Thursday, January 15, 2015

Melbourne's Most Dangerous

The draw comes out this afternoon and for every player on the draw there are a few people they definitely don't want to be drawn next to. For the seeded players, there isn't as much to worry about because they are guaranteed not to face another seeded player until the third round. However, there is a group of unseeded players that nobody wants to see in the first round. These are the ten most dangerous unseeded players in Melbourne.

1. Juan Martin del Potro (338) - This is the most obvious one. The 2009 US Open champion has been out with a wrist injury and certainly won't be at his best in Melbourne, but would still be a horrible draw for anyone. The Argentine is a two-time quarter finalist at the Australian Open and has a career record of 17-8 at the tournament. He is also undefeated in first round matches there winning 24-of-27 sets. Del Potro reached the quarterfinals of Sydney in his comeback to the ATP World Tour, which is the ideal result for getting enough match experience and having plenty of time to get settled in at Melbourne Park.

2. Nick Kyrgios (50) - The teenage Australian is already making his second main draw appearance at the Australian Open. Last year in the first round, he claimed a four-set victory over Benjamin Becker, who went on to have an incredible year. Kyrgios defeated Rafael Nadal in Wimbledon later on last year, showing how dangerous he can be against the top players, especially when playing in front of a big crowd. Kyrgios will definitely feed off the crowd at his home slam, and the schedulers will look for every opportunity to get him in front of a big crowd on a show court. He has the tools to hit anyone off the court. When he is playing his best, there are few players in tennis who can hang with him.

3. Viktor Troicki (92) - It has barely been half a season since Troicki began his return to tennis with nothing next to his name and he is already in the top 100 despite having to play in qualifying events just to get into challengers. He has compiled a record of 49-12 during his comeback and just reached the semifinals of Sydney as a qualifier. The Serb is playing with a chip on his shoulder and finding the best form of his career, which has already seen him to the No. 12 ranking in the world. He isn't the most capable player of pulling off big upsets, but he is certainly capable of making a run if he avoids the top 10 players early in the tournament.

4. Lleytong Hewitt (86) - The former world No. 1 isn't someone I mention a lot on my blog, because he already gets a lot of press for someone outside the top 50, but it would be a huge mistake to leave him off this list. Hewitt peaks in two places: in Australia and at grand slams. The Australian Open just happens to be both those things. In 2012, Hewitt defeated Andy Roddick and Milos Raonic to reach the second week in Melbourne, where he took a set off No. 1 seed Novak Djokovic. Then in 2013, he defeated No. 10 seed Stan Wawrinka in straight sets in the first round of Wimbledon. The following grand slam, he defeated No. 6 seed Juan Martin del Potro in Flushing Meadows to reach the second week. Then last year, he defeated Roger Federer in the Brisbane final, so there is no doubt that 33-year old Lleyton Hewitt is still dangerous. His results are less consistent than in his younger days, but nobody is safe from Rusty in the draw.

5. Bernard Tomic (71) - This is becoming just a list of Australians, but there is no denying that they play well in their own country. They are prepared to handle the heat, and the crowd support is never in question at their home tournaments. Tomic in particular peaks at this time of year. He has wins over Lopez, Chardy, Querrey, Dolgopolov, and Verdasco in the Australian Open and even took eventual semifinalist Marin Cilic to a fifth set when Tomic was just 17-years old. In his young career, he already has two titles and three wins over top 10 players as he continues to develop his game.

6. Sam Querrey (35) - Querrey is the highest ranked player that did not get a seed, so if someone withdraws, Querrey could move into that 32nd seed spot. Outdoor hard courts are where Querrey does best collecting four of his seven career titles in those conditions. He has already defeated 12 top 10 players in his career and even reached a career-high ranking of 17. He has since dropped in the rankings, but is only 27 with no current physical issues, meaning he is capable of producing that level of tennis again. Players with those clear identifiable weapons are always the most likely candidates to pull off an upset and Querrey certainly has those in his forehand and serve. If it weren't for poor results on clay, Querrey would be ranked much higher, but his ability to play on clay isn't a factor in Melbourne, so he will be tough for anyone to beat.

7. Gilles Muller (45) - The lefty has one of the most effective serves on tour and with that alone will get himself into a lot of tiebreakers, meaning every set will be determined by just a few points here and there. Those are the kind of matches where anything can happen, leaving the door wide open to some big upsets if he runs into the right opponent. Muller is into the semifinals in Sydney right now after defeated Tomic in two tiebreaks sets. When he is playing that way, he is tough to put away. He certainly has a lot to play for, trying to earn a seed at Indian Wells to help him defend all his points from the Challenger Tour last year. He could represent the perfect storm for someone in the draw just depending on where he lands.

8. Dominic Thiem (37) - At 21-years old, Thiem doesn't have the fire power to take the match out of his opponents hands, meaning he isn't typically someone who will pull off upsets. However, the Austrian has a very complete game and if his opponent is not at their best, he will be there ready to take the match. Among the young players, he has established himself as one of the most consistent and reliable players. That showed in Madrid, when he took out Stan Wawrinka, who wasn't at his best. He also had wins over Feliciano Lopez and Ernests Gulbis in the US Open last year, and even beat this year's No. 32 seed Martin Klizan in straight sets in the final round of qualifying last year.

9. Jerzy Janowicz (42) - Dangerous is just about the one word that everyone can agree upon to describe Janowicz. He has had very inconsistent results that have led to a lot of debate about what can be expected of him. But where he is good or not, there is no denying that he is at least dangerous. At 6-foot-8 with a huge serve, frequent on-court outbursts, and inexplicable drop shots, Janowicz represents an opposing coaches' worst nightmare, because there is no way to tell their player what to be ready for. When playing Janowicz, you have to go in with several game plans and be ready to change them. Murray was a master of that en route to his 2013 Wimbledon title, beating Janowicz in the semifinals after losing the first set. Yes, Janowicz who has never been in the top 10 and never won 30 matches in a season was two sets away from the Wimbledon final. He has five wins in his career against top 10 players and many more against players in the top 20. When he is on fire, he is unstoppable.

10. Jiri Vesely (63) - The 21-year old Czech is into the semifinals in Auckland, which isn't ideal the week before a slam to be in a different country, but there's nothing wrong with being in form going into the first big tournament of the year. Last year, he had a five-set epic with Kevin Anderson in the first round and just missed out on scoring a big upset. Being able to go five sets with the conditions the way they were in the first round last year shows he isn't afraid of a little heat. That could be a key advantage, especially if he is playing on the outer courts.

Other notable unseeded players: Steve Johnson, Nicolas Almagro, Benjamin Becker, Denis Istomin, Vasek Pospisil, Marcos Baghdatis, Sam Groth, Thanasi Kokkinakis, Borna Coric, Ricardas Berankis, Dustin Brown, Aljaz Bedene and Peter Gojowczyk

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