Make sure your alarm clocks are set. Be sure that your friends and family are aware that you may be unreachable for the next two weeks. If you’re like me, your sleep schedule will be wildly unordinary for the next 14 days. The Australian Open is upon us, the first slam of the year, the “happy slam.” With temperatures set to break 100 degrees on multiple days in Melbourne, the heat will certainly test players happiness.
The draw was released on Friday, and more than a few were in uproar at the imbalance it produced. Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray, Juan Martin Del Potro and Roger Federer are all on the top half of the draw, leaving Novak Djokovic sitting pretty in his quest for his 4th Australian crown. But a draw is nothing more than a draw, and the matches still have to be played for potential matches to occur later in the tournament.
I think this year’s Aus Open will be the year of the upset. An upset winner is highly unlikely, but we could be in store for some deep runs by less than “elite” players. So let’s get into the picks!
Novak Djokovic—I know, this is probably the 1000th time you’ve seen this pick. But to pick against Djoker would mean that I’m not a realistic tennis analyst. Look at his draw. Really the only danger he faces in route to the final is Stanislas Wawrinka, and that is real danger. If Stan the Man gets to the quarters, we could be in for another epic. But most likely Novak will cruise through his first 5-6 matches dropping maybe a set or two in the process. He is the best hard-court player in the world, as he proved during his 24 match winning streak to end 2013. Obviously he should face a great player in the final, whether that’s Nadal, Murray, or Del Potro. But none of those players have an easy road to get to their 7th match. The overall stress of playing 2-3 tough matches takes its toll and Novak will undoubtably have the clear edge in the final.
Ernests Gulbis–Although Ernie G is in Novak’s quarter of the draw, he has the firepower to take out anyone. He lost in straight sets to Rafa in Doha, but I think the court speed in Melbourne is just right for Gulbis’ style of play. He will have just a split second more time, and the ball will sit just a little higher; perfect for his elongated strokes and extreme grips. Of course Ernie could lose in the first round and make me look incredibly stupid, but you gotta show some faith right?
Gael Monfils–I’ve made a few comments on twitter in the last couple weeks talking about Monfils. From what I’ve seen, I think he’s ready for a breakout(or breakback?) 2014. The talent has always been there, but he looked as focused as I had even seen him in Doha. He lost a close 3-setter to Nadal in the final, but he was hitting the absolute **** out of the ball. If he is serving well, he is tough to beat, and Gael lives for the big moments in front of big crowds. The defining match for him will be the potential 3rd round rematch between Gael and Nadal, under the lights on Rod Laver Arena.
Grigor Dimitrov–I pick this guy….a lot. And usually he proves me wrong, by losing before the third round in Grand Slams. But my colleagues at Tennis View Magazine have had great reports for Dimitrov’s practice sessions. Apparently he is really hitting the cover off the ball, and with new coach Roger Rasheed, it’s time that Grigor made his move. 2014 will see Grigor inside the top 10. There. I said it.
Americans(The less Popular One’s)
Tim Smyczek–Had to include Smee in this post. He adds to the stacked top half of the draw. He will play Roberto Bautista-Agut in the first round. RBA is in good form, reaching the SF in Auckland, where he blew a set and break lead to John Isner, eventual champion. Tim is using a new racket in 2014, and as long as he takes out RBA he will meet Delpo in the second round, which should be fun to watch.
Denis Kudla–I really like Kudla, I think he has one of the higher ceilings among young Americans. He is VERY fit, and solid as they come off the ground. He qualified into the tournament and will face Florian Mayer in the first round. Mayer is a really good player, but I think Kudla takes this one in 5. He will then could face Mikhail Youzhny. Again, it should be fun.
As Brad Gilbert says: Who ya got and scoreline?