The 2009 tennis season has barely begun but here we are at the first Grand Slam of the season: the Aussie Open!
*clap, clap, fizz, fizz*
This major is a true test of fitness and endurance and those ballers who spent their off-seasons honing their games and strengthening their bodies are duly rewarded. Those who primped, posed and partied, well, good luck to you.
So who are the faves to take home the boys' title? Let's take a look!
In tennis, you’re only as good as your last win and Rafael Nadal knows that better than anyone. After one of the best seasons in tennis history, Rafa enters Melbourne with some questions: His ’08 season was cut short due to injury forcing the 22-year old to miss both the Masters Cup and his country’s Davis Cup final and leaving him short of match play (his early loss in Doha last week to Gael Monfils exposed some rust.) Moreover, he’s yet to even reach a hard-court major final, the closest moments coming last season when the Mallorcan Matador made the semifinals here and in Flushing Meadow. But let’s not forget the 22-year old did win gold at the Beijing Olympics last summer which had a similar surface to the US Open and has hoisted trophies at a number of other hard-court tourneys. Big-hitting ballers can be a nightmare for Rafa on this stuff but if he finds the right mix of aggression and defense he can add a sixth career major to his resume.
Roger Federer isn’t used to playing second fiddle to anyone (see quotes) but ever since he lost his Wimbledon crown and top-ranking to Rafa last season, life hasn’t been the same for Regal Rog. Even now, the 13-time Grand Slammer enters Melbourne as second helpings to a streaking Andy Murray as the bookies’ fave to take home the crown. But unlike last year when his preparation was hindered by mononucleosis, he arrives in Melbourne fit + fresh. Plus, who can argue with the facts: in the last five years Fed has gone 3-0 when reaching the final and has made the semifinals twice, including the classic battle against Marat Safin in 2005 when he lost 7-9 in the fifth. Will a Pete Sampras-tying 14th major be awaiting him in two weeks?
Talk about someone entering Melbourne with some questions (no seriously, discuss!). The defending champ, Novak Djokovic, went full-circle last season capturing his maiden major in Melbourne and then capped off the year with his first Masters Cup title. But some funny stuff happened in between (like some bad losses and a more questionable attitude) that left fans wondering what was going on with the usually affable Serb. Fast forward to 2009: The 21-year old makes the jump from Wilson to HEAD (more funny stuff, right Tim?) and consequently falls in his opening round match in Queensland to Ernests Gulbis. Clearly he knows what it takes to win big but Nole will need to get his mind out of these money-making moves and back onto the court where it belongs. Otherwise, his reign as the Aussie Open king will be very short-lived (and his loss to the Flying Finn in Sydney today won't help.)
Is anyone on the planet playing better ball than this Brit? Me thinks not. Andy Murray has been tearing up the ATP World Tour since his bicep-busting victory at Wimbledon last season when he came back from 2-sets to love down against Frenchie Richard Gasquet. Since then the 21-year old reached his first major final at the US Open (losing to Fed) and has collected 4 titles including 2 Masters Series shields (Cincinnati, Madrid). He's beaten Fed four times in a row since that loss in New York (including an exo in Abu Dhabi earlier this month), and has wins over Rafa + Nole. Now comes the tough part: can he shoulder the expectations and prove his champion’s mettle?
Here are a few darkhorses to peel your eyeballs for:
Marin Cilic – The towering 20-year old Croat just won his second career title in Chennai last week and will be entering Melbourne with confidence.
Juan Martin del Potro – Another towering 20-year old by way of Argentina, this baller made history last season by winning his first four tourneys in a row on two different surfaces (clay, hard). J. Martin’s already reached the final in Auckland, his first tourney of the year.
Andy Roddick – I even surprised myself with this one. A-Rod is all about change right now opting for a new coach in the much-heralded Larry Stefanki and an impressively leaned down but still muscular build. He reached the final in Doha falling to Andy Murray (but who hasn’t lately) so he’ll be feeling good about his chances (especially since he's in Nole's quarter of the draw.) And as a former US Open champ and World No.1, why wouldn’t he?
(images via Getty)