2013 Australian Open Week 2 Men’s Preview
Steen Kirby, TennisEastCoast.com
The first week of the first slam of the year is in the books, and while I will admit it has not been quite as memorable of an opening week as previous years, it still packed a punch and had some very big, exciting moments. Of the 16 players remaining in the draw, seven of the top eight seeds remain. However, all of the Americans and home favorite Australians have been eliminated.
As for matches of the opening week, for the sake of quality it would have to be Gael Monfils’ first round clash with Alexandr Dolgopolov that went four sets. The thriller was full of absolutely epic shot making from both guys, and some stellar ace serving from Monfils.
And for the sake of length, unsurprisingly Monfils was also involved in an intense five hour, past midnight, 5 setter with countryman Gilles Simon. There, both players were injured throughout, with cramping, hand blisters, gimpy legs and sore arms with both mentally pushing on.
Simon won the first two sets only to drop two straight after injury issues. They then battled in the fifth with Monfils getting broken twice, only to break back once. Simon managed to serve it out 8-6 in the fifth. Did I mention that Simon was basically rolling his serves in there at 80 mph or less for the final couple sets of the match, yet Monfils couldn’t do that much with it? For the kicker, the average rally length in this match was easily 30 shots or more, and 40+ shot rallies were par for the course, though the pace of the match adjusted with the fatigue of both players. Simon was quoted as saying after the match “I was almost dying at the end of the second set”… and they played three more intense sets after.
Also challenging for the length category was a second round clash between Blaz Kavic and James Duckworth in the searing 100+ degree Melbourne heat for five hours. They could barely stand in the end as the fans urged them both on, and Kavic finally prevailed. He later tweeted a picture of himself flat on a stretcher in the locker room getting an IV. It was that intense. Duckworth, meanwhile, had played a five setter in the previous round and I’m sure set some sort of two round time record.
Also, extra special credit and respect to both Simon and Kavic for staying around to interact with fans and sign autographs after those matches. Quite an amazing gesture in and of itself.
Here is a breakdown of the eight round of 16 matchups.
(1) Novak Djokovic vs. (15) Stanislas Wawrinka
Novak has rolled through his first three opponents, Paul Henri-Mathieu, Ryan Harrison and Radek Stepanek, eliminating them all in straights, even though none of them played that poorly. He appears poised to continue his winning ways against Wawrinka, who beat Cedrik-Marcel Stebe, Tobias Kamke and Sam Querrey all in straights to advance.
The fourth round is a good result for Stan the Man, but this is likely the end of his road in Melbourne as he has has lost to Djokovic 11 times in 13 meetings, and all of their meetings in the past 3 years.
As a note on Querrey’s second round opponent Brian Baker, one of the unfortunate incidents to come out AO this week is his tore meniscus in his knee and Baker will be out 4 months at a minimum. It’s a real shame to see a guy who has already been through so much suffer further injuries, and furthermore, it erases his chance to rack up basically free ranking points in the part of the year he didn’t play at the ATP level last year. Just a sad story all around and hopefully he can recover.
Kevin Anderson vs. (5) Tomas Berdych
This will be a battle of the big guys with some big weapons. The seemingly resurgent Anderson beat Paolo Lorenzi in four, Andrey Kuznetsov (who notched the opening round win over Juan Monaco) in straights, and gutted out a tough five set victory against Fernando Verdasco. Anderson has relied on his serve and his forehand to carry him through.
Berdych overcame some early year jitters to get past Michael Russell, Guillaume Rufin and Jurgen Melzer in straights, but Anderson should be a much tougher customer than his first three opponents.
This match could easily go five sets given the style of play, but I’ll still give the slight edge to advance to Anderson, the first South African man to reach the round of 16 in a major in 10 years. Berdych beat Anderson four times last year, including at last year’s Australian Open, but new trends have to start somewhere.
(4) David Ferrer vs. (16) Kei Nishikori
David Ferrer has looked lights out in his first three matches: a win over Olivier Rochus in straights, a four set win over an otherwise determined Tim Smyczek (who deserves a lot of credit for making a match of it after a slow start), and a surprising straight sets crushing of Marcos Baghdatis.
Nishikori has overcome any worries about his knee to record wins over Victor Hanescu in four, Carlos Berlocq in straights, and Evgeny Donskoy in straights. The developing Donskoy may have performed a changing of the guard in Russian tennis in the previous round after a solid five set win over the top ranked Russian male Mikhail Youzhny.
Really not much to say about the performance of either guy here so far, except that both are playing well, and Ferrer will be the favorite and should advance, even though he does hold a losing head to head record to the top man from Japan.
(10) Nicolas Almagro vs. (8) Janko Tipsarevic
Nico Almagro is looking strong after recording wins over Daniel Gimeno-Traver and Jerzy Janowicz in straights, and after winning his first round encounter with Steve Johnson in four sets. Tipsarevic gutted out a straight sets win over Lleyton Hewitt in surviving a barrage of shot making efforts. Next, he lost a two set lead against Lukas Lacko only to come back and win it in the fifth. To make the round of 16, Tipsy beat Julien Benneteau in five by winning the last two sets.
Tipsarevic has done his best to make his matches memorable but hopefully hasn’t worn himself down for what could be a ripping slugfest with Almagro. He was quoted as saying after his match with Benneteau “”Long matches can affect my physical condition”, and with that being true, I give the slight edge to Almagro here.
Jeremy Chardy vs. (21) Andreas Seppi
Jeremy Chardy pulled off the shock of the tournament and the upset of his career so far when he defeated Juan Martin Del Potro in five sets to reach the round of 16. Del Potro seemed disinterested through the first 2 sets, only to up his level just a bit in the third set and just barely edge past Chardy, who missed his chances to finish the Argentine off. Del Potro then took the fourth set and it appeared that this would be another case of a lower ranked player taking a lead in a five set match only to freeze up closing it out and fade late. The difference is a tired Chardy still stuck with it and didn’t fade, matching holds with Del Potro, who still couldn’t get his shots working effectively. Finally he broke Del Po and took the last set 6-3.
It was a very disappointing result for Del Potro, who had looked at ease in his first two matches. Chardy also beat Marcel Granollers in four sets in round after beating Adrian Menendez-Maceiras in the four set opener.
As for Seppi, he beat Horacio Zeballos in straights. Prior to that drubbing, he needed all five sets to get past both Denis Istomin and Marin Cilic, outlasting them with consistent play and breaks when he needed them.
This match is quite a lucky shot at the quarters for both guys, and Chardy will certainly be able to dictate with his serve. Meanwhile, Seppi might be a bit worn down. This match is an even proposition, but I’ll give a very slight edge to Seppi, who is normally the better player.
(14) Gilles Simon vs. (3) Andy Murray
I already mentioned Simon’s heroics, and he also beat Filippo Volandri and Jesse Levine in four after dropping the opening set. The problem is, he is the walking wounded for this match against Murray, who rolled over Robin Haase and Joao Sousa in straights. Muzz overcame frustration to get past the tricky Ricardas Berankis in straights, though the scoreline is a bit misleading in that one in that Berankis had a ton of chances to get in the match and take the lead, but failed to convert, while the more experienced Murray was able to serve just well enough to hang on.
Murray will be a clear favorite in this one, even against a rested and healthy Simon. Given that Simon is neither rested nor appears healthy, Simon’s odds are even worse.
(7) Jo-Wilfried Tsonga vs. (9) Richard Gasquet
Tsonga beat Michael Llodra, Go Soeda and an exhausted Blaz Kavic all in straights, and is rolling, though not totally sharp. Compatriot Gasquet beat Albert Montanes and Alejandro Falla in straights, then came back from a set down to beat the scrappy Ivan Dodig, who Gasquet let push him around the court for a bit until Dodig ran out of energy. Dodig made the third round with a win over Jarkko Nieminen, who played an absolutely epic first round match with Tommy Haas, finally besting him.
This was the match most people were expecting and something to certainly look forward to seeing. Both guys are playing fine and I’ll stick with my original pick of going with Gasquet in an upset.
(13) Milos Raonic vs. (2) Roger Federer
Milos Raonic has gone under the radar this first week, winning matches over Jan Hajek and Lukas Rosol before dispatching Phillip Kohlschreiber, who hadn’t been broken on serve up until that match, in straights. Now he runs into the Big Red Machine Known As Roger Federer, who has been clinical in wins over Benoit Paire, Nikolay Davydenko, and Bernard Tomic. The Big Red Machine beating all of them in straights and is not messing around.
Federer is clicking here, and I expect Raonic to be yet another casualty on the Melbourne road.
As a note on Tomic, he played quite fine up until the Fed match, not losing his serve including in a tight four set victory over Daniel Brands, but Fed was just too good.
Djokovic d. Anderson
Ferrer d. Almagro
Murray d. Seppi
Federer d. Gasquet
Sticking with the top 4 here and I don’t see any of them having trouble.
Djokovic d. Ferrer
Murray d. Federer
Ferrer might trouble Djoker, but not enough to win. Federer/Murray, on the other hand, could be absolutely epic if both guys play at the top level. Fed has looked slightly better thus far, but I’ll still stick with my original call and say Murray gets through.
Djokovic d. Murray
Sticking with the original picks here as well.