2014 Australian Open Week 2 Men’s Preview, Predictions
Steen Kirby, Tennis East Coast
One week down, one to more to go in Melbourne as dangerously hot temperatures have been the biggest storyline of the opening week of the 2014 Australian Open. The heat caused a several delays, near record numbers of retirements/walk overs, and generated a ton of press conference quotes from players. The good thing is, Week 2 is looking better temperature-wise and an eclectic group of 16 men are left competing for the Men’s title.
This is a mix of consistent top competitors, wily veterans and a few first timers who are having their best grand slams yet. Here is a look at the eight Round of 16 matches, and some discussion about all that happened in week 1.
(1)Rafael Nadal vs. (16)Kei Nishikori
Rafael Nadal has looked sharp in his first three matches, getting a first set retirement against Bernard Tomic and beating Thanasi Kokkinakis and Gael Monfils in straights. Monfils was expected by many to give Rafa a tough test, but he failed to really show up even though he played well in his first couple of matches.
Rafa has been pushing hard to take care of business.
As for Nishikori, he has braved blazing hot conditions (where he usually struggles) to reach the round of 16, beating Marinko Matosevic in 5 sets, Dusan Lajovic in straights, and the last American left, Donald Young, also in straights. After a slow start, he demolished Young in that match.
Nadal is 5-0 career against Nishikori and 2-0 on hard courts, thus I don’t see this being much of a match.
Nishikori could perhaps grab a set, but Nadal in straights looks like the likely result.
As an aside, Lleyton Hewitt, one of the dark horses in this section, was bounced in the opening round against Andreas Seppi, who went up 2 sets, conceded the third and fourth sets, and had to save a match point in the fifth before finally prevailing to reach round 2, where he was defeated by Young.
(22)Grigor Dimitrov vs. Roberto Bautista Agut
One of the most interesting and balanced Round of 16 matches.
Dimitrov has finally reached the second week of a slam. the Bulgarian beat Bradley Klahn in 4 sets, Rendy Lu in straights and Milos Raonic in four competitive sets to reach the fourth round. Bautista Agut smashed through Tim Smyczek in straights, then won a huge five setter against Juan Martin Del Potro in the biggest upset of the tournament thus far, before routining Benoit Paire in straights and showing off his excellent forehand and tactical tennis. In the match against Del Potro, he broke and held for a 7-5 5th set win.
RBA beat Dimitrov in Beijing at the end of last year in straight sets and though many are calling Grigor the favorite in this match, I actually think it favors RBA in both form and h2h. Both are rising players and this one likely goes 4 or even 5 sets, but I have RBA making the quarters.
(4)Andy Murray vs. (LL)Stephane Robert
Probably the most lopsided fourth round matchup. Murray has been a bit of a slow starter but has cruised past Go Soeda, Vincent Millot, and Feliciano Lopez in straight sets. He was 1-5 down in the third set against Millot, for no reason in particular, and then proceeded to reel off 23 straight points and win the set 7-5.
Robert, the journeyman veteran, made it into the draw because Philipp Kohlschreiber withdrew. Robert has wins over Aljaz Bedene in straights, Michal Przysiezny in 5 sets and Martin Klizan in straights to reach the second week. The Frenchman has primarily played challenger level tennis his entire career, though he has a lone ATP final on his record from a few years ago and he is not expected to give Murray much a match. This is a great result and a great story for Robert from week 1.
Murray in straights is the pick.
One of the top seeds in this section, John Isner, suffered an ankle injury in his first round match with Klizan and had to retire in the opening round.
(10)Jo-Wilfried Tsonga vs. (6)Roger Federer
A highly anticipated fourth round clash, Tsonga has straight set wins over Filippo Volandri, Thomaz Bellucci and Gilles Simon, while Federer has straight set wins over James Duckworth, Blaz Kavcic and Teymuraz Gabashvili (who pulled off a big upset of Fernando Verdasco in 5 sets in the second round).
Tsonga and Federer are both playing well and appear healthy and ready to rock. This could truly go either way, but I’ll stick with my original prediction and say Tsonga wins, likely in a 5 setter.
Credit goes to Gilles Simon for winning two straight five setters in marathon fashion over Daniel Brands and Marin Cilic, on a bum ankle, to reach the third round. He’s a true Iron Man.
(7)Tomas Berdych vs. (19)Kevin Anderson
Berdych has beaten Anderson 9 times in his career, never losing to him, and they seem to meet in almost every draw they mutually enter in the past couple of years.
It’s simply a bad matchup for Kev, as Berdych serves and hits his forehand with power and pace just like he does, only better, and he has other intangible strengths and a better all around game that is consistent and gets him wins.
Furthermore Berdych hasn’t dropped more than 4 games in a set and hardly faced any break points against Aleksandr Nedovesov, Kenny De Schepper and Damir Dzumhur, a nice third round story (the up and coming Bosnian qualifier whose ethic cheering section brought an accordion to his matches).
Anderson has had a much rougher go, as he came back from 2 sets down against Jiri Vesely and Edouard Roger-Vasselin in rounds 1 and 3 before beating Dominic Thiem in straight sets in his second round match. He really should have been bounced before now if Vesely and ERV hadn’t failed to close the match under pressure.
I expect Berdych in straights here.
(3)David Ferrer vs. Florian Mayer
Florian Mayer is the in form player who has taken the most advantage of this weak section of the draw. The veteran German beat Denis Kudla in straights without much trouble, then needed 5 tough sets against Mikhail Youzhny and returned to straight set fashion in the third round dispatching an injured Jerzy Janowicz. He is having a great year so far and playing some great tennis. In the Youzhny match, Mayer truly out-beguiled and out-worked his opponent.
Contrastly for Ferrer, he has wins over Alejandro Gonzalez in straights, Adrian Mannarino in 4, and Jeremy Chardy in straights, but all of his opponents have been pretty weak and noncompetitive most of the time. He continues to show more chinks in his armor than usual, but he hasn’t yet faced an opponent who can exploit that for an entire match.
Mayer seems to be the player who can do that, as he has a very competitive 3-4 overall H2H against the Spaniard and beat him in Shanghai on hard court at the end of last year.
Ferrer hasn’t been his usual self for months, and though he is usually a lock in most matches against non top 10 players, I’m going to go with Flo, and not even in that difficult of a match.
(8)Stanislas Wawrinka vs. (17)Tommy Robredo
An interesting match in which the h2h favors Robredo 6-1 overall and 2-1 on a hard court, including a 3 set win in Cincinnati last year. But form has to favor Wawrinka, who has followed up a career year in 2013 with an ATP title and 2 wins against Andrey Golubev (via retirement) and Alejandro Falla in 4 sets, plus a walkover against Vasek Pospisil, who beat Matt Ebden in round 2 in 4 sets with a bad back, to reach the round of 16.
Wawrinka has to be fresh right now, a big deal in a week that has been plagued by dangerously hot temperatures.
Robredo, on the other hand, is also in a good form and has played some great, warrior-like tennis,
in yet another very solid second week run in a grand slam. His five set win against Lukas Rosol was gutsy and finished 8-6 in the fifth set. After that win, he worked his way past solid customer Julian Benneteau in four, and upset a clearly not 100% Richard Gasquet, also in 4.
I do see this one going the distance, but form and freshness favor Wawrinka in that scenario, plus he plays well in Melbourne.
(15)Fabio Fognini vs. (2)Novak Djokovic
Djokovic is 3-0 against Fognini on a hard court. That matchup only went 3 sets one out of the three times, and his form looks good as he beat Lukas Lacko, Leo Mayer and Denis Istomin all in routine fashion.
Fognini seems healthy and is playing some great tennis this week, with wins over Alex Bogomolov via a third set retirement, Jarkko Nieminen in straights, and Sam Querrey in straights to reach the fourth round. Maybe he can force a set out of Djokovic, but this match should be quite routine otherwise.
- Nadal d. Bautista Agut
It would be the first meeting between the Spaniards.
RBA is playing well but I don’t see anyone beating Rafa until the final right now.
Likely a straight set affair.
- Murray d. Tsonga
Murray is 2-1 on outdoor hard against Tsonga. They haven’t met that often for top 10 players.
Before the tournament started it was hard to predict how Murray would be form and fitness wise, coming off the back injury and not much match practice. After seeing the first three matches of both players, it’s safe to say that Murray has confidence. Even though he is still easing his way into things, and what looked like a tough draw on the outset of the tournament now looks like a nice path to the semis, he can possibly defend all of his points for reaching the final last year. This is also a chance for Tsonga, should he choose to step up and seize it. Same applies for Federer, though Murray generally matches up well with him, too.
I’ll go with Murray in four as long as he plays in an upper gear.
- Berdych d. Mayer
Berdych is 4-0 on a hard court against Mayer in his career, and Flo should be tired, thus Berdych in straights.
An easy call. Berdych has stepped up and benefited from this draw.
Djokovic d. Wawrinka
The rematch many have been waiting for of their two epics last year, Wawrinka can truly push Djokovic to the limit, but Novak has that extra edge, and his form looks fine, thus Novak in 4 or 5 sets is the pick.
- Nadal d. Murray
We could finally see Nadal vs. Murray for the first time in two and a half years if they can both get the job done and reach the semis.
this is one of the “big four” matchups we see far less often than the others and they have a 1-1 h2h record in Australia. Overall, Murray leads the outdoor hard court h2h 5-4, but Rafa is fit and fresh, while Murray is still easing back into things a bit. That gives Nadal the edge to even the h2h, perhaps in straights, and likely in 4 or 5.
- Djokovic d. Berdych
Djokovic: 7-0 against Berdych on outdoor hard courts, only lost once to him in many matches overall and he’s playing well. He returns serve far too well for the Czech to beat him in most cases, and this will probably be a straight set semifinal. Novak appears on his way to an inevitable final.
Djokovic d. Nadal
Going with my original pick, Novak figured out how to beguile Nadal again after the US Open final, and if he keeps up that gameplan, he should be able to win another Aussie Open.