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Can Nadal Make it Four in a Row or Will Federer Defend? Australian Open Preview

1969 was the year when Rod Laver accomplished the calendar grand slam for the second time.  Laver had done so previously in 1962.  At the Australian Open, Rafael Nadal will attempt to become the first person to hold all four majors simultaneously, although not in the same calendar year.  Like Nadal, Roger Federer has won three majors in a single year on multiple occasions, but never held all four.  With a historic sixteen majors, Federer, the defending champion, will be one of the competitors trying to halt Nadal from revising  the tennis annals.  Indeed, if the Australian Open draw holds up, Nadal’s route to his second title is fraught with red flags.

After seemingly comfortable initial two rounds, Nadal may see Marin Cilic in the round of 16.  Despite disappointing results the remainder of 2010 after a semifinal placement in Melbourne, for Cilic knowing that he’s gone that far at this major can be an inspiration.  Moreover, the only time these two met in 2009, Cilic was the victor. In the quarterfinals, Nadal also has a few pesky potential opponents to look forward to: Mikhail Youzhny, David Ferrer and David Nalbandian.  On any given day, these men can be a real thorn on any individual’s side.

The second part of the top half of the draw has Robin Soderling and Andy Murray as the top seeds.  Either player could clash with Nadal in the semifinals.  Soderling appears to have a favorable trek until the round of 16 where he will possibly collide with Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, the 2007 Australian Open finalist and 2010 semifinalist.  On the other hand, 2010 finalist Murray may get Juan Martin Del Potro, Marcos Baghdatis or Jurgen Melzer.  Del Potro, the 2009 U.S. Open champion, and Baghdatis, the 2006 Australian Open finalist, would be a contest for anyone.  Whether it’s Murray, Soderling or Tsonga in the semis, Nadal will have to his hands occupied in order to reach his second Australian Open final.

To say Federer is hungry for the title is an understatement considering the implications if Nadal prevails. Could Mardy Fish or Sam Querrey trouble the defending champion in the round of 16?  Possibly.  However, with Federer’s four titles out of five his last five tournaments, it’s unlikely anyone will down him early on. Both Gael Monfils and Stanislas Wawrinka have a win over Federer, but are a combined 2-11.  Therefore, it’s inconceivable that either Monfils or Wawrinka will upend Federer in the quarterfinals.  Once again, Andy Roddick may find himself in the position of needing to go through Federer to advance to the semifinals.  Despite Roddick’s 2-20 against Federer, he is the most formidable rival who can actually put a crimp in Federer’s style.

In the semifinals, potential adversaries for Federer include Novak Djokovic and Tomas Berdych.  Federer has an axe to grind with each of them since Djokovic defeated him in the semifinals at the U.S. Open and Berdych in the quarterfinals at Wimbledon last year.  Despite Berdych’s success in 2010, there a sense that he is still mentally frail.  Thus, it would not be astounding if Philipp Kohlschreiber boots him in the second round or if he falls to Richard Gasquet in the third round or is ousted in the fourth round by either Fernando Verdasco or Janko Tipsarevic.

Other than Viktor Troicki in the third round, no other persons comes off as a credible threat to Djokovic.  While Berdych surprised Djokovic in the semifinals at Wimbledon last year, in a quarterfinal match in Melbourne, Djokovic would have the advantage.  With the Davis Cup title last December, Djokovic finished the year on a high note while Berdych fizzled after Wimbledon.  Consequently, a rematch of the 2010 U.S. Open semifinals, Dojokovic versus Federer may be in store.

Will it be Rafa or Roger?  That’s the question on everyone’s mind.  Either way, it will be an Australian Open for the history books.  Federer could continue to pile it on with his seventeenth major while Nadal hoist four consecutive majors.  Can Del Potro or Djokovic sneak in for a second major title in an era dominated by two men or will it be Murray to add his name to the club of major winners?  In two weeks, all will know the response.

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