Tennis aces ready to sizzle

17 January 2010

Written by: Lawrie Zion

If your fridge and television remote control are nearby, make sure you become well acquainted with them. Throughout the next two weeks, you’ll be spending a fair amount of time with these two masterful inventions if you’re planning to watch the 2010 Australian Open.

Why? You’ll need the fridge to keep those beverages cool as the temperature boils outside (with the possible exception of today’s unseasonably cold outbreak). And you’ll require the remote control to hit the mute button as players from all over the world attempt to grunt their way to glory.

Starting today, and continuing right through till Sunday 31st January, tennis’s best will fight it out underneath Australia’s notoriously cruel summer sun to see who will be crowned champions for this year’s Australian Open.

Tennis courts transform into physical war zones as players toil in the extreme heat and push themselves beyond their physical expectations. On the court, temperatures have been known to reach above 50 degrees. The blistering conditions were unbearable for some last year, with men’s third seed Novak Djokovic retiring in the quarterfinals due to heat exhaustion, muscle cramp and soreness.

The gradual demise of 50-over International cricket during January in Australia over recent years has seen the Australian Open grow in stature. Last year, over 600,000 people from across the Globe flocked to the first of four Grand Slams for the year to watch the very best in action.

This year’s open looms as one of the most competitive for quite some time, both in the men’s and women’s events.

Men’s Singles:

Roger Federer famously left Melbourne’s Rod Laver Arena in tears last year when Spain’s Rafael Nadal, his greatest and most competitive rival, stole the Australian Open crown in a five set marathon. If Federer is able to gather to turn it on at Melbourne Park this year and win, it will be his fourth Australian Open title.

There is no reason why the Fed can’t do it again. The Swiss Maestro is simply the best and his record in this tournament is phenomenal, winning 87% of his matches spanning over a decade. He is an all-court player and his fluent style of play is extremely attractive to watch. But more importantly, the advantage he has over many is that he knows how to win in the Melbourne heat.

Federer has a somewhat comfortable run up until the semi-finals when he faces Djokovic, the 2008 Australian Open champion. Djokovic described his retirement during the quarter-finals last year as embarrassing and will be determined to rectify that this year. He also has a rather easy draw up until the semi-finals, especially seeing that France’s Jo-Wilfred Tsonga and Sweden’s Robin Soderling, who are in his quarter of the draw, are both under injury clouds.

At 21 and 22 years of age respectively, Juan Martin del Potro and Andy Murray have it all before them. Del Potro did the unthinkable at the US Open last year when he defeated Federer and Nadal in the same Grand Slam tournament, a feat no other man had been able to achieve till then. The Argentine went onto win the title, his first ever Grand Slam victory. Murray is constantly improving as the years roll on, but is yet to win a major tournament. He impressed in the recent Hopman Cup in Perth, leading Great Britain into the finals. Is this going to be his year?

The player who has slipped under the radar recently is Russia’s Nikolay Davydenko. The 28 year-old finished 2009 in the form of his life. He won five tournaments, including the ATP World Tour Finals at the end of the year where he defeated the likes of Nadal, Soderling, del Potro and Federer. He recently defeated Federer and Nadal again in the Qatar Open to claim another ATP World Tour title in terrific style. Davydenko plays and looks like former World Number 1 Andre Agassi, who hit with such power from the baseline.

Federer and Nadal are both champions of their sport and will lift on the big stage, despite recent losses to del Potro and Davydenko. Andy Roddick and Spain’s Fernando Verdasco, who has just won the AAMI Kooyong Classic, will both be super competitive. Davydenko could surprise many if he takes his outstanding form into the tournament.

But I can’t go past del Potro. He withdrew from the AAMI Kooyong Classic due to an elbow injury, but the move seemed to be more precautionary. Some are calling him the best hard court player in the world already, and with a Grand Slam victory under his belt and a few years experience with the Melbourne conditions, I feel that del Potro is ready to take the 2010 tennis season by storm. And it will start with the Australian Open title.

Winner- Juan Martin del Potro (ARG)


Serena Williams is the queen of the Australian Open. She has won four out of the last seven titles and definitely has the potential to make it five from eight. Her ability to wipe an opponent off the court using powerful ground strokes and an accurate serve certainly suits the conditions. However, at the recent Medibank International Tournament in Sydney, she looked a little unconvincing, possibly because she is hampered by an injury. Only time will tell if this is the case.

After some well-earned time away from tennis, Belgium duo, Justine Henin and Kim Clijsters are back in business. Henin was an outstanding player in the prime of her career, winning seven Grand Slam tournaments, including the Australian Open in 2004. Her retirement in 2008 came as a shock to many when she walked away at the age of 25 and still ranked first in the world. But she’s back, and back with a vengeance. Henin was stunning in the recent Brisbane International, where she defeated Ana Ivanovic and Nadia Petrova in superb style. Is it a sign of things to come?

Henin made the final in Brisbane, but lost to Clijsters in an absolute thriller. Clijsters returned just before the U.S. Open, where she entered the tournament as a Wild Card. Amazingly, Clijsters defied all the odds and became the first Wild Card Champion in US Open history. And after her win in Brisbane, she looms as a major threat to win her first Australian Open.

Then there is the strong contingent of Russians. Elena Dementieva just won her second consecutive Sydney International title by defeating Williams in straight sets. She reached the semi-finals last year of the Australian Open and seems to adapt well to the Australian conditions. Dinara Safina was the runner-up behind Williams last year and also made the French Open final. But you get the feeling that her first Grand Slam win is just around the corner. Svetlana Kuznetsova, winner of last year’s French Open, and Vera Zvonareva will both be in the mix when the finals come around. However Maria Sharapova had a horror 2009 season due to injury and probably won’t replicate her 2008 victory against Ivanovic this year.

But even with so much talent from the opposition, Williams still stands out as the one to beat. She loves playing in Australia and her powerful game still frightens her opponents. She has a nice run leading into the final, with most of the Russians situated on the other side of the draw. If Williams maintains her fitness throughout the entire tournament, she will be tough to bring down.

Winner- Serena Williams (USA)

The Australians:

As usual, all of Australia’s hopes in the men’s competition lie in the arms of Lleyton Hewitt. The 28 year-old is in peak physical condition with his fitness levels at an all time high and no signs of injury. There is a big obstacle waiting for him in Marcos Baghdatis, runner-up in 2006, in the third round. If Hewitt defeats him, Federer awaits him. Unfortunately, the draw hasn’t been kind to Hewitt and he will struggle to get into the final stages.

Other men’s hopefuls Bernard Tomic and Peter Luczak will be heavily supported. Tomic is the future of Australian tennis and will only improve over time. Luczak upset 21st seed Tomas Berdych in the Sydney International, so he’ll be looking to continue that momentum. However, Luczak faces Nadal in the first round. Good Luck Pete.

Our women will be lead by Samantha Stosur, who had a ripper of a year in 2009. She announced herself when she made the semi-finals in the French Open, where she lost to eventual champion Kuznetsova. With some big game experience behind her now, and with a supportive home crowd, who knows how far Stosur will go? Even if she begins well, she does however run into Serena Williams in the quarter-finals.

Interested in going?

Of course, if you’re in Melbourne, you don’t need to experience the entire tournament with your remote by your side.  Tickets are available through Ticketek. The best way to travel to Melbourne Park is by train, either getting off at Richmond, Jolimont or Flinders Street station, or by tram (routes 70 and 75).

For more information about the Australian Open,  click here.

Ben Waterworth is a Bachelor of Journalism student at La Trobe University. He also writes regularly for upstart about AFL and cricket.