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ATP Australian Open Early Round Rewind

img_0642_mcAfter one week of play, the cream of the ATP has risen to the top at the Australian Open.   Although some had a tougher road than others, eight of the top seeds are still in the hunt.  Here’s a look back at the tournament’s key moments to date.

In the first round, Igor Andreev’s forehand gave world number one Roger Federer all sorts of headache.  After stealing the first set, Andreev was just one forehand winner away from serving for a two set to one lead.  When Andreev’s shot sailed long, so did his opportunity at an upset.  Thereafter, Federer cruised through his matches.

Another difficult challenge lays ahead for Federer in the fourth round in Aussie Lleyton Hewitt who will have the support of the crowd.  Still, Federer is favored in that match.  Should Federer advance, his tasks gets more complicated since he could face Nikolay Davydenko in the quarters, a man who has beaten him their last two meetings.

While Fernando Verdasco, a semifinalist last year, struggled through his first round match then benefited from a retirement his last round;  Davydenko, his fourth round opponent, has been in peak form through three rounds.  If Davydenko moves on to the quarterfinals, Federer’s streak of 22 consecutive majors semifinal will be in serious jeopardy.

An astounding fatality in the first round was French Open finalist, Robin Soderling. Playing Marcel Granollers ranked 113, Soderling let a two set to none advantage evaporate.  Current U.S. Open champ Juan Martin Del Potro who has been dealing with a wrist injury also made an early exit. After defeating James Blake in a thrilling second round match, in the fourth round, Del Potro fought hard but came up short against Marin Cilic in another five setter.  Cilic who has now gotten to the quarterfinals in the last two majors will battle Andy Roddick.

Although Roddick has been pushed with each passing round, he’s had the answers.  After straight sets wins in rounds one and two, Roddick required four sets against Feliciano Lopez, then five versus Fernando Gonzalez, the Australian Open 2007 finalist and his coach’s former pupil. If Roddick aces the Cilic exam, it will be either Rafael Nadal or Andy Murray his next nemesis.

Despite minor blips, Nadal, the defending champion, has been in his best shape since the French Open loss.  After routine victories the first two rounds, Nadal needed four sets against Phillip Kohlschreiber and Ivo Karlovic who are higher caliber players.  Nadal will clash in the quarterfinals with Andy Murray. Thus far, Murray has come through without dropping a set. If their 2008 U.S. Open meeting is any indication, this quarterfinal duel will be a great one.

When Mikhail Youzhny retired in the third round, for Lukasz Kubot it became a good news and bad news scenario. For the first time, 27 year old Kubot made it to the fourth round at a major. To his chagrin, Novak Djokovic will be his subsequent adversary. It is unlikely that Kubot has any weapon which will trouble Djokovic.  However, the same does not apply to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga who could be Djokovic’s counterpart in the quarterfinals.  Tsonga leads their head to head 4-2.

For Tsonga, the 2008 Australian Open runner-up, the primary order of business will be taking care of Nicolas Almagro in the fourth round.  In the third round, Tsonga put down Tommy Haas.  With Almagro’s five titles all on clay, Tsonga is an overwhelming favorite in that match.  So a repeat of the 2008 Australian Open final may be one match away.

So who will be the eventual champion?  With their take no prisoners performance so far, Davydenko and Murray have the edge. However, of the guys remaining with a legitimate shot at the title, Davydenko is the only one who has yet to make it to the final of a major. Therefore, the riddle is whether Davydenko can defeat both Djokovic and Federer in a best of five match to reach the final.

For his part, Murray will have to knock out Nadal and possibly Roddick to get to the final.  The Scot has the talent, so Murray is hoping with the off season he exorcised last year’s majors demons.

Ultimately, it may be another case of those who’ve been there before hoisting the trophy again.  Thus, Federer obtaining his 16th major or Nadal his second straight Australian would not be unexpected.

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