As the 2011 Australian Open moves into it’s second week, we can begin evaluating the contenders looking to lift the Norman Brookes Trophy at the Rod Laver Arena next Sunday. The usual suspects have negotiated their way into the quarter-finals once again, however there have been one or two big name casualties in the first week.
2009 US Open Champion Juan Martin Del Potro bowed out as early as the second round to Baghdatis, ruining his hopes of a return to form after a nightmare year riddled with injury. Andy Roddick couldn’t utilise his massive serve last night against plucky Swiss Stanislas Wawrinka, who dominated proceedings eventually taking the match in straight sets. No. 18 seed Wawrinka himself probably doesn’t hold much hope of getting past his countryman and defending champion Roger Federer in the pick of Monday’s match-ups, although he has proven his Grand Slam credentials in the past, just ask Andy Murray. While the title itself may prove to be beyond Wawrinka, he might yet play a major part in determining where the title is heading.
The same however, should not be said about Robin Soderling. In my opinion the most underrated player on the tour, he can hit the ball from the back of the court as well as anyone, having been a beaten finalist in consecutive years at the French Open, some would say he is a clay court specialist. I have a seen enough of him on the hard courts to suggest he can go all the way, having not yet dropped a set in Melbourne.
Soderling is a probable quarter-final opponent for Andy Murray, the beaten finalist by the hands of Federer last year. That match has five sets written all over it, with both players desperate to break the strangle hold that Messrs Federer and Nadal have on the Slams. Murray has been going well so far this term, his on court demeanour is much improved and he has injected a new found aggression into his game. Often criticised for waiting for his opponents to make mistakes, for me he looks a far better player when he is on the front foot.
Lets not forget everyone’s favourite Serb, and former Australian Open champion himself Novak Djokovic. Since winning at Melbourne in 2008 he has failed to hit similar heights until last year’s US Open, where he played some of his best tennis only to lose out to a inspired Nadal in New York. Novak shouldn’t be ruled out at any hard court tournament, if he begins to peak then it will take either a Nadal or Federer to stop him.
Rafael Nadal is currently the odds on favourite for the title, and deservedly so. At 24 years of age he has won everything professional tennis has to offer, and he plays the big points better than any player out there. The only player who would fancy himself over Nadal is defending champion Federer, and he would dearly like to hold on to that crown as a Nadal victory would mean he would hold all four Grand Slams simultaneously. Hopefully a winner outside of those two can set a precedent for the exciting year of tennis ahead.