Will it be an open Australian Open in 2015?
It seems only yesterday that we were furiously speculating about the Federer – Wawrinka dustup and debating the spectacle that was the IPTL. Injuries, comebacks, coaching changes and season montages – all are history now. We could only just about wish everyone for the New Year when the 2015 season was already underway. And we are just a week away from the first major of the year. Yikes!
The 2015 Australian Open promises to be intriguing. And while this may sound like a clichéd thing to say, there are reasons that back it up. Last week was a delight for tennis fans. With tournaments running in parallel in Brisbane, Perth, Chennai and Doha, there was non-stop tennis from morning to night. All the top players were in action as they tried to accumulate match practice heading in to the Australian Open. So there was plenty to watch and observe.
The Swiss have started 2015 like they finished 2014 – with victories. Stanislas Wawrinka successfully defended his title in Chennai without breaking a sweat (metaphorically speaking; it is practically impossible to not sweat in Chennai). Roger Federer went one better in Brisbane, in comparison to last year, by defeating Milos Raonic in a 3 set final.
Wawrinka didn’t have too many demons in his draw as the big names fell early. But he did have one reasonably tough match against David Goffin. Those majestic backhands were firing on all cylinders and Wawrinka could be the man that the top 2 may not fancy in their half of the draw.
There is plenty to take-away from the Brisbane Open. What can be said about Roger Federer? The fact that he defeated two of the ‘gen next’ and dispatched one particular opponent in a grand total of 39 minutes is a great teaser of what to expect from the Swiss going in to Melbourne.
Apart from Federer, the other three semi-finalists were the three youngsters who made the biggest impact in the season gone by. Milos Raonic showed his merit for the upper echelons by the way he fought back in the final after being a set and a break down. He was 2-0 down in the second set tie-break as well, but turned the table by reeling of 7 straight points.
Kei Nishikori may have lost to Raonic in the semi-finals, but the three tie-breaks in that match meant that he exited the tournament without being broken even once. These two will certainly be contenders next week in Melbourne. On the other hand, Grigor Dimitrov left many questions unanswered in his tame loss to Federer. The fact that the man they call “Baby Fed” lasted only 14 minutes longer than the wildcard Federer defeated in the quarter-finals left everyone wondering if Dimitrov had it in him to deliver on his potential.
Last year, in the Australian Open, he played a fantastic match against Nadal in the quarter-finals. He may have lost the match, but it was a great match because the first three sets were well fought. At this point in time, Dimitrov doesn’t inspire the confidence to predict a similar contest, should he get to the second week. But he should get to the second week; maybe that will change things.
In other parts of the world, plenty of murmurs were initiated as Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal suffered early losses. Nadal, on a comeback post appendicitis, has lost two out three singles matches so far. In Abu Dhabi, in an exhibition, he was trounced by Murray. In Doha, he was defeated by Michael Berrer.
The Spaniard did win the doubles title with Juan Monaco. Djokovic withdrew from the final in Abu Dhabi against Murray. He resumed his regular service in Doha but was upset by Ivo Karlovic in the quarter-finals. The murmurs are, of course, that their powers are waning.
For Rafael Nadal, this Australian Open is definitely not about being the favorite. By his own admission, he is only hoping to be able to give his best. He has declared that the No.1 rank does not matter to him much, any more. In order to prolong his career, he will be focusing on fewer tournaments.
Having said that, he does plan to participate in the South American clay-court swing. Will he then skip the Indian-Wells/Miami double to preserve himself for the stretch between Monte Carlo and Wimbledon? He would certainly want to be in the top 4, if not at No. 1, to have a reasonably easy draw leading up to the quarter-finals of the Majors. In Melbourne, it’s wait and watch with Nadal.
Ivo Karlovic’s serve is so good that over best of three sets, he can cause an upset or two. And upsetting Novak Djokovic is not a mean feat. But it isn’t cause for panic yet. Not much can be read into the loss except that Djokovic will be entering Melbourne a little short of practice. As far as odds are concerned, Djokovic should still have the best.
David Ferrer won the tournament in Doha. He had an inconsistent season last year. His start to 2015 is a throwback to his best year on court (2013). Yet, when it comes to play in the second week, you cannot help but feel his chances are not too good.
The runner-up in Doha was Tomas Berdych. With Murray’s former hitting partner on his team, Berdych has shown the willingness to make efforts in order to cover the last mile. He has been one of the more consistent players over the last few years. With no major injury, he has been fairly regular in the last 16 and last 8 of the majors and the ATP 1000 tournaments. He was a semifinalist in Melbourne in 2014 and this year may be one of his best chances to possibly win this title. His quarter will be a dangerous one.
Andy Murray, who seemed to hit his stride only towards the end of last season, was momentarily derailed by Federer in the finals in London. His start to 2015 has been good though. He participated in the exhibition in Abu Dhabi and handed Nadal a demoralizing score line. He then chose to participate in the more relaxing environment of the Hopman Cup in Perth.
Partnering Heather Watson, he was assured of at least 3 singles and 3 mixed-doubles matches with the tournament’s round-robin format. Murray won all his singles rubbers even though Great Britain only won one tie. For the first time in a while, he seems likely to go deep in a Major.
But ranked sixth in the world, he could have the tough challenge of having to take on one of the top 4 as early as the quarter-finals. Which of the top 4 would he rather face in the quarter-finals?
I recommend a two-pronged approach to follow this edition of the Australian Open – TV and the Australian Open 2015 app for the AO Radio. The 2015 Australian Open draw ceremony will be held on Friday, 16th January.