Giving tennis more than a shot

Australian Open – Breaking Down Differently (2)

 

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 breaks down the Australian Open draw a little differently.

 

Part 2 – Those veterans who haven’t said their last word

The trend started in 2012. They should not have made a difference. Some even hinted they should retire. However, such was not their time, and still is not. Instead, they went on and played a great part in the season.

 

Roger Federer won his first Grand Slam in over two years, recuperated the number one ranking for several more weeks, beating Pete Sampras’s record and passing the 300 weeks mark at the top of the ATP. David Ferrer, who just won his third consecutive title in Auckland, won more matches and tournaments than any other player on Tour and has a good chance of re-entering the top 4 at the end of the Australian Open.

 

That is only for the top guns.

 

In a time where the game is more physical, more difficult, the veterans, rather than fading, keep going strong and leaving their mark on the ATP Tour.

 

It might be no different at the Australian Open, starting with these men.

 

Lleyton Hewitt

The Aussie has been retired by media and fans more often than, probably, most ATP players. His last few years have been marked by many injury layoffs, and it was even hinted many times last year that this year’s Australian Open could very well be his last.

 

Incidentally, the 31-year-old has been questioned about it during a media conference yesterday, if this is his last Australian Open. His reply has been short and non equivocal: “No.”

 

After all, why would it be? The former no 1, for one thing, wants to keep playing for a couple more seasons. If that is not reason enough, he is quite fit, as he showed during the second part of 2012, finishing runner-up to John Isner in Newport and doing decently in the events in which he took part for the remainder of the season, with the exception of the Davis Cup playoffs, where he lost his two rubbers on the German clay.

 

Photo: Getty Images

Photo: Getty Images

However, now over the foot problems that had been plaguing him until early last year, he made quite a statement by taking the honours of the warm-up exhibition tournament of Kooyong (photo), with wins over Milos Raonic, Tomaš Berdych and, in the final, Juan Martín del Potro.

 

Granted, this was only an exhibition tournament. Nevertheless, those wins help him enter his 17th (yes, 17!) Australian Open full of confidence, and a healthy, confident Lleyton Hewitt on Rod Laver Arena, with the crowd firmly behind him, is never an element to neglect.

 

Can he pull the upset against no 8 seed Janko Tipsarevic in the first round? Definitely. Hewitt sure is my pick to pull a big upset in the first round.

 

After all, we can never count him out when he says things like this:

 

“The last couple matches I’ve hit the ball as well as I can remember when I hit it. I feel confident with where my game’s at at the moment.

 

[…]

 

I felt the way I was able to be aggressive with the bigger, stronger guys, all three matches are three of the biggest hitters out there. I was not able only to get their serve back but put them under pressure on their service games. So that gives me a lot of confidence moving forward.”

 

Be warned: Rusty is out for the kill.

 

Tommy Haas

Photo: Getty Images

Photo: Getty Images

Tommy Haas is another player who, just a couple of years ago, has been deemed ready for retirement by quite a few people, and ended up proving them all wrong last year when, starting the season ranked 205 in the world, he finished it knocking on top 20’s door, defeating his friend Roger Federer to take the title in Halle (photo), and reaching the finals in Hamburg (l. to Juan Mónaco) and Washington (l. to Aleksandr Dolgopolov).

 

Furthermore, not once, but twice, he played toe-to-toe with Novak Djokovic in memorable quarter-final matches, in the Masters 1000 events of Toronto and Shanghai, tournaments the Serbian ended up winning.

 

Intent on playing a full season, at 34 years of age, the only thing that could cause Haas problems is his body. If he is fit, his old-school game, lethal backhand, and deadly volleys will, again this year, give his rivals their share of headaches and defeats.

 

Haas has been drawn to face another veteran, Jarkko Nieminen, in the first round of the Australian Open. Unfortunately, one of them will lose and I think that, if Haas is over the toe injury that made him wihdraw from the Hopman Cup midway through the event, he will emerge victorious. In fact, the winner of this match has a great chance to make it to the third round and a potential meeting with Richard Gasquet.

 

If it is, indeed, the German who makes it through, I would not count him out, despite the Frenchman’s good form.

 

Radek Stepanek

Just like Haas, Radek Stepanek is a 34-year-old with a game style that is now very rare on the ATP Tour, but whose shot making remains a joy to watch, despite not being the (usually) gentlemanly player the German is.

 

Photo: Paul Zimmer/Martin Sidorjak

Photo: Paul Zimmer/Martin Sidorjak

Hero of the last Davis Cup final (photo), where he won the decisive match to clinch the cup for the Czech Republic, Stepanek has had a rough start to 2013, forced to pull out of the Brisbane International because of an eye infection, then retiring mere points into his second-round match in Sydney because of an intercostal muscle strain.

 

Nevertheless, if the Czech is over this last injury, he should be a thorn in the side of his first-round opponent, Viktor Troicki, especially considering that the Serbian has not been playing his best tennis for over a year now.

 

I would not be surprised if better-ranked Stepanek pulled this one out, but only if he is healthy, which is the big question mark.

 

The Czech is also set to defend his Australian Open doubles crown, won last year with partner Leander Paes. The pair will face Kevin Anderson and Jonathan Erlich in the first round.

 

Other veterans worthy of mention

Nikolay Davydenko: As I mentioned after his final’s defeat in Doha, the Russian seems to have regained some of his past form and could be a dangerous floater in Melbourne. First to face Israeli qualifier Dudi Sela, his run might well stop in the second round, should he win, as he would likely face World no 2 Roger Federer, who leads their head-to-head 17-2.

 

Feliciano López: After a strong 2011, López has had many ups and downs last season, alternating between great performances and shocking losses. His best match was incidentally one he ended up losing, in the U.S. Open third round, when he played an epic match against eventual champion, Andy Murray. In Melbourne, the Spaniard will face countryman Arnau Brugues-Davi, coming from the qualifications, and could play against winner of Stepanek/Troicki in the second round.

 

Michael Russell: At 34 years of age, the American is mostly active on the Challenger Tour. However, he’s a very unpredictable player, who can pull an upset when we least expect it, especially if the player he faces is not in the best of forms. This doesn’t mean he will have the better of no 5 seed Tomaš Berdych in the first round of the Australian Open, but the Czech better be on his guard taking the court against such a rival.

 

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