Written by Jay Jarrahi
A complete overview on the Australian Open for men. Written by Jay Jarrahi , the Sportsmagician. This review includes Roger Federer, Fernando Gonzalez, Rafael Nadal and many more.
Closer To Greatness – Roger Federer won the 10th Grand Slam title of his career, and his 3rd Australian Open title. Barring injury it seems just a matter of time before he passes Pete Sampras’s record Slam haul of 14. Federer improved his Slam final record to 10-1. The talk now will be of winning all 4 Slams in the season. Once again, Federer will look to conquer the clay (a feat which has eluded him thus far), and namely the King of Clay, Rafael Nadal. Federer has redressed the balance with Nadal away from clay, but in order to win the French Open will now have to replicate that on the surface that the Spaniard is most comfortable. Last year’s clay court season was the Nadal-Federer show, as they contested the marquee finals in Monte Carlo, Rome and most importantly, Roland Garros. Surely the challenge from others will not be as non-existent this year as it was in 2006, and it’s likely that both Federer and Nadal will have more to contend with than just each other.
The World Number Two On An Island Of His Own – Rafael Nadal’s career has stalled since Wimbledon 2006. Arguably, his career has gone backwards. Having won Masters Series events on hard (Montreal) and indoor (Madrid) courts in 2005, in addition to dominating on clay, Nadal was unable to repeat his success away from clay in the latter half of 2006. That poor form has continued into the early stages of 2007. Nadal was beaten by Xavier Malisse in Chennai, struggled against Andy Murray at the Australian Open before winning in 5 sets and was then sent home after looking completely impotent against Fernando Gonzalez in the quarter-finals. All of a sudden Nadal’s eye can no longer be focused on catching Roger Federer for the number one spot, but preserving his own place at number two. With no points to gain during the European clay court season (bar Hamburg, where Nadal has withdrawn in successive years following Rome finals in 2005 & 2006 that lasted more than 5 hours), Nadal will be under pressure again to defend his King of Clay status.
A Good Coach Can Do Wonders – When Larry Stefanki began working with Fernando Gonzalez in May 2006, the Chilean claimed he was willing to sacrifice his style of car crash tennis (which has entertained many for both its excellence and insanity) in order to crack the top 10. A few months shy of a year later and Gonzalez has reached a Masters Series final (and two other tour finals), a Grand Slam final and broken into not just the top 10, but the top 5. Unfortunately for Gonzalez, in 3 of those 4 finals he ran into Roger Federer, to whom he now trails by 10-0 in their battles on court. Possibly the next challenge for Stefanki will be to find a way for Gonzalez to break his duck against Federer. Fernando Gonzalez can claim to have produced some of the most startling statistics from this year’s Australian Open. In the first two sets of his 4th round encounter with Lleyton Hewitt, the red hot Chilean hit 33 winners and just 2 unforced errors. In his semi-final with Tommy Haas, where one might expect him to have been a tad nervous, Gonzalez played quite literally, a perfect set of tennis; 17 winners and 0 unforced errors. He finished the match with 45 winners and 3 unforced errors (tut-tut-tut).
The Same Old, Same Old – James Blake and Ivan Ljubicic yet again failed to produce the goods in a Grand Slam. Both players still reside in the top 10, but their Grand Slam records are dreadful for players of such status. James Blake has now been beyond the 4th round of a Grand Slam only 2 times in 20 attempts. On both occasions he did make it to the last eight, Blake had the strong vocal support of a home crowd at the US Open behind him. Away from New York, his Slam record leaves a lot to be desired. Ivan Ljubicic’s record is even worse (hard to believe, I know). The Croat now has a truly dismal record of being beyond the 3rd round of Grand Slams on only 2 occasions in 30 attempts. Worse still, he has 15 1st round KO’s to his name.
The Same Old, Same Old II – Andy Roddick came into his semi-final against Roger Federer with reason to believe he could put up a realistic challenge despite a dreadful 1-12 record in matches between them. Having run Federer close at the 2006 Masters Cup, beaten the world number one in an exhibition in Kooyong (a confidence booster more than anything else) and having disposed in impressive fashion Marat Safin and Mario Ancic, Roddick could have been forgiven for thinking he would not just be cannon fodder for the Swiss number one. How wrong can you be? At 4-4 in the 1st set, it looked like we had a real match on our hands. Within the blink of an eye, Federer had taken 14 of the next 16 games to record a 6-4, 6-0, 6-2 win. Now 1-13 versus Federer, it’s back to the drawing board for Roddick and Connors. A futile exercise it may be, as Roddick has never been able to trouble Federer in the ways that Nadal, Nalbandian or Safin have. The American just doesn’t possess the array of shots to give Federer a lot to think about and deal with. This is never going to change.
The King Of Early Round Drama – Having been a doubt for the Australian Open due to tendonitis in the knee, David Nalbandian did himself no favours in trying to conserve early round energy. In his 1st and 3rd round matches, Nalbandian had to come from two sets down, and faced match points in both encounters. Janko Tipsarevic and Sebastien Grosjean were the latest victims to Nalbandian’s list of players he has recovered from two sets down against. Often criticised for his overall fitness, Nalbandian can claim he is as fit as anyone when you consider his record in matches of this nature. But ultimately it was to be his downfall as he hit the wall in his 4th round match with Tommy Haas, and exited the tournament after a 4 set battle. Nalbandian has now dropped out of the top 10, and he will not play again until the ATP tournament in Buenos Aires, in order to rest his aching body. That means Argentina will travel to Austria in the 1st round of their Davis Cup quest without their main man. Nalbandian will be hoping that Argentina can survive without him, until he can return to the squad in a healthier state.
Last Year’s Story – This time last year, one of the images of the Australian Open was the smile of Marcos Baghdatis and the echoes of his band of supporters. Back then he was still a relative unknown, 12 months on and the expectation and pressure was far greater. Baghdatis had made reference to such matters after his 1st round win versus Rainer Schuettler, following his next match, the pressure was off. He was out. His tournament ended by an energetic and athletic performance from Gael Monfils.
Fourth Round Barrier For The Young Guns – Aside from Baghdatis and Monfils, other young players tipped for big things in the future, Andy Murray, Novak Djokovic, Richard Gasquet and Tomas Berdych could not advance past the 4th round. Murray was ousted in 5 sets by Rafael Nadal, the Scot will feel it was an opportunity missed having failed to convert on numerous break point opportunities. Djokovic was hoping for a measure of revenge against Roger Federer following some none too kind words about the Serb’s propensity to pick up ‘joke’ injuries during the course of matches in order to stall and disrupt his opponent. Despite talking a good game, Djokovic failed to play one, at least to the standard required to trouble Federer, and was beaten in straight sets. Richard Gasquet continued to keep those who feel he has a very strong future waiting after a weak display versus Tommy Robredo. Gasquet has thus far failed to shine in matches against top players in Grand Slam events, and this match was no different. Gasquet offered brief resistance in the 3rd set, before predictably running out of gas at the end of the 4th. Gasquet’s conditioning has been in question for a couple of years, and continues to be so. Until this situation is addressed, his supporters will have to continue wishing on a prayer. Tomas Berdych did nothing to suggest that his biggest obstacle is being removed either; the Czech often shows a lack of steel and maturity in his game, and this was to be no different against Nikolay Davydenko. Having taken the 1st set and playing well, Berdych looked on course to make the last eight, but inexcusably disintegrated, allowing Davydenko to impose his game and will on the match, eventually coming through in a nervy 4th set tie-break. The 4th round excursions of the young talents told us that Murray’s fitness is greatly improved, that Djokovic can bark but not yet bite, that Gasquet needs to dedicate himself to being as physically strong as he can be and that Berdych’s mind shows no sign of growing up.
It Shouldn’t Have Ended That Way – Playing in his last Australian Open, Wayne Arthurs won through to the 3rd round where he was set to face Mardy Fish. Already requiring treatment for an existing hip injury, Arthurs’s body broke down on him after a bad reaction to an anaesthetic he had taken 15 minutes prior to the match. Arthurs left the Australian Open in tears having been only able to play 3 games of his 3rd round match.
It Was A Good Tournament For – Aside from Federer and Gonzalez, there were good tournaments for Tommy Haas and Mardy Fish. Haas made his 3rd Grand Slam semi-final (all at the Australian Open) and was crushed by an inspired Fernando Gonzalez. Many will have seen this opportunity as the American based German’s last chance to get to a Slam final. Mardy Fish had never been beyond the 3rd round of a Grand Slam in 17 attempts until the 2007 Australian Open. Fish knocked out 4th seed Ivan Ljubicic in the 1st round and 16th seed David Ferrer in the 4th round. As good as his run the quarter-finals was, the American would probably like to forget the way his tournament ended, winning only 6 games against compatriot and friend, Andy Roddick. Fernando Verdasco showed the compassionate side of tennis, after trailing by 2 sets and behind in the 3rd set tie-break against Paul-Henri Mathieu, the Spaniard who looked to be going out of the tournament instead got a free pass to the next round after Mathieu picked up an untimely injury that halted the match immediately. Verdasco didn’t bask in the glory of an extremely fortunate victory, instead accompanied Mathieu to the hospital.
A Tournament They’d Rather Forget – Aside from Blake, Ljubicic, Baghdatis and Nadal it was a bad tournament for Juan Carlos Ferrero. The former King of Clay, hoping to kick-start his 2007 with a good Slam showing, failed to serve out either of the 1st 2 sets in his second round match with Danai Udomchoke, and eventually lost in 4. Despite not being at 100%, Nicolas Massu, could only manage 2 games against Novak Djokovic. No excuses for Alberto Martin, he was 100%, but could only manage 1 game against Andy Murray.