Thursday, January 14, 2010

Australian Open 2010: The Contenders



"Glory is fleeting, but obscurity is forever." - Napolean Bonaparte

While glory awaits the winners of the 2010 Australian Open, many hard fought battles will surely take place on the baby blue Plexicushion in Melbourne before we know who is truly bound for the promised land.

Nobody wants to die in obscurity, but when the curtains close on the 2010 Australian Open, there will only be one man and one woman who have avoided such a fate.

Who will emerge, and how will they manage to do it?

As the day of reckoning nears, there are only questions. Who has made the most of their off season? Who has learned from the mistakes they made last year? Who is ready for the war of attrition that is about to take place?

In a tournament that can sometimes become a battle of wills more than a battle of skills, we will soon find out who is prepared for the heat.

For now, let us look at the contenders for the crown:

Men:

1. Roger Federer - With a streak of 22 consecutive Grand-Slam semifinal appearances, there can be no doubt that Roger Federer knows how to prepare for the grind better than anyone else on the men's tour. But does he still possess that burning desire that brought him to the pinnacle of the sport yet again in 2009?

Chances: Pretty damn good

2. Rafael Nadal - Rafa is titleless since May of '09. Don't think for a second that that doesn't burn him up inside. But is his body ready for war?

Chances: It's possible


3. Novak Djokovic - Novak is a legitimate contender in any tournament that he enters. If he can find the chip that was on his shoulder in 2008, and put it back up there, he just might get it done. The Serb needs to quit being Mr. nice guy and start playing mean if he wants another Slam.

Chances: It's possible

4. Andy Roddick - The Australian Open is a brutal event. Roddick had the longest off-season of anyone else in the top-10. He's ready and he proved it with a statement-making win in Brisbane last week.

Chances: I can see it happening

5. Nikolay Davydenko - Has the tours hottest player been pressing his luck? As awesome as his play in London and Doha have been, it's going to be really hard for him to maintain that level - especially when he himself admits that he is a better player in 3-set matches.

Chances: Slim


6. Juan Martin Del Potro - The giant from Tandil would be well-served to keep his three-set drubbing at the hands of Roger Federer here in Melbourne last year in the front of his mind. He's been a gentle giant since his victory in New York, but if he gets that fire in his belly, watch out!

Chances: Definitely possible

7. Andy Murray - Maybe dropping to No. 5 in the rankings will incite a riot in Andy's mind. And maybe the Riot will remind him that you can't win a Slam by not losing.

Chances: It's possible

8. Marin Cilic - Last week the 21-year-old notched another title in Chennai. Cilic possesses one of the deadliest games on tour, but consistency has not been his calling card up until now. That being said, as he continues to improve with experience it is hard not to imagine him breaking through sometime soon.

Chances: Slim, but you never know


9. Robin Soderling: Soderling has been dealing with a nagging elbow injury since the U.S. Open series last summer. After a withdrawal at Kooyong today, he's going to undergo some treatment and hope for the best next week.

Chance: Very slim

10. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga: He's poetry in motion when he's on. But can he stay switched on for 7 rounds?

Chances: Very slim

11. Fernando Verdasco: Some players, especially those that establish relationships with Gil Reyes, geat great results in Melbourne because they are in top shape while many others are just finding their form. Verdasco proved that he can use his fitness to his advantage last year, if he can do it again this year, he's a threat to do some major damage.

Chances: Very slim


Women:

1. Serena Williams: She's got an iron will and a ballistic serve. And when the serve fails her the will gets stronger. The four-time champion is hungry to prove that the Belgians don't have her number. If there is a question it will be her fitness.

Chances: Pretty damn good


2. Kim Clijsters: Kimpossible is playing with belief, joy, and attitude - it's a beautiful thing. With Jada as a good luck charm, she has yet to lose in a Slam.


Chances: Pretty damn good


3. Justine Henin: If you watched Justine play Kim in Brisbane you know that she's still got plenty of game, plenty of fight, and a relentless baseline tempo that will make even the strongest ladies want to throw in the towel. She's a bonafide contender for this title, end of story.


Chances: Pretty damn good

4. Svetlana Kuznetsova: Sveta plays free these days, preferring to let it all hang out rather than playing scared and hoping for her opponent to make errors. There are times when she can be her own worst enemy, but if she finds her groove, she can be absolutely lethal.

Chances: It's possible

5. Maria Sharapova: If Maria has managed to improve her serve in the off-season, then she will quickly find herself in the top-10 in 2010. Her return game is vicious, and the rust is gone from her 10-month layoff after shoulder surgery. She's only 22, and she's hell bent on getting back to the top.

Chances: It's possible


6. Venus Williams: Venus was hurting at the conclusion of 2009 - but she's had the off-season to retool and she's not done making statements yet. If she's serving well she'll be a nightmare for whomever she plays.

Chances: It's possible

7. Caroline Wozniacki: Caroline is deadly from both wings on the baseline and while her serve isn't world-class, at least she's not yippy.

Chances: Slim

8. Elena Dementieva: She is the WTA's fine wine - getting better with age - but will she ever reach her peak?

Chances: Slim, but you never know

9. Victoria Azarenka: In spite of having the best return game in women's tennis, her serve makes her extremely vulnerable. And that vulnerability causes her to become frustrated - that's when she loses matches that she clearly should be winning. Maybe this time the lightbulb will click.

Chances: Slim to very slim


10. Dinara Safina - Can she learn from Kuznetsova and just play a free and easy brand of tennis? Probably not, especially when Zelko is acting like he's embarrassed to know her in his box. I guess some things never change, but we can still dream, right?

Chances: Slim to none

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