Wow, the 2014 Australian Open draws came out and the big story so far is how f’ed up the men’s bracket is. Even the tournament website is admitting that the No. 2 seed anchoring the draw, Novak Djokovic, has a cakewalk. The sentiment is slightly understandable given that Roger’s No. 6 seeding has transformed him from “top seed” to “dangerous floater” status in Rafa’s half. But isn’t it also a little, I don’t know, rude to dismiss bottom half seeds such as Berdych, Wawrinka, and No. 3 (!) David Ferrer as speed bumps along Novak’s route to another Australian Open title (his fifth and fourth consecutive.) Shouldn’t we give these guys a little credit?
Uh, no. And I have twenty-nine reasons why.
29, that’s the difference in Major titles between the top half – with Hewitt (2), Del Potro (1), Murray (2), Nadal (13) and Federer (17) contributing – and the bottom, with only Djokovic tossing in his six Majors. I’m imagining a two tiered tower of precious medals – handles and lids jutting out everywhere, the occasional bit of mangled engraving – and the feat of engineering necessary to keep the top half’s pile from teetering over and smothering everything below.
Yes, the top half is rigged – rigged to provide us with some awesome early round matches. Tomic vs. Nadal as an opener! Federer vs. Tsonga in the round of sixteen? Talented young ‘uns like Dimitrov, Raonic, Paire, Harrison and Nishikori are littered about like landmines and this weekend’s Auckland finalists, Lu and Isner, are thrown in for good measure. Cilic and Monfils come in with stuff to prove and seeded guys like Kohlschreiber and Verdasco are lurking, hoping to chew some scenery.
You can’t lift a pencil without scratching in an amazing match-up in the top half. Flipping to page two, it’s hard to get worked up until Nole takes on Wawrinka in the quarters.
Of course, it’s always good to remember that draws are “on paper” and really don’t weigh much of anything.
Heavyweights – a trope in many sports beyond boxing, and perhaps there’s no greater champion working in this category right now than Serena Williams. She’s seeded no. 1, at the top of the draw, and bearing down on the rest of the field with inevitable force. Polar vortex, please!
But this is also the great cliche of any women’s draw analysis. It’s only as good as Serena Williams. She wins, it’s inevitable. She loses, well that was a freak occurrence! The fact is, she hasn’t won an Australian title since 2010, so I guess the freaky is fairly normal Down Under. Vika Azarenka has won two of the three titles since then (Clijsters was the 2011 champ) so it is unfair not to call her the favorite. These two contenders are seeded one and two, on opposite sides of the draw, and if we’re looking for a wobble, well, it’s elusive. Vika has Sloane Stephens (everyone’s favorite spoiler) as a possible Round of 16, Radwanska in the quarters and Maria Sharapova in the semis. Yes, Serena’s been blessed with Errani in the quarters, but there are some tricky early rounds before that – Hantuchova in the third round, freshly-titled Ivanovic or Sam Stosur in the Round of 16 and anyone from Li, Kvitova, Kerber or Lisicki in the semis. Sister Venus, a finalist in Auckland, is also in this quarter, along with young stars like Laura Robson and Madison Keys and veteran Vera Zvonareva (who?). Wait, is that a wobble?
Here are some great women’s matches to look out for: Stosur vs. Ivanovic in the third, Zheng vs. Vinci in the first, Lisicki vs. Williams in the third round with the winner to take on Li in the round of 16, Sharapova vs. Jankovic in the quarters, Stephens vs. Vika in the Round of 16.
Okay, so now that the draws have been sketched out, here’s what I’m really obsessing over this tournament:
1. How will Roger do with his new old school coach and new new school racquet? (Duh!)
2. How will all the other hot new coach/pairings go (exp. Becker with Nole, Stephens with Annacone, Chang with Nishikori, etc.)
3. How long will it take Boris Becker to say something crazy?
4. Is there going to be an Aussie Open upstart a la Baghdatis (2006), Gonzalez (2007) or Tsonga (2008)?
5. Which brings us to. . .Lleyton Hewitt. He beat Roger in the finals of Brisbane and still recuperating Murray in the Kooyong exo. Does this mean anything? And just how epic and how late will his night matches run?
All this and more. . .so what are you thinking about as we hit the blue plexipave?