Friday, 22 January 2010

Time for Andy to be the Wizard of Aus

2009 will live long in the memory for Roger Federer. Last year saw the Swiss break his duck at the French Open to complete a career grand slam. Weeks later he surpassed Pete Sampras’s record of 14 major titles, winning his 15th major at Wimbledon.

Yet, that doesn’t tell the whole story. Less than a year ago having been defeated by his nemesis Rafael Nadal in the final of the Australian Open, Federer stood on the podium in tears. So disconsolate was he that he could not even speak. It was the third grand slam final in a row that Nadal had usurped Federer. After a humiliating defeat at the French Open, Nadal ended Federer’s reign of five successive titles at Wimbledon in the sports match of the decade in 2008. The King was dead, long lived the King. Nadal now had his sixth major to go with Olympic Gold, he had taken Federer’s place as World No. 1 and significantly had beaten Federer in a grand slam final on every surface. However, a dip in form caused by a serious knee injury gave Federer the chance to regain his throne; he obliged and now once again sits atop of men’s tennis.

So what will 2010 have to offer? Well, most intriguingly the hegemony of Nadal and Federer looks under threat. Neither player has won a tournament since August. Nadal has slimmed down his bulging physique in an attempt to reduce the pressure on his ailing knees whilst many feel Federer’s focus has slipped recently after the birth of his first child. With the world’s two best players possibly not at their peak, now more than ever the time is right for Andy Murray to breakthrough and win his first major title. There is no doubting Murray’s ability. Last year he won more tournaments than any other player. Yet disappointing defeats to Fernando Verdasco, Fernando Gonzalez, Andy Roddick and Marin Cillic put pay to any hope of grand slam success in 2009. Murray, by his own admission, has had the best ever preparation for an Australian Open by arriving in Australia three weeks before the tournament to play in the Hopman Cup with fellow Brit Laura Robson. However, by sacrificing the chance to defend his title in Doha earlier this month Murray slipped to No. 5 in the world rankings, behind US Open champion Juan Martin Del-Potro.

At one point last year Murray was world No.2 but a drop in the rankings has left him with a hazardous draw in Melbourne. His route to the final is blocked by the dangerous world no.12 Gael Monfils in the 4th round. Should Murray negotiate that hurdle Nadal awaits in the quarters before a potential semi-final against Del-Potro or Andy Roddick.

On the other side of the draw Federer has a potentially tricky matchup against Nikolay Davydenko in the quarter-finals. The Russian who won the season ending ATP Tour Finals in London last November, followed up that success by defeating both Nadal and Federer to take Murray’s crown in Doha. Meanwhile No. 3 seed and 2008 champion Novak Djokovic has the easiest path through to the semis and will be amongst the favourites to regain his only major title.

All in all the second week in Melbourne promises to one the most competitive tournaments in years but maybe just maybe Andy can be the Wizard of Aus.

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