Thursday, January 9, 2014

Australian Open Week 1 Preview

The Australian Open draw came out today with a stacked top half full of exciting matchups. Here is a look at the most anticipated matches during the first week of the first slam of 2014.

1st Round: Before the draw came out, I was looking at how many quality players were going to be unseeded, and I thought there would be plenty of exciting first round encounters. I was dead wrong about that. The most dangerous unseeded players like Querrey, Dolgopolov, Istomin, and Cilic avoided playing seeded players in the first round. Then Ivo Karlovic, who actually did draw a seeded player, got 32-seed Ivan Dodig. However, there are two matches that will get my full attention when they are on.

The first is No. 24 Andreas Seppi (Ita) vs. Lleyton Hewitt (Aus). If I had to bet that any match would go five sets, this would be the one. At the last five grand slams, Hewitt has played 11 matches. Four of them went five sets, and five of them were four sets. Seppi's numbers knack for long matches is even more impressive. He has played 11 five-set matches in his last 19 completed slam matches. Even in Davis Cup play last year, he had a five-set match. If you aren't convinced yet that this match is going the distance, let me tell you about their head-to-head record. In six matches, the record is tied 3-3. Although they have never played a best-of-five match, each of their first three encounters were determined in a deciding set. Many fans would argue that Hewitt always plays his best in Australia is playing too well right now to need five sets to beat Seppi. However, when they met merely three months ago, Seppi won 6-4, 6-2. Seppi also has already defeated Hewitt once in Australia with a 4-6, 7-5, 7-5 win in Sydney 2006. I am picking Hewitt to win though.

The second is No. 1 Rafael Nadal (Esp) vs. Bernard Tomic (Aus). Nadal will likely win this one in straight sets, but it should still be fun to watch. The two also met three years ago in Melbourne in the third round, where Nadal won in three sets, so it will be interesting to see how much Tomic's game has improved since he was just 18.

2nd Round: This is the last round before the seeded players begin to play each other, so this round also lacks some really intriguing matchups. Marin Cilic does have a chance to take out a seeded player when he plays against Gilles Simon. Also, Fernando Verdasco will take on red-hot Sergiy Stakhovsky for the right to play Roger Federer, who Stakhovsky beat in Wimbledon last year. As someone who used to attend the tournament in Los Angeles each year, a potential matchup of former champions Ernests Gulbis and Sam Querrey will be interesting.

3rd Round: This is where the fun begins. This is the kind of day where you want to have different matches being played on your computer, tablet, and phone all at once. Thankfully, at the slams each round takes two days.

Gael Monfils and Nadal should meet in a rematch of the Doha final, which went three sets. Kei Nishikori versus Lleyton Hewitt would be an instant sellout in the Asia/Pacific Slam. Then Milos Raonic and Grigor Dimitrov would be a matchup between the two best young players on tour. Dimitrov would be in search of his first trip to the second week of a slam. Juan Martin del Potro will get his first test in the third round, where he will likely play Benoit Paire, who upset him in Rome last year.

Then we get to go through the awkwardness of Judy Murray being at a "Deliciano" Lopez match, when he takes on her son, Andy Murray. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga will either face his countryman Gilles Simon or former top 10 player Marin Cilic, who is trying to climb the rankings again. Then, as mentioned before, we could see Stakhovsky get his rematch against Federer. All of those matches are just in the top half of the draw, so they will all be played on the same day. Thankfully Monfils is in one of the matches, so he and Dustin Brown likely won't play in doubles that day too.

However, there is one match that I left out, which I think will be the best out of all of them. That is the matchup between No. 21 Philipp Kohlschreiber (Ger) and No. 13 John Isner (USA). The pair met just yesterday, when John Isner came back from down a set to win in three tiebreak sets. Isner leads the head-to-head 4-2 now, but has never beat Kohlschreiber in a best-of-five match. Only one match between the two hasn't gone to a deciding set. That was a four-set match that the German won at the US Open, which was the second time Kohlschreiber has beaten the top-ranked American at his home slam. Needless to say, Isner would love to get some revenge.

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