The first Grand Slam of 2015 is upon us. The slam that produced ‘the most outlandish result at a major in a long time’ last year returns with the field seemingly the most open in a long while. None of the Big 4 are a lock to win the opening slam of the year. World number one Novak Djokovic didn’t have a great start to the year, losing to Ivo Karlovic in Doha and apparently cancelled his practise session because of illness. The man who grabbed most of the headlines, Roger Federer had a much better start to 2015 by winning in Brisbane. But age is not on the Swiss Maestro’s side even though his level of play suggests otherwise. Rafael Nadal is making a comeback for the 972nd time. It didn’t start well for him though, losing in the first round at Doha. He did go on to win the doubles crown there though.
Who is the last member of the Big 4. Till the beginning of last year it was firmly Andy Murray. But he got injured and dropped down while Stan Wawrinka came by and shocked us all by winning the Aussie Open in 2014. However, Stan the Man didn’t turn up for most of the year thereafter until the very end where he teamed up with Federer to win the Davis Cup for Switzerland. I think at this this stage it is better to term it the Big 3 and the ‘Best of the Rest’.
Now for the Draw analysis. Djokovic and Wawrinka are in the top half while Federer, Nadal & Murray find themselves in the bottom half. With Dmitrov as a potential fourth round opponent, Murray seems to have the toughest draw while Djokovic should be happy with his potential opponents till the Quarters.
As I said, Djokovic should be happy with what he sees. Even if he is not feeling well physically, he can still play himself into form in the first 3 rounds, cant see any names potentially upsetting him. Then he could meet the tall John Isner though. The American has troubled Nole in the past and beat him a couple of times as well. But in Melbourne and over 5 sets, getting past Djokovic is a big deal. Nole needs to play really bad to lose this matchup.
And then he could meet Milos Raonic. Isner would be a good practise when Novak goes up against the Canadian. Milos is in good form but if Djokovic is playing near his best, he won’t be losing his as well.
Is this Wawrinka’s quarter or Nishikori’s? Wait, I see Ferrer’s hand going up as well. Stan has won in Chennai just like last year and the slower surface should suit him just fine as it allows him to load up on his powerful groundstrokes. Kei might have to go through Ferrer to meet Stan in the quarterfinal. The Japanese might get through the ageing Ferrer but a meeting with Stan is more unpredictable. Nishikori has the more consistent game whereas Stan obviously has the more powerful one. Betting on a winner between them is difficult, betting that this match will be thriller is far easier.
Rafael Nadal starts off against Youzhny who knows how to beat the Spaniard. But can he do it now? Nadal doesn’t have the match practise that he would want going into this tournament. Will that cause him trouble against the Russian? If he doesn’t get off to a good start, he could be in for a long night out on the court. Melbourne hasn’t been kind on Nadal for some time now and he will be hoping for a change in luck this time around. If he gets though his opening match, it should be smooth sailing till the quarters. Or will it be? Can Kevin Anderson cause Nadal trouble? He has the serve to do it but serve alone usually isn’t enough against Rafa. Of course, this all depends on the Spaniard’s form though.
His potential quarter final opponents include Berdych, Gulbis, Kohlschreiber with Tomic and Troicki also looming in the picture. There could be a surprise or two here.
Roger Federer wouldn’t complain about his path until the quarters. But it is tricky though. Starting off against Lu with Monaco likely in the second round, he would likely be facing Chardy in the third (who gets Coric in the first round) who has troubled him in the past. Then Karlovic, Robredo and Kyrgios are loom as potential fourth round opponents.
Any Murray and Grigor Dimitrov should get by their opponents to set up a fourth round clash. If it happens, it will be interesting to watch as Murray would look to avenge his loss at Wimbledon. The winner would then get to face Federer. Considering recent form, picking Federer to go through is the safest best. Last time Federer lost before the semis in Melbourne, Agassi was still playing.
And the Winner is…
The first semi would most probably be Djokovic vs Wawrinka/Nishikori. Both men have beaten Nole at a grand slam in 2014. Can they do it again? The world number one would be difficult to dislodge in his quest to get to a 5th title in Melbourne though. The second semi would be Federer vs Nadal(?). If Nadal gets that far then he has to be the favourite. Rafa is a confidence & momentum player and he would be extra buoyed by the fact that he has beaten Federer here thrice before. The Swiss man has lost in the semis the past 4 years and would be desperate to get to the finals and win the whole thing one more time. The key for him to stick to his attacking, net rushing style of play and not revert to the baseline warfare against anyone, least of all Rafa.
If it comes down to Djokovic vs Nadal for the title, Nole is the favourite simply because he can absorb Nadal’s blows and pack a mean punch of his own. But if it Nole vs Roger, things will get interesting. The Serb is still the favourite, especially on a slower court like this. That being said, Federer has the game to trouble Djokovic even when the latter is at his best. Can he do it in Melbourne and win 3 sets off the man who denied him the Wimbledon title last year?
But what about the other possibilities though? Can Wawrinka do the improbable and defend his title? Can Nishikori dash his way through to a maiden slam? Or will we get a Cilic-esque surprise with a brand new champion out of nowhere?
If it had to bet my money on it, I would still pick Novak Djokovic to win the first slam of the year. I wouldn’t be surprised if I didn’t get my money back though. But if I had to make a wish, then my wish, as it has been for the past decade, is for Roger Federer to win. Just one more Grand Slam, one more time.