Roddick beat Federer! Under normal circumstances, when two players who are in the top five in the world meet each other, we wouldn’t think this is that much of an upset. But Federer’s record over the last two seasons have given him an aura of invincibility. Roddick has beaten the Fed only twice in fifteen meetings and Federer last lost to Andy Murray quite some time back last season: not invincible, but close.
Australian Open Preview
It’s the middle of January and the first major of the tennis calendar is upon us. The Australian Open doesn’t get the noise that Wimbledon and the US Open generate but it comes early in the year and tennis fans starved of grandslam action for five months eagerly lap it up. It is time for self appointed critics to comment on players’ strategies and serves, predict winners and comment on who will make it big in the next two weeks, months or even years. And yours truly is going to embark on such a mission though I restrict myself to just the next two weeks.
Does Roddick’s victory mean anything different for this year’s Australian Open? Does anybody change their predictions on the basis of this result? You would be a fool to bet against Fed based on this match. It is a new season and even Federer might require sometime to get back into his groove. But even when he is not in form, you are going to need a flawless performance and a bad Fed day to beat the man like Safin got two years back at Melbourne. So, Federer it will be again this time around.
Nadal hasn’t started the season too well either, losing at Chennai and pulling out of a tournament with a strained groin muscle. Rafter turned down Hewitt’s practice request for some personal reason and this probably dents the fairly flimsy chances that Hewitt had of doing anything at all. At this point, I would bet on Roddick to do some damage but not quite enough to topple Federer. Then the other names, Andy Murray, Baghdatis, Tursunov pop-up: no serious challenge here. The dark horse could very well be James Blake. He played well last season and I wouldn’t be surprised to see a few strong performances this season too. If one of these players can mount a serious challenge to Federer, we could be in for some rivetting tennis.
History suggests an Opportunity
The best time to challenge Fed is at the Australian Open. The new season implies the champ is still rusty from the lack of match practice and the early rounds could be crucial especially against a dangerous opponent such as say, Karlovic. Looking back at the results of the last ten years, we see that the Sampras name figures only once. And he was the most dominant player of his time. Agassi has won it thrice. He was always the one for meticulous training in the heights during the Australian summer. Further, there have been unlikely champions: Petr Korda, Yevgeny Kafalnikov and Thomas Johansson (really!!!). Add to this list, Marat Safin (the 2005 winner) and you can see what I mean when I say the best time to beat the top guy is at the beginning of the season. In cricket terms, before he is well set and has got his eye in.
The women’s field looks fairly weak to me with the pullout of Henin and the retirement of Davenport. I predict a Sharapova victory and I am certain the organizers would love for her to be there till the end of the tournament. This Russian is a showstopper, both with the game and the looks. She is not just another pretty thing. She is focussed, talented and does not look like she will fritter it away. Clijsters and 2006 champion Mauresmo will have to be contended with before she can lift the Daphne Akhurst memorial cup.
As I was recollecting the men’s winners of the past, I looked up some of the women’s winners of the last decade. And guess what? The women victors have been more consistent with the then rankings and stuff. Hingis won thrice in a row at the peak of her powers. Capriati won twice in her glorious comeback run. Lindsay won once and yes, there was a Wiliams winner, Serena, twice. Does this mean that the women’s game is weaker outside the top few? Is that the reason no serious challenge is mounted on the reputed players? Old winners’ lists give some interesting things to wonder about.
Sania Mirza’s chances:
Sania has had a fantastic start to the 2007 season. She was in good form as India nearly qualified for the final of the Hopman Cup and made the semifinals of the tournament in Hobart losing eventually to the top seeded Russian Anna Chakvetadze.
Sania has an easy draw at the Australian open. She has been drawn against an unknown Ukranian (another East European!) Olga Shevchuk in the first round. If she manages to win that she will meet either Emma Laine (another unknown!) or a qualifier. Sania may well face Martina Hingis in the third round and that match is going to generate a lot of interest! Besides Sania had actually defeated Hingis last year.
Here’s wishing her a great Australian Open and a fantastic 2007!
And before I end this one, I have a question to raise. I would like readers to post their views on this. How do those Russians manage to produce all these pretty women players! Saying that they don’t play that well is missing the point I am trying to make. Here is the new additon that I noticed, Anna Chakvetadze (who is seeded 12 at the Australian Open):
– Prof and Z
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