Along with the summer temperatures, the action on court is scorching at the first major of the year. Let’s review the key developments of the initial week and try to predict what could unfold the last days at the Australian Open.
The unexpected casualties in the preliminary rounds were Ana Ivanovic and Venus Williams, the fifth and sixth seeds, respectively. Venus was shocked in the second round by Spaniard Carla Suarez Navarro after having the match on her racket. Suarez Navarro, a quarterfinalist at last year’s French Open, is now in the round of 16. Ivanovic, the 2008 finalist, was eliminated in the third round by 19 year-old Russian Alisa Kleybanova. This was not a great surprise. Since winning the French Open, Ivanovic has yet to make it past the third round at a major. Agnieszka Radwaska, the ninth seed, fell in the first round, beaten by Kateryna Bondarenko. The biggest upset on the men’s section was David Nalbandian, the tenth seed, going down in the second round to Yen-Hsun Lu ranked 61.
As we enter the meat and potatoes part of the tournament, the top four men remain on track to collide in the semifinals. With the exception of Novak Djokovic, the defending champion, Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Andy Murray have looked extremely sharp. Of the two Americans left, Andy Roddick, the seventh seed, may represent the biggest headache pending on Djokovic’s side of the draw. Roddick’s recent weight lost and coaching change appear to be paying dividends. Andy has dispatched his opponents expeditiously, so an upset could be brewing. James Blake, the ninth seed, has played very well. However, Blake will meet last year’s finalist, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, in the round of 16. Vanquishing Tsonga may be too tall an assignment for the American. Nadal will face Fernando Gonzalez, the 2007 finalist. Gonzalez may not have much left in the tank after his high quality, over four hour long, five setter against Frenchman Richard Gasquet. Federer will battle Tomas Berdych. Should Roger advance, waiting will be either Juan Martin Del Potro or Marin Cilic, two tough customers. The French are assured of having at least one man in the quarterfinals with Gilles Simon and Gael Monfils playing one another next. With the leftover field competing so well, the odds maker may need to reshuffle their numbers. The favorite may have to be Nadal, Federer and Murray in that order.
Jelena Jankovic, Serena Williams and Dinara Safina have moved on despite sticky matches. Victoria Azarenka, the talented youngster who bested Amelie Mauresmo the 2006 Australian champion in the third round, is up next for Serena which will be quite a test. Perhaps, the main beneficiary of Venus’ early ouster is Elena Dementieva. Her abundant majors’ experience may be the difference in overcoming her less experienced rivals. A pleasant surprise has been Jelena Dokic, the bright 25 year old is slowly getting back on track after falling off the radar due to personal issues. Dokic defeated Anna Chakvetadze and Caroline Wozniacki and has a legitimate shot at the quarterfinals. A definite sleeper is Nadia Petrova who has looked strong in each of her matches. Yet, history may be most foretelling as to who could be the victor. Serena has always picked the odd years, 2003, 2005 and 2007, to claim the Australian trophy and this just happens to be one.