A story that's made the rounds the past few days heading into the Australian Open is Roger Federer being shocked that Andy Murray's the favorite to win in the eyes of the bookies in London. I see where Federer's coming from: Murray's never won a Slam, while he and Rafael Nadal have been racking them up over the years.
And speaking of Nadal, I'm about to do something that I've never done at my blog, Tennis Talk, Anyone?
: Pick him to win a Slam! Yep, that's right: Last year, I picked Federer to win the French (and we all know how that went!) and I wasn't going to pick Rafa to win anywhere else. But now, I think he's ready to win somewhere else, and why not do it here?
But I'm not going to just list my champ: That would be so anti-Van of me! No, here comes the usual quarterfinal breakdown, or at least how I think it'll go.
So, starting from the top:
Rafael Nadal (1) vs. Gael Monfils (12): Now, I'm picking Rafa to win the whole thing, but it won't be easy. There's definitely some dudes in his section of the draw that can flat-out ball. I think the toughest match for him will be a rejuvenated Richard Gasquet in the fourth round. Now, Monfils making it this far is what you can call a super-risky prediction. I don't think you can be totally convinced he's ready to show he's for real until he actually does. But he has the luxury of playing in a pretty soft section of the tournament, except for his possible fourth-round opponent, countryman Gilles Simon. I know regular reader Heyheyhey is expecting Simon to win and who knows? Stranger things have happened, but I'm still going with Monfils, who in turn should fall to Rafa. This tournament is a lot different than Doha, where Le Monf came out on top against Nadal.
Andy Murray (4) vs. Ernests Gulbis: Murray's been on a roll so far this year and there's definitely worse things than picking him as your champ. I like him to take Wimbledon or the U.S. Open this year, but I just don't think it happens for him here this go-round. He'll still get deep here, though. And tell you what: If you want to see what I think will be a great third-round match, catch him against Kei Nishikori, who plays like Murray, but just not as well. As for Gulbis, I just wrote how I didn't think he's ready to play up to his talent level yet. However, I think it would be either him or James Blake coming through this section, and if they meet in the third, I think Gulbis would come through. Technically, this should be Jo-Wilfried Tsonga's section of the draw to come through, but that back injury has me worried and I actually think if he plays, he'll lose in the second round to Ivan Ljiubicic.
Andy Roddick (7) vs. Novak Djokovic (3): In this section of the draw, you'll get to see a great example of the importance of a coach to a player. For Roddick to get to this stage, new coach Larry Stefanki will really have earned his money! A-Rod will probably have to get through former top-20 player Xavier Malisse, who's just qualified for the tournament; Auckland finalist Sam Querrey; and Sydney champ David Nalbandian. That's not an easy draw for anyone. Djokovic's path is slightly easier, but not that much with Jarkko Nieminen and 2006 runner-up Marcos Baghdatis hanging around.
Juan Martin del Potro (8) vs. Roger Federer (2): It seems like all del Potro does is win titles, which is how I guess you want to go about the game if you're a pro player! He just won another one, this time in Auckland. He could possibly meet his Davis Cup nemesis Feliciano Lopez in the third round, but if that happens, I definitely like JDP this time. As for Federer, a lot's been made of his draw with Carlos Moya and Marat Safin there. Now if this were 2000, I'd be concerned. At this point, I'm not worried at all. Federer breezes through.
For the semis:
Nadal vs. Murray: A U.S. Open '08 rematch you knew was going to happen goes down! However, this time I like Rafa to pull it out. He won't be caught off guard this time.
Roddick vs. Federer: Wait, what happened to Djokovic? you might ask. Roddick can't lose to the Big 4 all the time and he has to get one of them at least at some point! You want to know a big factor, though, of why I'm picking Roddick? I'm expecting a pretty sloppy run for Djoko this tournament, primarily because he's playing with a new racquet. Sorry, but you don't switch sticks if you've only one won Major and you're a legit contender for more. That comes back to bite him here. Federer keeps rolling to the finals.
For the final:
Nadal over Federer: I like Nadal's approach to the Aussie: He got to the finals of an exhibition event, made it to the quarters in Doha and won a doubles title. He's got match play, but more importantly and contrary to what Federer's done, he's had "relaxed" match play: Competition but nothing too stressful or strenuous. Federer's been playing a LOT so far this year, which I think will hurt him come the end.
That's how I see it: The women picks are coming soon! And congrats, Rafa! (I think.)