Nadal & Federer Co-Favorites at Melbourne

Australian Open 2011
By Hiland Doolittle, January 6th, 2011
Rafael Nadal Favorite to win Australian Open 2011

Rafael Nadal Favorite to win Australian Open 2011

Will this be the year that someone arises from the flock to challenge the shepherds of 21st century tennis? Based on Roger Federer’s strong finish in 2010, The Swiss looks like a new and improved version but just as invincible as the man who possesses 16 Grand Slam championships ever was.

What can you say about strong willed left handed Spaniard Rafa Nadal. The guy is great and he is at his best when all the bright lights are on. He is the first tennis player to win three consecutive Grand Slam tournaments since Rod Laver in 1969. Nadal fell to Andy Murray last year in Melbourne, retiring with a knee injury. It may be those tender knees that are his Achilles Heel, but barring injury, the sky is the limit for Nadal. To be honest, Rafa leaves very little room for error and none of the young guns have been able to compete with him mentally, much less physically. Only the indefatigable Federer seems able to play his game against the world number one.

Due to Roger’s subtle changes in style, The Swiss registered two late season wins against Nadal and shares the role of early line favorite with his rival. Both Nadal and defending champion Federer are 2-1 to win the year’s first Grand Slam down under.

A familiar list of would-be challengers includes Novak Djokovic, the 2008 winner in Melbourne, at 13 – 2, the 2009 U.S. Open Champion Juan Martin Del Potro at 9-1, the world’s fifth ranked Robin Soderling at 14 – 1, and the man who defeated both Nadal and Federer in successive tournaments in 2009, Russian Nikolay Davydenko at 16-1.

Tomas Berdych was successful in 2010 and comes in on the early line at 16–1 while a strong year by Argentine David Nalbandian has him at 20–1 just ahead of powerful Marin Cilic at 2 –1.

Power players Andy Roddick and Jo Wilfried Tsonga head the list of contenders at 33 – 1.

Juan Martin Del Potro is ranked at number 256 because of his wrist surgery last season. Del Potro gave it a try in the fall but withdrew for further rehabilitation. You can be sure that the top seeds will be anxiously looking to see where this 256th ranked player falls in the brackets. The young Argentine was probably the most likely challenger to the big two before until his fall at the Australian Open. Juan Martin is a player with all the skills and power needed to quiet the big guns.

Another player poised to break through at a Grand Slam is Scotsman Andy Murray, who very quietly is the early line number three choice. Unlike Nadal and Federer, when the bright lights go on, Andy turns off. This disturbing battle between the ears needs to stop.

In Melbourne last season, Murray looked invincible. He was crushing returns, holding serve and moving with championship grace. It always seems that Murray has one cylinder misfiring when the big matches take place. If it is not his serve, it is his net game or return game. There is no doubt, this guy has the talent. If he ever wins that first one, he may be difficult to take down thereafter.

Sometimes, Murray’s early season preparation has been questioned. However, we think Murray is addressing this season with resurrected confidence that may well be the missing ingredient in a winning formula. Melbourne just may be the right place at the right time.

For a long shot, play John Isner, of the famed French Open match. At 100 – 1, Isner is a solid gamble.

The Ladies

Serena Williams

Serena Williams

Where has Serena gone?

The Women’s Tour needs Serena, if for nothing more than to validate the young Pretenders to the Throne. Unfortunately, the bruising American former number one required additional surgery in October and hopes for a Spring return.

Whether or not she will be able to rekindle the fire will have a big impact on women’s tennis in 2011.

In Serena’s absence, Dane Caroline Wozniacki racked up six titles and amasses 62 tour victories to lead the tour in both categories.

Rightfully, Caroline rose to the number one ranking. In two years, the 20-year old has accomplished an astounding 129 tour match wins. There is no disputing those numbers or Caroline’s deserved number one ranking. At age 20, Wozniacki now supplants retired Russian beauty Elena Dementieva as the tour’s “best player to never win a major.”

Of course until Caroline accomplishes a Grand Slam title, her top billing will always be subject to criticism. To win in Melbourne, Woznaicki will have to establish herself as a complete player, not just a relentless ball hawker who has difficulty with an unpredictable serve. Rumor is that the Great Dane has worked diligently on adding velocity to her serve. If she has the courage to stay with this much-awaited staple, the sky could be the limit.

The world’s top ranked player is 9 –2 to win the Australian Open 2011 title.

The bookmakers like 40 time WTA titleholder and three time Grand Slam Champion, all at the U.S. Open, more than Caroline. Clijsters is a center court player who does not wilt under pressure. With Clijsters, success is directly proportionate to her training regimen. Now a dedicated mother of one, only time will tell. In form, Clijsters has the most balanced game in the draw.

Right behind Wozniacki is Belgian number two, Justine Henin, a winner of 43 WTA titles and 7 Grand Slam titles. Henin’s 2009 comeback was cut short by a season ending ruptured tendon in her elbow. Henin’s rivalry with her countrymate Clijsters has always been intense as the two battled head-to-head for the top spot. Henin ranked 12th and Clijsters ranked 3rd, provide the women’s tour with depth and terrific tennis. Placed properly in the draw, it would not be surprising to see and all-Belgian finals.

Henin is listed at 5-1 by the bookmakers

A surprise bookmaker line has Maria Sharapova at 12-1. Of late, Sharapova has not proven to be in form in clutch matches. The former number one battles hard but often seems to run out of gas against her more nimble opponents. Maria needs to believe again!

World number two, Vera Zvonareva is accustomed to a lack of respect. The husky Russian had a strong year in 2010 and seems poised to outshine the likes of Sharapova. Vera is posted at 12-1.

Just behind Vera is the grunting phenom Victoria Azarenka. Blessed with Sharapova’s length and Serena’s power, Azarenka is a Grand Slam waiting to happen. At 14-1, Victoria seems a good early line play.

Venus Williams at 16-1 is the most experienced, most distinguished player in the field. With seven Grand Slams, the thirty year old has become a target of late. Players no longer fear her vaunted serve and do not believe she can play through matches. Venus always gives her best, but at 30 years old and closing in on 31, the three time number one has nothing to prove.

Australian Samantha Stosur at 16-1 came close in Paris but fell to upset queen Flavia Pennetta (66-1). It seems Samantha prefers the role of underdog, which is precisely where she finds herself on her home court. Stosur reportedly has the best serve on the women’s tour but has difficulty with the backhand.

Remarkably Serbian Ana Ivanovic is posted at 14-1. Ivanovic struggles with her ball toss and, although under a new coach, has far to go before reclaiming a spot in the top five.

If Clijsters and Henin come up short, Belgian countrymate Yanina Wickmayer may step up. The 6’0” powerhouse has the potential and the competitive spirit. If her footwork is up to par Yanina is the best outside shot at 33-1.


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