It’s that time of the year again when Australians find a passion for tennis, only to have it quickly taken away when none of the Australian’s except Lleyton Hewitt make the second round, and Sam Stosur chokes.
The Australian Open is arguably this country’s biggest international sporting event and each year crowds of over 700,000 gather at Melbourne Park over the 14 days to watch the best players in the world battle it out on the blue courts to call themselves the champions of Asia/Pacific.
Once again, the hometown heroes have been handed difficult draws. But this year, it isn’t just tough. This year it is truly the draw from hell and any Australian that qualifies for the second round should automatically receive an OAM.
This is my preview of how the Australians will fare in the singles part of the tournament.
Lleyton Hewitt: Australian Open 2014 will be Lleyton’s 18th straight. Like many, as he has matured I’ve warmed to him and recognized just how hard he works and how much he loves the game. The 32-year old could have given up tennis five years ago to join Bruce in the Channel 7 commentary box, but to his credit he isn’t content with his Wimbledon and US Open titles. Of course, he won’t win another Grand Slam, but the display of tennis that he produces is still quality, as we saw when he defeated Roger Federer to take out the Brisbane International. Australia’s youthful Davis Cup team also benefits from his experience.
Hewitt will take on 24th seed Italian Andreas Seppi in the first round. He doesn’t usually play until Tuesday, but he always plays at night, no matter who his opponent is. A straight sets victory is on the cards in my opinion; the Australian crowd behind him will help. If all goes to play he could come up against Rafael Nadal or even compatriot Bernard Tomic in the fourth round. Lleyton is definitely Australia’s best chance this year.
Bernard Tomic: Despite the majority of the country taking the other side, I’ve always been a fan of Bernard and believe that his dad has been the major player in corrupting him. Tomic first debuted at the open at the age of 16, defeating Italian Potitio Starace in four sets, but ever since then the ride has been bumpy. Toolies, dad troubles, tanking accusations and dips in concentration have all plagued his development. It all looked behind him however and he was playing good tennis. Then karma struck and forced his ride into the oncoming traffic travelling at the speed of 120 km/h. Rafel Nadal awaits.
I wouldn’t put it past Tomic to do a Philippoussis/Sampras and take out Nadal in the first round. He has so much talent that it is possible, but again he lacks concentration and can get too far ahead of himself. Should he win he could take on Hewitt in the fourth round, but I think Nadal will get in done in four sets.
Thanasi Kokkinakis: The runner up in the 2013 boys title has a tough draw ahead. He’ll play Igor Sijsling from Holland in the first round, where a victory could not actually be too much to ask for. However, if he does progress he’ll play one of either Rafael Nadal or Bernard Tomic. A good future ahead of him, but it isn’t Kokkinakis’ year. I look forward to saying that name more in the future because it’s fun.
Marinko Matosevic: Last years ATP bolter has never progressed to the second round of any Grand Slam event. Four years in a row Matosevic has been bundled out (expect to hear that a lot) of the Australian Open in the first round and it’s fair to believe that it may happen once again. 16th seed Kei Nishikori awaits the Melburnian in the first round. It will be a very tough ask for Matosevic to win the match, but Nishikori has been known to suffer from off-days. However, I think the man from Japan will be good enough to take it out in straight sets.
Nick Kyrgios: Australia’s next best thing has a very different attitude to his predecessor Tomic. Handed a wild card to the event, Kyrgios seems to be a lot more down to earth and driven to succeed. Germany’s Benjamin Becker awaits the only good thing to come out of Canberra since Brad Haddin, and he may just have some trouble. Kyrgios won the Australian Open boys title in 2013 and I think he’ll get his maiden Grand Slam win on home soil in the first round.
James Duckworth: Could it get any worse for James Duckworth? Last year he had to play his best mate Ben Mitchell in the first round, where he ultimately succeeded, but this year he has to face arguably the best tennis player of all time (barring Rod Laver of course) in Roger Federer. Sixth is the lowest Federer has been seeded at the Australian Open for a long time but it won’t dent his confidence as he’ll take care of ‘Ducky’ in straight sets.
Jordan Thompson: The 19-year old took Lleyton Hewitt’s place in the Kooyong Classic, but don’t think he’ll take Lleyton’s place in your heart, at least this year. He won his place into the tournament through the wildcard play-off in December. The Rory McIlroy lookalike will take on the 20th seed Jerzy Janowicz, hailing from Poland. Thompson won’t progress to the second round this year but he has a bright future ahead of him.
Matthew Ebden: South African born but Perth-raised, Matthew Ebden is Australia’s number four on the ATP rankings. His best result in his home slam was reaching the second round in 2012, although last year he did take out the mixed doubles title with another foreign born Aussie Jarmila Gajdosova. Ebden will face unseeded Frenchman Nicholas Mahut in the first round at Melbourne Park and it could be quite a close match. Unfortunately I am predicting a France victory however.
Samuel Groth: This man could retire now and just live off having the record for the fastest serve in tennis history, but instead he is contesting his first Australian Open since 2009. ‘Grothy’ will take on the Canadian 28th seed Vasek Popisil and stands little chance of moving on to the next round, unless he sends down thunderbolts consistently. If he does, he could face countryman Matthew Ebden in the second round.
Ash Barty: What were the chances that Australia’s two brightest hopes for the future would draw the two number one seeds? While enjoying a successful year on the doubles tour, reaching the final of three of the four Grand Slams with Casey Dellacqua, she also reached the second round of both the French and US Open’s. But her dreams of doing the same on her home soil were dashed as she drew Serena Williams. The 17-year old Aussie will be no match for the powerful American and will go down in three sets.
Sam Stosur: Yes, we all know. I’m not even going to mention the word but it just associates so well with Sam Stosur. 2013 was a very poor year for the top ranked Australian, failing to win a title and slipping out of the top 10, however she did equal her best performance at Wimbledon in her career by reaching the third round. 2014 is going to be the make or break year for Sam, she is either going to get back on the right path or drop down even further due to the evenness of women’s tennis.
Her opponent in the first round is Klara Zakopalova, who she played and lost to in the semi-final of the Hobart International. I do think however that she will do a lot better in an actual meaningful tournament like the Australian Open and should win her first round match. She is Australia’s only seeded player at this tournament. She could potentially face Serena Williams or Ana Ivanovic in the third round should she progress that far.
Casey Dellacqua: Casey’s 2013 consisted mainly of doubles matches. She reached the final in three of the four Grand Slams with Ash Barty and also winning a WTA doubles title with Kimiko Date-Krumm. Her opponent in the first round is Vera Zvonareva, whose last Grand Slam appearance was in 2012 at Wimbledon. She is a former world number 2, so she clearly has the talent, but she has been ravaged by injury. This sets up a very interesting clash and the Australian could very well be a decent chance for the win.
Jarmila Gajdosova: The Slovakian turn Australian has appeared at this tournament every year since 2006 and has never won a match. However, due to the lack of quality female Australian tennis players, the world number 265 has received a wild card into this event. Expect her winless record to continue as she takes on German 9th seed Angelique Kerber in the first round.
Storm Sanders: This woman should be given a free pass into the final just because of her awesome name. Storm Sanders is 19 years old and has been given a wildcard into the tournament to make her Grand Slam singles debut. The world number 234 will take on Italian Camila Giorgi, currently ranked 97th in the world, in the first round and could stand a chance of an upset with the Aussie crowd behind her.
Olivia Rogowska: The Melburnian has been awarded a wildcard into what will be her sixth Australian Open. At 22 years of age, the highly talented Rogowska knows that now is the time to start moving up in the world rankings and she will be looking to do that by winning her first round match against Mariana Duque-Marino of Colombia. Duque-Marino is currently ranked 102 compared to Rogowska’s 176, but the latter certainly is in with a good chance. Should the Australian win, Svetlana Kuznetsova could face her in the second round.
So the women’s side of the draw probably lends the best chance of Australian’s progressing at this year’s Australian Open despite only one (Sam Stosur) qualifying as a result of their WTA rankings. The Australian that I think will go the furthest is Lleyton Hewitt in which will likely be his final slam on home soil.
As for the tournament whole: On the men’s side I’m tipping Andy Murray to win while Grigor Dimitrov will be the traditional bolter. On the women’s side I’m tipping Sara Errani to break through while the bolters will be Ana Ivanovic and Eugenie Bouchard.
Australian Open 2014 awaits.