Rafa, as we know, operates best on slower courts but he can still produce on the fast-paced ones. Looking at the Spaniard’s draw, he is due to face Juan Martin del Potro in the quarter-final – I see del Potro as the year’s biggest threat to the current dominating three and the Argentine has won the Sydney title this weekend. Nole opted to play in no ATP warm-up events, whereas the US Open champion reigned in Doha last week; it wasn;t the easiest of rides for Rafa, who dropped three sets on his way to the title (not disastrous I know, yet it was to some players you’d expect him not to drop sets).
Can Nadal overcome Djokovic’s dominance down under?
I think that Novak Djokovic will triumph at this year’s Australian Open. Four times a champion and the winner in each of the last three years, he always produces in Melbourne and I can see that continuing. The draw has been kind to the Serb, another reason for him to be the favourite. In addition, the surface is the one where he shows his best tennis, his unbelievable fitness levels are always on show. Currently the world number two, the 26-year-old has the potential to have the same relationship with this event as Rafael Nadal does with the French Open.
Overall, I can’t see past Djokovic for the title. It’s going to take more than the sizzling form of 2013 for Nadal to topple and the manner in which the Melbourne king ended last season illustrates exactly why he won’t stand to be overshadowed like in a huge chunk of 2013.
How will Laura Robson and Heather Watson fare?
In the build-up to the event, injuries have concerned everybody about Robson’s participation in her birth city’s slam. Fortunately the young Briton now feels no pain from the recent wrist problems. Kirsten Flipkens, the Wimbledon semi-finalist, presents a difficult ask in the first round. I believe that Flipkens will have too much for Laura in three sets.
Meanwhile, Heather Watson faces a year of rebuilding her ranking after it slipped to 120 following a bout of illness and subsequent difficulty on court. Having climbed through the qualifying stages the youngster will have rhythm to her game but toppling her third round appearance last year could be a step too far.
Can Federer show us he’s still capable?
Lleyton Hewitt has also beaten Roger Federer in the run-up to the Australian Open – the home favourite beat Federer 6-1, 4-6, 6-3 over two hours in the Brisbane final. He also seems a lot more calm and collected than others such as Nadal and Djokovic heading in to the Open, the wolrd’s top two have both been a little upset by the change in the court’s speed.
The four-time champion doesn’t have an easy draw, here is his predicted path: (R1) James Duckworth, (R2) Radek Stepanek, (R3) Fernando Verdasco, (R4) Jo-Wilfred Tsonga, (QF) Andy Murray, (SF) Rafael Nadal, (F) Novak Djokovic
When will Murray reap the rewards of his surgery on-court?
Towards the end of last year Andy had a serious back problem, one that can restrict movement and potentially be quite painful at times. Read more about in a previous article. However, he underwent a commonplace operation which rectified it as planned. Speaking in Andy Murray: Seventy-Seven released just before Christmas he said: “The most important thing for me now is doing the rehabilitation work… I can’t wait to be fit and ready for the new season and come back even stronger.” He suggests he is just about back to his previous level of fitness, and is feeling confident about the Australian Open. Nevertheless, recently we’ve heard that he thinks you “shouldn’t get your hopes up” regarding his performance at the upcoming Grand Slam.
In the book (which we plan to review later this month) he also reveals that he’s only played one exhibition match in the last four years, and he played another against Lleyton Hewitt just last week; he lost it 7-6, 7-6, but it’s gained him valuable experience against a good and experience (ranked 43) player in the heat of Australia. In Doha he lost in the second round to Florian Mayer, who is looking threatening for the Aussie Open. The Brit as leading comfortably by a set and 3-0, but the German came back to win 3-6, 6-4, 6-2.
There has been a bit of uproar about the speed of the courts in Melbourne, with Nadal being rather uncomplimentary – saying “I really don’t understand very well why they change [the speed] because the last couple of years, the Australian Open had amazing [matches], long ones, good ones for the crowd,” said the 2009 champion. “I don’t know why the people decide to make the conditions that fast. I am not sure for the show [it] is the best thing.” He has probably noticed the biggest difference among the top four, having missed last year’s tournament, yet there’s Federer saying the courts speed is only medium, but they have made it slightly faster. Murray, on the other hand, says the courts are playing precisely the same as 2013, but that the Margaret Court Arena (the equivilant of Court No.2 at Wimbledon) is on a large slope.
He will face 112th ranked Go Soeda of Japan in the first round. Murray reached the final last year – can he replicate this success?