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Citi Open Monday Gallery: Kerber, Stephens, Johnson and More

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WASHINGTON, D.C. — Monday action at the Citi Open took place over five courts, with the last ball being played just before midnight, earning American Melanie Oudin a spot in the second round.

Players roamed, stretched, practice and played all over the grounds, including Angelique Kerber, David Goffin, Steve Johnson, Alexandr Dolgopolov, Dmitry Tursunov, Radek Stepanek, Juan Martin del Potro, Sloane Stephens, Magdalena Rybarikova, Alize Cornet, Bernard Tomic, Tim Smyczek, Eugenie Bouchard, and Taylor Townsend.

Gallery by Tennis Grandstand photographer Christopher Levy.

Roland Garros Fast Forward: Djokovic, Wawrinka, Azarenka, Kvitova Start Campaigns on Day 3

The world No. 1 is racing toward a revenge match with Grigor Dimitrov.

Here’s the breakdown of matches to watch as the first round concludes.

ATP:

Novak Djokovic vs. David Goffin:  The baby-faced Belgian spurred a flurry of headlines last year when he reached the second week of Roland Garros and took a set from Roger Federer there.  Goffin has mustered barely any quality wins since then, losing to Grega Zemlja in Dusseldorf last week.  An enigmatic Masters 1000 clay season behind him, Djokovic hopes to resemble the man who defeated Rafael Nadal in Monte Carlo more than the man who lost to Grigor Dimitrov in Madrid.

Nicolas Mahut vs. Janko Tipsarevic:  Just about anyone has managed to knock off Tipsarevic this year, from Dmitry Tursunov to Guido Pella.  Struggling for confidence and fitness, the Serb briefly slumped outside the top 10 before currently returning to its edge.  Mahut has not won a main-draw match at the ATP level all season, losing to such unremarkable figures as Laime Ouahab and Romain Jouan.  An ugly encounters on both sides could ensue, in which Mahut could gain strength from the vigorous show-court crowd.  A second top-ten upset by a Frenchman in two days still seems like a long shot.

Stanislas Wawrinka vs. Thiemo De Bakker:  An untimely muscle tear in Wawrinka’s thigh cast his participation here into doubt.  The Madrid finalist has defeated four top-eight opponents on clay this spring, and his high volume of matches might have contributed to his injury.  De Bakker should not challenge a healthy Wawrinka, so this match will offer a barometer for the Swiss No. 2’s health.

Jack Sock vs. Guillermo Garcia-Lopez:  On Sock’s shoes are written the names of two friends who recently passed away, extra motivation for him this fortnight.  He will look to extend the encouraging and unexpected trend of American success here against Bucharest finalist Garcia-Lopez, less of a clay threat than most Spaniards.  Big servers also have fared well here in general from Querrey and Isner to Milos Raonic and Kevin Anderson.

Bernard Tomic vs. Victor Hanescu:  Without his father to monitor him relentlessly, Tomic enjoys his first taste of independence.  Off-court distractions should undermine his focus on his weakest surface, though, and he is still nowhere near the player outside Australia that he is on home soil.

Mikhail Youzhny vs. Pablo Andujar:  On the heels of reaching the Madrid semifinals as a wildcard, Andujar reached the semifinals of Nice as well.  He did not defeat anyone more notable than Gilles Simon at either tournament, but he will hold the surface advantage against Youzhny.  The Russian did win a set from Djokovic in Monte Carlo before recording consecutive victories over clay specialists Fabio Fognini and Nicolas Almagro in Madrid.

Alejandro Falla vs. Grigor Dimitrov:  Despite the increasing threat that he poses to the ATP elite, Dimitrov never has won more than one match at a major.  Questionable fitness may cost him in the best-of-five format, or these events may expose his lack of experience more starkly.  A duel with a Colombian dirt devil could test Dimitrov’s resilience two rounds ahead of a rematch with Djokovic.

WTA:

Elena Vesnina vs. Victoria Azarenka:  With the other top-four women’s seeds advancing so convincingly, Azarenka needs to keep pace with a statement of her own.  After a 10-1 start to 2012, Vesnina has cooled off and lost in the first round at three of four clay tournaments.  Azarenka started cooling her off by dismissing her in the fourth round of the Australian Open, where Vesnina lacked the weapons to threaten her.  Never past the quarterfinals in Paris, Vika should conserve energy with some quick early wins in a weak section of the draw.

Petra Kvitova vs. Aravane Rezai:  Three long years have passed since Rezai won the Premier Mandatory title in Madrid over Venus Williams.  The fiery Frenchwoman with a fondness for flamboyant outfits has won just one main-draw match since last year’s clay season.  Kvitova has made a habit of struggling at the most unexpected moments against the most anonymous opponents, so a three-setter would not surprise in this slugfest of wildly erratic shot-makers.

Jelena Jankovic vs. Daniela Hantuchova:  This match struck me as the most interesting of the women’s first round, partly because of the history between them.  Meeting more than once in the fraught environment of Fed Cup, the two have collaborated on several tight encounters and have played their last five matches on clay.  Jankovic has regained traces of her vintage clay form by winning Bogota and upsetting Li to reach the Rome quarterfinals, while Hantuchova upset Kvitova in Madrid.  Both lost to Simona Halep in the wake of those top-ten ambushes, though, showing how much they struggle to sustain momentum as they age.

Kristina Mladenovic vs. Lauren Davis: After American women posted a perfect record on Day 2, Davis hopes to continue that trend despite winning just two clay matches this year (one against Christina McHale).  That task will prove difficult against a Frenchwoman who shone on home soil in February, reaching the semifinals of the Paris Indoors.  Mladenovic has struggled almost as much on clay as Davis has, but she won sets from Maria Kirilenko and Dominika Cibulkova in difficult early-round draws.

Klara Zakopalova vs. Kaia Kanepi:  A tireless counterpuncher with a vulnerable serve, Zakopalova has extended both Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova to final sets at Roland Garros.  She came closer than anyone to threatening Sharapova’s surge to the career Slam, and her retrieving should test Kanepi’s patience as well.  Returning impressively from injury last month, Kanepi won Brussels on Saturday after collecting six wins at her two previous tournaments.  To continue defending her quarterfinal points, she will need to take control of rallies immediately with serve and return.

Jamie Hampton vs. Lucie Safarova:  The small American won three consecutive three-setters over higher-ranked opponents, including Roberta Vinci, to earn a semifinal berth in Brussels.  Limited in her clay experience, Hampton attracted international attention by severely testing Azarenka in the first week of the Australian Open.  Flaky Czech lefty Safarova also arrives with momentum after winning her home challenger in Prague and taking a set from Sharapova in Stuttgart.

Dimitrov, Raonic, Harrison Brothers Among ATP Stars Featured in Men’s Journal Spread

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Grigor Dimitrov, Milos Raonic and Ryan and Christian Harrison lead the next generation of ATP players in a Men’s Journal feature entitled “Hit Squad” where they divulge what opponents fear most about their game. Though Twitter followers of Ryan Harrison may recall the photoshoot involving extravagant colors, photographer Theo Wenner opted to bring the shoot to life in black and white. Also featured are David Goffin, Ricardas Berankis and Bernard Tomic.

GRIGOR DIMITROV: “Called ‘little Federer’ for his fluid strokes, he’s a perpetual threat, particularly on hard court, with a dangerous topspin forehand and a creative, some say restless, style of play.”

RYAN HARRISON: ”When he was 11, Harrison met his tennis-pro dad in the finals of the Shreveport City Tournament which his father won, and they knew Ryan needed more competition.”

MILOS RAONIC: ”The son of engineers, the 6-foot-5 Raonic was college-bound until he persuaded his parents to let him go pro. They gave him a year to crack the top 100, and he did, rising from 150 to 37 in just six weeks.”

DAVID GOFFIN and RICARDAS BERANKIS: Berankis says of what opponents fear about him, “I never give up. I fight till the end.”

CHRISTIAN HARRISON: ”When big brother Ryan was battling Dad in the Shreveport City Tournament, nine-year-old Christian was in the stands pouring Coke on his little sister. He’s since learned to pay the game some respect.”

BERNARD TOMIC: On his indulgence, “Cars. A lot of people say I’m being the bad boy, but who doesn’t love a nice car? I just did things that a normal teenager dreams of doing.”

DAVID GOFFIN: On the best compliment he’s received, “I saw John McEnroe in the locker room of the US Open after a match, and he said, ‘Hey, I love your game. Just work on your legs’ — because my legs were too thin.”

(Quotes and photos via ATP World Tour and Men’s Journal)

Up for the Cup! First-Round Davis Cup World Group Preview

Tomas prepares to defend his first Davis Cup title as plenty of intriguing ties await.

Eight first-round Davis Cup ties unfold around the world this weekend.  We discuss the key players and themes that might emerge from each of them.

Canada vs. Spain:  Without any of their top three men, Davis Cup Goliath Spain finds itself at a surprising disadvantage when it travels to the western coast of North America.  Had either Nadal or Ferrer participated in this tie against Canada, the visitors would remain heavy favorites even against a squad spearheaded by Milos Raonic and aging doubles star Daniel Nestor.  Instead, Canada now can rely on two victories from their singles #1 against the overmatched pair of Marcel Granollers and Albert Ramos, forcing Spain to sweep the remaining three matches.  Among those is a doubles rubber that pits Nestor against World Tour Finals champions Granollers and Marc Lopez, who lost three of their four Davis Cup doubles rubbers last year.  If the tie reaches a live fifth rubber, as seems plausible, Spanish champion Alex Corretja might consider substituting Guillermo Garcia-Lopez for Ramos against the net-rushing Frank Dancevic.  Buoyed by their home crowd, though, Canada should find a way to snatch one of the three non-Raonic rubbers and send Spain to the playoff round for the first time in recent memory.

Pick:  Canada

Italy vs. Croatia:  This tie should hinge on home-court advantage and the choice of ground that it entails.  On a fast hard court, the formidable serves of Marin Cilic and Ivan Dodig would stifle the less imposing firepower of the Italians.  But Croatia faces Andreas Seppi and Fabio Fognini on the red clay of Turin, a slow surface where the superior consistency of the hosts should lead them to victory.  The visitors will face the intriguing choice of whether to substitute their singles stars on Saturday for a doubles pairing almost certainly doomed to defeat.  Three straight days of best-of-five matches for Cilic, Dodig, or both would leave them even more vulnerable to the Italian war of attrition, though.  At any rate, the contrast of styles between the fearless first strikes of the Croats and the patient baseline rallying of the Italians should provide entertaining viewing.

Pick:  Italy

Belgium vs. Serbia:  One might see Djokovic’s name on the schedule and automatically checking off the “Serbia” box, but a few flickers of doubt persist.  First, the Australian Open champion may have arrived physically and mentally drained from his recent exploits, and he has struggled against Friday opponent Olivier Rochus throughout his career.  Breaking from a long history of Davis Cup participation, Serbian #2 Janko Tipsarevic cannot step into the breach if Djokovic falters.  That duty lies in the suspect hands of Viktor Troicki, who endured a miserable 2012, and in the aging hands of Nenad Zimonjic, well past his prime despite his many accomplishments.  Serbia thus might find itself in real trouble if they played a team with a notable talent, like Canada.  With just the 32-year-old Rochus and the volatile but unreliable David Goffin barring their path, however, they should advance even if their stars underperform.

Pick:  Serbia

USA vs. Brazil:  Tennis Grandstand will feature more detailed coverage of this tie over the weekend.  For the moment, we will note that Team USA stands in promising position with two serving leviathans on an indoor hard court, complemented by the reigning Australian Open doubles champions.  While Isner did not win a match in January as he struggled with a knee injury, and Querrey did not impress in Melbourne, both should steamroll the harmless Brazilian #2 Thiago Alves.  In the best-case scenario for Brazil, which would feature two victories for their #1 Bellucci, their doubles duo of Marcelo Melo and Bruno Soares still should fall short against the Bryans.  All of these Americans have played some of their best tennis on home soil and in Davis Cup, including on less friendly surfaces, whereas Brazil has accomplished little of note in this competition recently.

Pick:  USA

France vs. Israel:  Across from one team that often proves less than the sum of its talents in Davis Cup stands a team that typically overperforms expectations at the national level.  Whereas France will bring two members of the top 10 to this tie, Israel can claim no top-100 threat in singles.  The fast indoor hard court should allow the offensive might of Tsonga to overwhelm Dudi Sela and Amir Weintraub, although the latter has developed into a more credible threat over the last several months.  In a tantalizing doubles rubber, a battle of all-stars pits Jonathan Ehrlich and Andy Ram against Julien Benneteau and Michael Llodra.  Underdogs in every singles rubber and arguably the doubles too, Israel can hope for an upset only if Gasquet crumbles under the pressure of playing for national pride on home soil as he has so infamously before.  Otherwise, the talent gap simply looms too large.

Pick:  France

Argentina vs. Germany:  Perhaps the most tightly contested tie, this battle on outdoor red clay will unfold in the absence of Del Potro, who would have given the home squad a clear edge.  While Argentina will field a squad of clay specialists, leading Germans Philipp Kohlschreiber and Florian Mayer have acquitted themselves well on the surafce and should not find themselves at a disadvantage parallel to Croatia in Italy.  Much rests on the shoulders of Juan Monaco, tasked with avoiding the daunting 0-2 deficit after Kohlschreiber likely opens the tie by dismissing Carlos Berlocq.  The top Argentine here enjoyed his best season to date last year but did not start 2013 especially well.  Lurking in the shadows, as he so often does, is long-time Argentine Davis Cup hero David Nalbandian.  Argentina will hope that Nalbandian’s contribution in doubles on Saturday will combine with two Monaco victories to give them the points that they need without reaching a live fifth rubber.  There, one would favor Mayer to overcome both Berlocq and the Argentine crowd.

Pick:  Er, Argentina?

Kazakhstan vs. Austria:  In a tie without a singles star of note, the opportunity beckons for someone to seize the spotlight in a way that he could not at a major.  The most likely candidate to do so would seem Austrian #1 Jurgen Melzer, the only top-100 singles player on either side.  His opponents can produce better tennis than their current rankings suggest, though, and Andrey Golubev already has started the tie in promising fashion with a straight-sets victory over Andreas Haider-Maurer.  The doubles edge probably belongs to Austria with the greater expertise of Alexander Peya and Julian Knowle, specialists who will allow the 31-year-old Melzer to rest for Sunday.  Excluded from the initial lineup is top-ranked Kazakh Mikhail Kukushkin, whose absence will force #211 Evgeny Korolev to win a best-of-five match for the hosts to survive.

Pick:  Austria

Switzerland vs. Czech Republic:  While Tomas Berdych is the highest-ranked man in this clash between nearby nations, the most intriguing role goes to opposing #1 Stanislas Wawrinka.  After he came far closer than anyone to toppling Djokovic at the Australian Open, the latter may suffer a hangover in a competition where he has struggled lately.  Moreover, Switzerland leans on Wawrinka to win both of his singles matches and contribute to a doubles victory on the intervening day, an enormous challenge for the sternest of competitors when the last of those matches involves Berdych.  The Czech Republic will not enlist the services of Radek Stepanek, a rare absentee this weekend like Tipsarevic, but singles #2 Lukas Rosol intimidates much more than anyone that Switzerland can throw at him.  In the Federer/Wawrinka era, no Swiss team ever has presented the united front that the defending champions have behind Berdych.  The medium-slow hard court should not trouble the broad-shouldered world #6 unduly.

Pick:  Czech Republic

Wizards of Oz (I): Australian Open Day 1 Preview

Pack lunch, dinner, and a midnight snack when this man enters Rod Laver Arena.

While some of the stars opening play in Melbourne should encounter little resistance, others might want to tread carefully.  We look at some of the most notable matches on Day 1 from Rod Laver Arena to the outer courts.

Chang vs. Stosur (Rod Laver Arena):  A flustered bundle of nerves on home soil, Stosur has lost six of her last seven matches in Australia and exited in the first round here last year to Sorana Cirstea.  Despite her smooth game, Chang lacks Cirstea’s intimidating weapons and thus should pose a less severe test.  But an 0-2 start to 2013 with losses to unheralded opponents in Brisbane and Sydney inspire little confidence in Stosur as she rebounds from an ankle injury.

Hewitt vs. Tipsarevic (RLA):  Quite the contrast to Stosur, the greatest Aussie champion in recent memory typically thrives under the adoring gaze of his compatriots.  In his 17th Australian Open appearance, Hewitt thoroughly deserves this showcase setting in the first night session on Rod Laver Arena.  Recent years have seen him deliver upsets over opponents like Baghdatis, Safin, and Raonic on this court, so Tipsarevic cannot take this match lightly.  The second-ranked Serb looked solid but mortal while winning Chennai, and he won’t overpower Hewitt like many opponents near his ranking.

Ivanovic vs. Czink (RLA):  This match may start very late indeed in the aftermath of Hewitt-Tipsarevic, possibly a bad sign for Ivanovic.  A morning person, the Serb can grow weary quickly when she plays late at night, and she has struggled against lefties sporadically in her career.  That said, Czink has declined since she upset Ivanovic on the much faster court of Cincinnati in 2009, and the former finalist built confidence with three decisive wins at the Hopman Cup before Medina Garrigues outlasted her in the final.  She should aim to avoid a third set whenever possible, and probably will here.

Goffin vs. Verdasco (Hisense Arena):  Four years after he reached the semifinals (and nearly the final) here, Verdasco has regressed back to his former incarnation in which he can win or lose to anyone on any given day.  Startlingly boyish in appearance, Goffin reached the second week of Roland Garros last year and recorded fall upsets over Troicki and Isner, among others.  The 22-year-old must refine his game, especially his shot selection, to rise further into the top 50, although Verdasco can teach him little in that area.

Cibulkova vs. Barty (Hisense):  The Slovak pocket rocket unleashes impressive power when on a hot streak and can collapse completely when she loses her range even a little.  Last week in Sydney, Cibulkova showed her best and worst in defeating three top-eight opponents before eating a double bagel from Radwanska.  Which memory lingers longer in her mind may define how far she goes here, while Aussie prodigy Barty will try to gain confidence from the Hopman Cup memory of upsetting Schiavone.

Bobusic vs. Radwanska (Margaret Court Arena):  For winning the Australian Open wildcard playoff, Bobusic received a berth in the main draw—against the world #4.  Radwanska also happens to have won both of her tournaments this year, so the challenge looms very large for the home hope.  The Pole sometimes does need time to settle into an event, though, wobbling through uneasy three-setters in the first round here before.

Youzhny vs. Ebden (MCA):  Yet another Aussie faces a Russian well into the twilight of his career.  Still lovely to watch with its one-handed backhand and crisp volleys, his game matches up well to the net-rushing style of Ebden.  Both men feel comfortable all over the court, which should create some variety in the ways that points unfold.

Dellacqua vs. Keys (MCA):  After reaching the Sydney quarterfinals, the 17-year-old American should have soared in self-belief by proving that she could compete with much more experience and accomplished opponents.  She eyes a winnable match against an Aussie returning from injury, not for the first time, but with a memorable run here five years ago to inspire her.

Medina Garrigues vs. Bartoli (Show Court 3):  The Spaniard enters on a somewhat hot streak from winning the Hopman Cup with Verdasco, although she defeated no notable opponent other than Ivanovic.  Bartoli has dominated their head-to-head on hard courts but has suffered a series of early upsets at the Australian Open in recent years.  The match will rest on her racket, for better or for worse.

Harrison vs. Giraldo (Court 8):  From their last meeting at the Olympics came the regrettable temper tantrum that led to Harrison’s equally regrettable apology.  He still lets his competitive fire burn too brightly at times, although a victory over Isner in Sydney may bode well for this fortnight.  Not averse to emitting some sparks himself, Giraldo will fancy his chances in the best-of-five format if he can claim an early lead.

Bolelli vs. Janowicz (Court 8):  The toast of Paris last fall when he reached the Bercy final, Janowicz reverted to ordinary toast this month in a sloppy loss to Brian Baker.  The moribund game of Bolelli, an Italian with much more flair than power, should not trouble the huge-serving Pole as long as he stays out of his own way better than he did in Auckland.

Barthel vs. Pervak (Court 11):  Reaching the fourth round here last year, Barthel recalled her strong start to 2012 when she finished runner-up in Hobart (becoming the first woman ever to lose a final to Vesnina in the process).  The gawky German owns a formidable but fickle serve and can climb into double digits in aces and double faults during the same match.  Russian by birth and Kazakh by passport, the lefty gunslinger Pervak upset Wozniacki in Brisbane by showing more fortitude than usual.

Benneteau vs. Dimitrov (Court 13):  At Wimbledon last year, the French doubles specialist came within two points of upsetting Federer as he proved again how lethal his game can become when all of its parts coalesce.  A strong server with a penetrating two-hander and excellent net skills, Benneteau held match points in the Sydney semifinal last week before his habit of losing close matches resurfaced.  The bad news for him is that he faces a man who served for the first set in the Brisbane final the previous week.  The good news is that Dimitrov never has brought his best game to any major, nor has he developed a habit of stringing together solid results.

Makarova vs. Larcher de Brito (Court 19):  Once at the vortex of the shrieking controversy, Larcher de Brito plunged into the tennis wilderness shortly after her uniquely piercing yodels had alienated fans.  She returns to the main draw of a major for the first time in years.  Is she ready for her comeback?  Perhaps more to the point, are we?

Bogomolov vs. Baker (Court 20):  From an American perspective, this match presents a good guy vs. bad guy narrative.  Fans around the world warmed to Baker when he completed an odyssey through several injury absences to rejoin the ATP with a bang last year by reaching the final at his first tournament.  His results faded a little afterwards, as one would expect, so his confidence probably rose when he defeated Janowicz in Auckland.  Whatever one thinks of Bogomolov’s shifting national allegiances, they did nothing to disturb his reputation as one of the players least likely to induce empathy in the ATP.

Hradecka vs. Bertens (Court 22):  Half of the world’s second-ranked doubles team, the Czech with an explosive serve faces one of last spring’s most surprising headlines.  Bertens became the first Dutchwoman to win a title since 2006 when she took home the hardware from Casablanca as a qualifier who never had played a main-draw match at the WTA level.  Summer upsets over Safarova and Petrova consolidated that breakthrough, so she will look to take the next step forward in 2013.

Excited about these matches and others on Day 1?  Join our live chat at newyorkobservertennis.com, which extends from the start of play through the Rod Laver Arena night session.

ATP Brisbane Preview: What players will shine?

David Goffin

By Yeshayahu Ginsburg

The 2013 ATP World Tour season kicks off this week with three different events. There are 250-level tournaments in Brisbane, Doha, and Chennai. And while Doha has carried the most star power of those three tournaments in the past few years, this year that really isn’t so true. I’m not going to compare the strength of the draws, but the top players competing this week are definitely more spread out than they have been in the past few years.

Last year, Brisbane carried with it a bit of a tease. James Duckworth, a then-19-year-old Australian player, received a Wild Card into the Main Draw and really played well. He pulled off a great upset of Nicolas Mahut in the first round and really pushed Gilles Simon in the second. He followed that up with a win at the Australian Open in Melbourne but has really fallen off of form since then. He was losing to bad players in Challengers and Futures at the end of 2012 and just lost in the second qualifying round in Brisbane this year. I saw his talent last year and am still waiting for him to break through, but it won’t be in Brisbane this year.

The question, though, is what can Brisbane teach us this year? What young players can showcase the beginning of their season and what veterans can impress us moving into the Australian Open? The answer to that latter question is a bit tricky, actually. Because on some level, sometimes it’s not so good to see players exert themselves so much right before a Slam. For example, a great run by Jurgen Melzer here would not bode well for his time in Melbourne because he is playing in Auckland next week as well.

So who am I looking at? For starters, there’s a first-round match between David Goffin and Matthew Ebden. Goffin really came into form last summer (in the Northern Hemisphere) and ended with an impressive season. At the young age of 22, he looks like he can be a top 20 player or higher if he can sustain the form he brought to Wimbledon last year. Ebden, meanwhile, has been an up-and-comer so long that he is risking becoming a journeyman. He has the talent to break through and be a solid top 50 player, but will probably never really challenge for Slams. This match can tell us a lot more about Ebden than Goffin right now, but Goffin is the one to keep an eye on if you want to see someone with future Grand Slam potential.

I am also keeping an eye on Brian Baker. Baker returned to tennis from years of injury and surgeries and won his first 7 (including qualifying) tour-level matches to reach the final in Nice. Exhausted, he still took Gilles Simon to 5 sets in the second round at Roland Garros and followed that up by winning 6 matches at Wimbledon to come through qualifying and reach the fourth round. He could not equal that success the rest of the year and only won two more Main Draw matches in tournaments the rest of the year. He actually has top 10 potential and this could give us a good indication as to whether he will be able to compete at a high level when we watch Melbourne in two weeks.

There are very few of the top seeds that I am worried about seeing this week. For them, these pre-Slam tune-ups are about finding a rhythm and getting used to match play again after an extended break, and not so much about winning. It’s always nice to win, of course, but their main goal is to prepare themselves to do their best at the Australian Open. So when I’m watching the top 5 seeds here, I’m not so worried about their intensity level so much. I just want to see consistency and no major flaws in their form. I’m not so worried if players like Murray, Simon, or Nishikori lose early, even to bad players, as long as their loss comes more from disinterested play than poor play.

The one player who I want to see play as much as possible but who I just feel bad about pulling for is Lleyton Hewitt. I see Hewitt play against the top players and I just always realize that he can still compete as long as his body holds up. Once fatigue hits, though, he doesn’t stand a chance against anyone. So I want to see him work his way into form here so that he can have another miraculous run at the Australian Open. But I know that the more he plays here the more likely it is that he won’t be able to compete as long in Melbourne. The best warm-up he can have here for his Australian Open would be a tough, well-played, straight-sets loss to Andy Murray in the third round. He can’t go as deep as any of the top players anymore, but counting him out of any match is always a bad idea.

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