Google Down the Line!: AUSTRALIAN OPEN 2009 PREVIEW: The Boys

Friday, January 16, 2009


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?

So who are your faves + darkhorses in the boy's draw?


(images via Getty)


  1. Looking at his side of the draw, I think Nalbandian has a pretty good chance to get to quarterfinals. He is playing good and focused, but everybody knows he tends to lose focus quickly.

    If he reaches quarterfinales (probable match against Djokovic) he'll be in a run (he' already in one, having reached Sidney's final today). And when he is in a run, he's quite difficult to stop.

  2. I agree with Fedex, Nalbandian is a dark horse but also he's a perennial underachiever.

  3. Andy Roddick?!
    His chances of winning it are about as good as Andy Murray's are of getting a good tan.

  4. If Murray does not reach the final I'd be shocked. He has the drive, the talent, the boost of confidence from recent wins, and he has been working super hard (like, kill-me-if-I-have-to-do-it kinda hard) in the off season. Name me another person training as hard, or harder. Plus, I honestly do not see a smarter player than him right now. I just heart his play, I really do.

    I feel that Rafa has sort of been letting his game go a bit? Blasphemous, I know, but it's like he is relaxing a lot because he won WImbledon and reached number 1. He's relaxing too much. Time to stick your head in again Rafa. Don't let us down. Get this slam, defend your King of Clay title, win Wimbledon to prove you're not a fluke. Oh, and show the Americans what you can really do at the end of this year. I'm sure you catch my drift. You are blazing hot! Do it to it!

  5. fedex/Leo: I used to love Nalby but he drives me absolutely batty. If he's in the zone, he'll be a threat but who knows? I'm sure he doesn't.

    natch: I know, I know! Seriously it was an out-of-body experience when I was writing that one. But strangely enough, he always has great results when he switches coaches, at least at the start of the new setup, and after seeing the draw and seeing him in Nole's quarter he has a great shot of reaching the semis if he gets by a potential 3rd rounder with Nalby or Robredo.

    Nole looks terrible right now - I mean he lost to the Flying Finn today. Seriously?!

    babz: Yes Murray will make the final and has a great chance of winning the whole damn thing. Interesting point on Rafa - do you think it's lack of matches, practice, loss of intensity and desire, combo platter, staying up late reading the Rafantic comments????

  6. My hope is to see Gulbis make a nice run. My choice for the winner is still Andy Murray. This is the worst slam to try to predict anything because nobody has any rhythm yet...fingers crossed and all hopes for Rafa but, I still pick Andy in my gut.

  7. b2012: I struggled with whether to choose Curlbis as a dark horse but in the end I said "no way" because he hasn't had a good showing of late or even the end of last year.

    It's more I'm hoping he does well than I think he'll actually make a deep run. But there's usually a surprise run but I think it'll most likely be on the ladies' side and not the men's.

  8. babz: i think you might be underestimating the great rafa. did you read the time magazine article? (,9171,1870373,00.html)
    he's been using the offseason to tweak his game to be more aggressive and end points quicker, even to the degree that his trademark forehand is apparently undergoing changes. i don't think rafa has been relaxing at all, if anything, he's working harder than ever to ensure that he remains on top of the game for as long as he can. vamos rafa!

  9. thedanielstation,

    I think you misunderstood my comment. I am not underestimating Rafa, there is just no reason to. His game, when he plays it, is still too much for anyone to handle. He is a deserving number one. However, I am not talking about technicalities. It does not matter how good your game is if your intensity and drive is less than the next best person. Sports is as much mental as physical.

    Call me sentimental, but in the very center of his game, there was his heart. That is why I love him, above any other player right now. His game has no problem. I know he can even still evolve. The problem is within. I don't know if I can articulate my thoughts properly as it is nearly 2AM in my part of the world, but I think, inside, he's relaxed. Might be a good thing, might be a bad thing, but a lot of him has to do with his drive, so...

    We will see how he performs at this slam. As his game has a lot to do with will, persistence and just plain fire, I think we will be able to see changes inside and outside, for better or worse. Trust me, I want him to be on top for the longest time. But -and I'm saying this about all sportsmen- if a player just does not win, whether by lack of good play or lack of want, it's like beating a dead horse.

  10. Rich - have you seen the draw?? ALL the exciting young talents are on the same side! NUUUUUUTSSSS

  11. I dont know for you guys for this week coming up will be better than Christmas..AO and the premiere of Lost!!

    Great post Rich, and like B2012 said "This is the worst slam to try to predict anything because nobody has any rhythm yet".
    Remember Gonzales 2 years ago?? Who knew?? This open its almost like the tennis lottery : T never know.

    ps. Did anybody saw Jarkko playing yesterday? That guy was inspired.

  12. I really have no idea how to call this one. Seems the boys like to surprise us these days! Surprise us with losses and surprise us with wins. I'm just looking forward to enjoying the ride. Let's hope for a good tourney :)

    BTW, did anyone catch Nole's match with Nieminen yesterday? I saw the first set and all I can say is What. The. Fuck. Nole seemed pissy and agitated from the very start. He seemed like someone who was playing a tennis match right after he got royally dumped by his girlfriend. I'm not even kidding. I have no idea what was going on with him emotionally, but it was hard to watch. I don't know if it was just the pressure of possibly being world no. 2 on Monday (which would switch up the AO draw for one thing) or if he was still pissed about the rain delays from the night before...I don't know. Thoughts from anyone else who watched?? I'm curious if this is all in my head.

  13. My pick is Rafa; I think he had plenty of time off and is better prepared than he is letting on; I think that is exactly what Uncle Tony wants is for everyone to think Rafa is rusty or not on top of his game right now. Regardless this should be a great AO.

  14. Oh also, I'd make Monfils a dark horse. Maybe he won't go all the way, but he could go deep into the never know with that kid! He's got a great fighter mentality too. Hmmm.

  15. man doesn't this make it all the more exciting?

    hehe agree with johanne, fingers crossed for a good tourney

  16. johanne: didn't catch the match!

    And I can't wait to get this thing started!

    *jumps out of skin, literally*

  17. Rich: Be on the lookout for reports of Nole and his hot gf parting ways. Just sayin'.

    I also canNOT wait for this Slam to start the hell up so I can watch Rafa play (aka stare at his bod) every other day for (hopefully!) 2 weeks. AHHHHH the suspense!!

  18. I'd have to pick Andy Murray. He is in great shape, and I think he deserves to win a major. I really hope Rafa but he isn't that good in the beginning of the season mostly. The great days of Fed are over.
    And I really hope Monfils will be the black horse!

  19. I totally get you Rich - it's a hope, not an expectation for sure. I think Andreev is his possible second round so, that could go either way. Would be nice if he could get that game going though and mentally KEEP it going.

    *gets out pom poms*

  20. Andy Murray looks sexy in the shirtless pictures! He's really on a roll beating all of the top players. I think he will win.

  21. what are you thinking about baghdatis for the australian open? surprise finalist a few years ago, been working hard and claims he's on the rise. i wonder.


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