Like migratory birds looking for rich pickings, tennis players head to the Southern Hemisphere for the A$ 33 million Australian Open of 2014. It is the same old lot. Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic heading the flock followed by Andy Murray, who is struggling to recover from a back surgery, and an ageing “greatest of all time” 31-yr-old Roger Federer with his new coach Edberg, declaring ominously that he is in great shape.
In hot pursuit and travelling well is the 6’5” Argentine Juan Martin Del Potro who aced his way through the Medibank tournament last week. At full throttle Del Potro is the strongest contender for the title after the top three of Nadal, Djokovic & Murray.
The Argentine, struggling with injuries, has fought his way back to the top five after five long years. His victory in the U.S. Open, in 2009, over Federer will have given him valuable Grand Slam experience which will stand him in good stead.
Unfortunately for Del Potro, he is drawn in Nadal’s quarter of the draw. Even if he beats Nadal, he may find it difficult to recover his full strength for the semi-finals and finals.
In the lower quarter of the bottom half are Murray, who is struggling to find his Wimbledon form, and Federer with his new coach — the serve and volley maestro Edberg, who volleyed his way through the six Grand Slam titles!
If the mercurial French Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, one of the most talented players of the game and a smooth quicksilver mover, can get his act together he may lay to rest Federer’s comeback hopes in the round of 16.
Murray has to contend with big serving 6’9” John Isner of the U.S. who like Del Potro aced his way to victory at the Heineken Open last week. A dangerous opponent Isner could at his best eliminate a Murray searching for his top form.
At the bottom half of the draw, taking guard is Djokovic, the 26-year-old Serb. Unbeaten since his loss to Nadal in the US Open and a four-time consecutive winner of the Australian Open, the Serb has appointed the six-time Grand Slam winner Boris Becker as his new coach.
It is a baffling choice, especially since Djokovic is now cruising smoothly at the highest levels of the game. It seems most unlikely that the fun-loving promiscuous German with his swashbuckling style can infuse a cryogenic shot and liberate Djokovic from the gravitational pull of his metronomic ground shots.
A liberated Djokovic going for broke would be a real joy to watch. Novak is aware that the tie-up is a gamble and could well choose a divorce after the first few matches. One recalls Maria Sharapova, whose tie-up with Jimmy Connors lasted for just one match!
Djokovic’s most dangerous challenge will come from the Swiss Stanislas Wawrinka, who has one of the greatest one-handed backhand of all time.
Stepping out of the shadow of Federer, Wawrinka is now getting close to full bloom. After his victory at the Chennai Open, Wawrinka’s game will be sharp and close to his best.
Having said all this, it will most probably be a Nadal versus Djokovic final. In skill, they are almost equal to each other. The deciding factor will be the energy they spend on their way to the final.
If all factors are equal, and both are fighting fit, then I would bet on Nadal, because he can hit more winning shots off his forehand. A last minute flick of the wrist, directs the ball and baffles his opponents.
Destiny holds the trump card.