Just like I did with the Wimbledon draw last year, and since I’m a little tired of conventional draw breaking and of the focus on the top guns, I will do something a little different once more.
From the young guns to watch to the veterans who haven’t said their last word, with a stop by the first round heartbreaks, this three-part article will break down the Australian Open draw a little differently.
Part 1 – Young guns to watch
Everyone has heard a lot of Grigor Dimitrov, who reached his first career singles final in Brisbane, or of Bernard Tomic, who just won his maiden career title in Sydney and is also well-known for his arrogance and his off-court antics and, of course, of Milos Raonic, now almost a fixture in the top 15 and aiming for the top 10. All those players have high expectations placed upon them entering the first Grand Slam of the season.
There are, however, many other young players who can make an impression in this first Grand Slam of the season, despite not necessarily having a perfect draw, or the experience, to do so.
Here is a portrait of a few of them.
The 18-year-old Aussie is playing his first career Grand Slam as a professional. Winner of the Junior event last year (photo), Saville has received a deserved wild card into the pro event this season and despite losing in the first round of qualifications in both Brisbane and Sydney, he has the potential to have a brilliant career.
Saville turned completely professional after Wimbledon Junior last year, where he finished runner-up to Canadian Filip Peliwo. He played events in Asia and Australia for the remainder of the season.
Last year, Saville won his first two singles professional titles, in Bangkok (May) and in Cairns (August). He finished the season with fairly good results, reaching the quarter-finals or better of the last eight events he entered in 2012.
Relying on a good baseline game and a potent forehand, Saville sure can improve on his mobility and all-court game. However, he is still pretty young and the potential is firmly present.
The young Aussie will face World no 73 Go Soeda in the first round, with absolutely nothing to lose.
Recent winner of the ATP Challenger Tour Finals at the end of last season (photo), the 22-year-old from Bahía Blanca, Argentina, thus concluded the best season of his career and earned his the first direct entry into a Grand Slam main draw by finishing the year ranked 96th in the world.
Despite being more comfortable on clay, Pella is a pretty good hard court player, where his all-court, aggressive game and fine serve can permit him to get out of many tricky situations.
The Argentine is heading into Melbourne well-rested but without having played a match since his triumph in São Paulo. In the first round, Pella will play against qualifier Amir Weintraub, who incidentally defeated Pella’s countryman and friend Diego Schwartzman to reach his first career Grand Slam main draw.
A Davis Cup hero for Israel, Weintraub, 26, is well-used to the best-of-five format, and will be a difficult opponent for a first match in 2013. If this match is on a TV court, however, it will definitely be one to watch.
Slovenia’s Aljaz Bedene did not make much noise on the ATP Tour between his round-of-16 loss to Tommy Haas in Vienna, back in 2011 (where, ranked 204, he defeated then no 94 Daniel Gimeno-Traver to qualify and took a tiebreak set of then no 54 Ivo Karlovic before the Croatian called it quits in the first round) and his first quarter-final appearance last year, also in Vienna, when he retired down 2-6 2-4 to Janko Tipsarevic.
Since then, however, the 23-year-old entered the top 100 after winning the Challenger of Wuhan, reached the semi-finals of the ATP Challenger Tour Finals, and reached his first career ATP Tour semi-finals a couple of weeks ago, in Chennai (photo), where he lost to eventual champion Tipsarevic, but not before defeating Robin Haase and Stanislas Wawrinka.
His good end of 2012 earned Bedene his first main draw appearance in a Grand Slam, with a direct entry as bonus.
Pretty slight of built (only 159 lbs for his 6 feet), Bedene has nevertheless some powerful strokes, especially on the forehand wing, and a game that will only improve with experience, and might very well bring him into the top 50 within the next few months.
In the first round of the Australian Open, Bedene will be opposed to veteran German Benjamin Becker, a very winnable match for the young Slovenian.
Other young players to follow
As the players previewed were only a sample of the young guns to watch at the Australian Open, there are others, as well, who deserve some attention: James Duckworth (facing another talent young Aussie, Benjamin Mitchell, in the first round) and Andrey Kuznetsov (who will play 11th seed Juan Mónaco) have already been protrayed here in the past.
Others, such as Cedrik-Marcel Stebe (forced to play the qualifications after a 2012 marred by injuries, he will be Stanislas Wawrinka’s first-round rival), David Goffin (drawn to play Fernando Verdasco), Jerzy Janowicz (playing Simone Bolelli) and Ryan Harrison (who will face Santiago Giraldo), are very well known already.
Finally, some others, like Guillaume Rufin (who plays qualifier Julian Reister in the first round), John Millman (the Aussie wild card will face Tatsuma Ito), Evgeny Donskoy (playing against Adrian Ungur), Steve Johnson (who played an epic qualification match against 16-year-old Thanasi Kokkinakis and will face Nicolás Almagro in the first round), Rhyne Williams (winner of the USTA’s wild card playoff, he will play against Florian Mayer), and John-Patrick Smith (who faces João Sousa), will have features of their own in the course of the season, fear not.
Part 2 – Those veterans who haven’t said their last word