Giving tennis more than a shot

Australian Open – Breaking Down Differently (3)


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 (and a half) article breaks down the Australian Open draw a little differently.


Part 3 – First-round heartbreaks and popcorn matches

Like in every Grand Slam (and most tournaments), there are those first-round matches where you can’t help but feel for one of the players, if you don’t feel sorry for both players, as one will end up losing. That is my definition of a heartbreak match.


The Australian Open is no different, of course, and will give us some of those matchups which made some of us (and likely some of the players concerned) groan when the draw came out.


As well, there are some first-round popcorn matches, which are likely to keep us glued to our screens for the whole time they will last.


Top half heartbreak matches

[1] Novak Djokovic vs Paul-Henri Mathieu
(Head-to-head: 4-1 Djokovic)

I admit I could not help but feel for Paul-Henri Mathieu when I saw the draw on Friday. Out from November 2010 to the beginning of last season due to a knee injury (and surgery), the Frenchman’s was one of the most inspiring stories of 2012, particularly with his marathon French Open win over John Isner.


Now back in the top 60, the sympathetic French player had, of all twists of draw fate, to be drawn against the defending champion in the first round.


Not only does Djokovic lead their head-to-head 4-1, Mathieu’s only win came way back when, in Paris 2006 to be precise.


Although their last meeting dates back to 2009, in Miami, I don’t think tonight’s result will be any different, i.e. the Serbian winning in straight sets.


This match will be the last of the day session on Rod Laver Arena, somewhere around 23:00 ET Sunday night.


[23] Mikahil Youzhny vs Matthew Ebden
(Head-to-head: 1-0 Youzhny)

Jolly Aussie Matthew Ebden was not favoured by the draw. Despite not having had flaming results of late, a good draw in Melbourne might have helped him get back on track after a difficult end to 2012 (as far as tennis is concerned, that is).


Instead, the South African-born Aussie will face a virtuoso of the racquet, veteran Russian Mikhail Youzhny, who won their only encounter, in Basel last season.


Despite Ebden starting as the heavy underdog, it should be a nice one to watch, particularly for the contrast of styles it will provide.


This match will be third up on MCA, also somewhere around 23:00 ET.


Top half popcorn matches

The first of Day 1’s popcorn matches will sadly not be on a TV court. However, it will be worth following, albeit via live scoring, as it might provide a mild upset, and should be very tight if both players come with the game we know they possess.


[32] Julien Benneteau vs Grigor Dimitrov
(Head-to-head: 2-0 Dimitrov)

There is a lot to be said of this matchup, especially since it involves a veteran player still in search of his first title and having had a very good 2012, although marked by a serious injury, and a young player who is still trying to take his place on the ATP Tour and has reached, in Brisbane, his first ATP singles final.


Such is what we could be treated to with the match between Julien Benneteau and Grigor Dimitrov.


Now working with Magnus Norman’s academy, the 21-year-old Bulgarian has had to live since his Junior years with the comparisons made between him and Roger Federer, as the youngster’s game has definitely had the Swiss’s as model. The weight of expectations on his shoulders might have hampered his development quite a bit. However, with his new team, he seems to be finding his range, although it is difficult to say after only two tournaments. His fitness remains the big question mark.


As for Benneteau, he had, in 2012, the best season of his career, entering the top 30 for the first time and playing fabulous tennis, until that nasty fall in Monte Carlo, where he suffered a broken elbow and an ankle sprain. He nevertheless came back strong several weeks later, at the French Open, reaching the third round, and gave Roger Federer quite a run for his money in Wimbledon.


Despite Dmitrov losing in the first round in Sydney, and Benneteau reaching the semi-finals, and despite Benneteau being slightly better ranked, the Bulgarian is, to me, the favourite to win this match, which might be as tight as their last encounter, in Basel, which Dimitrov won 7-6(5) 6-7(1) 7-6(3).


A real pity this won’t be on a TV court, but we can follow this match, the first on Court 13, at 19:00 ET.


Lleyton Hewitt vs [8] Janko Tipsarevic
(Head-to-head: 3-1 Hewitt)

Lleyton Hewitt and Janko Tipsarevic have not played each other since 2009, when the Aussie had the best of his opponent in straight sets, in Sydney.


Since then, Hewitt has been fighting a lot with injuries, whereas Tipsarevic has improved a great deal and finally entered the top 10.


It will, by no means, be a piece of cake for either player, unless Tipsarevic is still struggling with the arm injury which made him retire mid-match against Marcos Baghdatis, at the Kooyong exhibition tournament.


Nevertheless, with the explosive game of the Serbian, combined with the relentless, never-give-up counter-punching game of the Aussie, we should be in for a spectacular treat on Rod Laver Arena.


In my overview of the veterans to follow, I picked the former no 1 for the upset. I stand by my prediction. There is something about playing on home soil that always brings out the best in Lleyton Hewitt, and tonight won’t be any different.


This match will be the first of the night session on Rod Laver Arena, at 3:00 ET.


To be continued…

The bottom half first-round heartbreaks and popcorn matches will be up on Monday.


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