The Australian Open draw is out. More than any prior year, in this imprecise game of predictions, the only certainty is the uncertainty in determining a frontrunner for the trophy on both the ladies’ and gentlemen’s side. With no one having a conspicuous edge, with few exceptions, anyone in the top ten can be regarded as a legitimate contender. Moreover, on the women’s side, the return of some old faces with previous success at majors means that it’s is truly anybody’s title.
In the top half of the draw, Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, Nikolay Davydenko and Robyn Soderling are the highest seeds respectively. Astonishingly, if the last couple of months are an accurate barometer, Davydenko is for the first time a true threat to make it all the way to the final. After wrapping 2009 with the ATP World tour finals trophy, just days ago, Davydenko brought down Federer and Rafael Nadal to take the title in Qatar. However, the question remains as to whether Davydenko can translate that type of success to a best of five set tournament over two weeks. If the draw proceeds as expected, Davydenko will have a crack at Federer in the quarters and Djokovic or Soderling in the semis.
For his part, Federer has a pretty challenging road in attempting to reach the final. In the first round, the world number one faces the ever dangerous Igor Andreev. Subsequently, there are possible match-ups with Australian Open finalists Lleyton Hewitt and Marcos Baghdatis in the round of 16. Other than Davydenko, Fernando Verdasco, a semifinalist in ’09, is a potential in the quarters. So, Federer will need to be on his toes to advance beyond the quarters.
Third seed Djokovic should have a fairly unobstructed run to the quarters. Still, Richard Gasquet who is getting back in the swing of the game may be a problem for Djokovic in the round of 16. Furthermore, on that side of the draw, majors’ finalists Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Soderling could clash in the round of 16. With both Tsonga and Soderling potential quarterfinal opponents for Djokovic and with both having wins over the latter, a Djokovic/Federer semifinal is in far from a foregone conclusion.
In the bottom half of the draw, for the defending champion Nadal and Andy Murray, technically, their path to a quarterfinal showdown appears uncomplicated. Yet, Radek Stepanek, a potential round of 16 encounter for Nadal, is perhaps the sole question mark. In Murray’s case, a healthy Gael Monfils can spell trouble in the round of 16. But, with Monfils fighting injury, Murray will not be bothered.
Last year’s semifinalist Andy Roddick has another golden opportunity to move at least to the quarterfinal despite Fernando Gonzalez seemingly in his way. Also, with U.S. Open champ Juan Martin Del Potro fettered by a wrist injury, his progress deep into the draw is in doubt. Del Potro is slated to see Marin Cilic in the quarters or Roddick in the semis.
Top women seed Serena Williams has Aussie Sam Stosur as a possible round of 16 adversary. This could be a tricky match for Serena especially if Stosur plays well and can ride the support from the crowd. Another roadblock for Serena may be Victoria Azarenka. These two could meet in the quarters. Last year, illness forced Azarenka to retire against Serena. Surely, Azarenka is relishing the possibly of a rematch.
Once again, Venus Williams finds herself on the same half of the draw as Serena. In the first round, Venus faces Lucie Safarova who is a handful. Further down, things don’t get easier for Venus as Melanie Oudin and Agnieszka Radwanska await in the round of 16 as well as Caroline Wozniacki in the quarterfinals. Thus, a Serena/Venus semifinal seems remote.
By virtue of being the second seed, Dinara Safina is in the bottom half of the draw. A finalist in Australia last year, Safina’s chances at the title in 2010 do not look promising. With injury already affecting her season, Safina could contend with Kateryna Bondarenko in the third round, Dominika Cibulkova or Maria Sharapova in the round of 16 and Marion Bartoli or Jelena Jankovic in the quarters. On any given day, these players are dangerous, throwing injury into the mix makes Safina’s task doubly difficult.
The most anticipated second round match has to be fifth seed Elena Dementieva versus Justine Henin. For Henin, it will be her first crack at a top ten player and an authentic test of where her game is at. Conversely, for Dementieva, this will be her chance to demonstrate with a victory over Henin that she can carry this momentum and finally triumph at a major. U.S. Open champ Kim Clijsters has a good shot in Australia after her victory in Brisbane over Henin. Clijsters and Henin are set for a quarterfinal clash. Although Svetlana Kuznetsova deserves a mention as a quarterfinal rival for Dementieva, Henin or Clijsters. The ebbing of the 2009 French Open champion’s game leaves room for pause as to her results in Melbourne.
With all that being said, it’s easy to conclude that the winner is someone cited above. Hopefully, in a week’s time, out of the murkiness a clearer picture will emerge. Then, we will see who has the gumption to overcome the heat and come away with the Australian Open trophy. First ball strike is two days away.