Dissecting the Australian Open 2011 Draw: ATP

In a couple of days, the Australian Open will be under way. The ‘Happy Slam’ is not only great for the players, but it has also proven to be the most fan friendly of the four majors. The Aussies have provided us free streaming of the qualifying tournament as well as the draw ceremony and the “Rally for Relief” event will be aired on Tennis Channel (Saturday at 10pm EST.) By the wonder of technology, I was able to stream today’s draw ceremony on my phone and it looks like we’re in for some great tennis in the next two weeks. I’m already preparing myself for some sleepless nights. In case you missed it, or you were just too lazy to check out the draw for yourself, I’ll be breaking it down piece by piece.

First off, Rafa and Roger have won 23 of the last 26 Grand Slam events, so you’d pretty much be crazy to pick anyone else to win. However, if anyone can challenge their dominance, it’s going to happen in Melbourne. Historically, the Australian Open has provided us with a lot of breakthrough performances. The 2008 final was contested between Novak Djokovic and Jo Wilfried Tsonga and the 2005 final between Marat Safin and Lleyton Hewitt. Every other Slam final for the last five years has included either Federer or Nadal.

Just remember, I’m no Nostradamus and some of my picks may sound a little crazy, but it’s boring if you always pick the better players. Sometimes the mediocre guys rise to the occasion and even the best players have bad days.

First Quarter

Seeded Players: Rafael Nadal (1), Feliciano Lopez (31), John Isner (20), Marin Cilic (15), Mikhail Youzhny (10), Michael Llodra (22), David Nalbandian (27), David Ferrer (7)

Clearly all of the expectations lie on Rafa. He could become the first man since Rod Laver to hold all four Slam titles at the same time, something not even the great Roger Federer has accomplished. Although, Laver was quick to say that this would be impressive, but would not equal his calendar year sweep. Nadal certainly could have drawn a worse quarter, i.e. Andy Murray, but there are a lot of great competitors lurking in here, ready to take away his chance at making history. In round 4, Rafa is likely to face John Isner (or Marin Cilic) who can both be occasionally great, but I definitely like Nadal’s chances. In the quarters he could find Mikhail Youzhny, Michael Llodra, Lleyton Hewitt, or David Ferrer. All of the are dangerous, but Rafa would have to have a pretty off day to lose. Rafael Nadal’s biggest challenge will likely come in the semifinals: Robin Soderling or Andy Murray.

Rafael Nadal is the top seed for the Australian Open 2011

Semi Finalist: Rafael Nadal

Possible Sleeper: Michael Llodra

Best First Round Match: David Nalbandian (27) v. Llyeton Hewitt ***This will be a fight to the death. Given the hometown advantage, I think Lleyton will prevail.

Second Quarter

Seeded Players: Robin Soderling (4), Thomaz Bellucci (30), Ernests Gulbis (24), Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (13), Jurgen Melzer (11), Marcos Baghdatis (21), Guillermo Garcia-Lopez (32), Andy Murray (5)

A week ago, it was huge news that Robin Soderling would usurp Andy Murray’s place as No. 4, giving him his own quarter of the draw. However, the universe likes a good joke and Murray landed smack at the bottom of Soderling’s quarter. So, things are pretty much the same as they would have been. Robin did catch a (tiny) break by ending up on Rafa’s side of the draw considering his head-to-head with Federer. Speaking of Andy Murray, expectations are high. He made the final last year and hasn’t yet managed to prove himself by winning a major event. Andy’s road the final is tough, probably the worst of any guy in the Top 5. In round 3, he’s likely to face Guillermo Garcia-Lopez who had a great fall season, beating Rafa and winning an ATP title. Then things get really tricky. In round 4, Andy could face Jurgen Melzer, Marcos Baghdatis, or Juan Martin del Potro. Whoever gets there will be tough. Things only get worse because, he will likely see Robin Soderling in the quarters. If he even makes it that far, his prize will be a semifinal meeting with Rafael Nadal. This is no one’s dream draw.

Semi Finalist: Robin Soderling

Possible Sleeper: Juan Martin del Potro, Alexandr Dolgopolov

Best First Round Match: Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (13) v. Philipp Petzschner

Semi Final: Robin Soderling d. Rafael Nadal ***Yes, I know I’m crazy, but have you seen how fit Soderling looks and Nadal’s coming off a bout with the flu

Third Quarter

Seeded Players: Tomas Berdych (6), Richard Gasquet (28), Nikolay Davydenko (23), Fernando Verdasco (9), Nicolas Almagro (14), Ivan Ljubicic (17), Viktor Troicki (29), Novak Djokovic (3)

Novak Djokovic is thanking his lucky stars tonight. This draw suits him beautifully. His greatest triumph came in Melbourne in 2008 and I’m sure he’s keen to repeat that. To get there, Nole will likely have to go through the huge server, Ivo Karlovic, countryman Viktor Troicki, and either Nikolay Davydenko or Fernando Verdasco. I like his chances, particularly after his triumph over Federer at last year’s US Open. I think Djokovic is more confident in his abilities that he has been since the ’08 AO. However, we all know that Nole’s biggest enemy is heat, and even though his conditioning has gotten significantly better, weather will still play a huge role in his draw.

Semi Finalist: Novak Djokovic

Possible Sleeper: Janko Tipsarevic

Best First Round Match: Viktor Troicki (29) v. Dmitry Tursunov

Fourth Quarter

Seeded Players: Andy Roddick (8), Juan Monaco (26), Stanislas Wawrinka (19), Gael Monfils (12), Mardy Fish (16), Sam Querrey (18), Albert Montanes (25), Roger Federer (2)

Andy Roddick is the unluckiest man in tennis. I’m just going to say it. Of all the people who have been deprived of Grand Slam glory by the genius of Roger Federer, no one has been on the losing end more times than Andy Roddick. I think he’s in great form, making last week’s final in Brisbane, but there’s no way he beats Roger Federer at this year’s tournament. I am looking forward to a Roddick/Federer quarter final though because I love them both. I’m sure everyone is interested to see what Stanislas Wawrinka will bring to this tournament. Regardless of what you think of his decisions, he has definitely re-dedicated himself to tennis and it paid off in the form of winning last week’s tournament in Chennai. The American men really seemed to lose out in this year’s draw. Isner’s got Rafa in the 4th round and Querrey’s got Federer. I think both of them have excellent chances of finally breaking through to a major quarter or semi this year, but it’s not going to be the Australian Open. Federer had a “bad” year last year (only winning one major, making a semifinal, and two quarterfinals) but ended the season on a high note by beating Rafael Nadal to winning the World Tour Finals for the fifth time. He’s the defending champion and I think we’ll be seeing him play a lot of tennis over the next two weeks.

Semi Finalist: Roger Federer

Possible Sleeper: Andrey Golubev

Best First Round Match: Gael Monfils (12) v. Thiemo De Bakker

Semi Final: Roger Federer d. Novak Djokovic ***Fed’s not letting Nole beat him again.

Final: Roger Federer d. Robin Soderling

Stay tuned for my take of the women’s draw.