriously a threat to win any Grand Slam tournament in this era; indeed, he currently seems unable to muster the heart to sustain even a credible pretence at challenging in the Majors. While this may yet be the fortnight that his stagnating career is resurrected; Tomas Berdych appears disappointingly – given his aforementioned natural ability – satisfied with his lot.

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