Friday, January 12, 2007
Updated: January 13, 11:29 AM ET
Djokovic big obstacle for Federer
By Bonnie DeSimone
Special to ESPN.com
Top half, top quarter
The only seeded player in this group who has beaten world No. 1 Roger Federer on a hard court is Spain's 24th-seeded Juan Carlos Ferrero, and that was back in 2003 before Roger was Roger and everyone else was over and out. The most interesting psychodynamic question here is whether 11th seed Marcos Baghdatis of Cyprus can reprise last year's magical run in Melbourne. He's never faced potential third-round opponent Richard Gasquet in ATP play, although their names have been linked in youth movement chatter for ages: Gasquet and Baghdatis finished 1-2 in the 2002 world junior rankings. It's a bit of a toss-up, but we'll say the 18th-seeded Frenchman gets the best of things in the round of 16. Federer should make his way to the semifinals to take on sixth seed Andy Roddick after surmounting challenging obstacles in Serbia's Novak Djokovic and Gasquet, but if you're upset-minded, 14th seed Djokovic is the hot horse.
First-round notes: American wild card Sam Querrey gets his Down Under baptism against 27th seed Jose Acasuso of Argentina. For entertainment quotient, tune in to watch Djokovic versus the tough Nicolas Massu of Chile.
Top half, bottom quarter
|Roger Federer could face young guns Mikhail Youzhny and Novak Djokovic in consecutive rounds.|
The surface in Melbourne is called Rebound Ace and it's supposed to be faster than ever this year; the brand name could be an unintended motto for what Roddick hopes to achieve. With the high-octane boost a speedier bounce gives his power game and the emotional carryover from his second-half surge in 2006, Roddick is the pick of some analysts -- not only in this section of the draw but for the whole Aussie sweepstakes. He appears ready to shoulder those expectations again both head- and game-wise despite the potential absence of coach Jimmy Connors, who is mourning the recent death of his mother. Roddick would have to conquer the resurgent 26th seed, Russia's Marat Safin, and young Croatian star Mario Ancic on this quest; he's never lost to the ninth-seeded Ancic, and has mastered Safin on hard courts since Safin's five-set win in the 2004 Aussie Open quarters. With one exception (see below), Ivan Ljubicic looks to have a relatively pothole-free path to the quarters against Roddick, but this won't be the Bald One's time to break through in a Slam.
First-round notes: No. 45 Mardy Fish has been playing well and could upend Ljubicic in the curtain-raiser. Andre-the-giant killer Benjamin Becker of Germany has a bad-luck pairing with Safin.
Bottom half, top quarter
This is the hardest group to call. Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic, the 13th seed, seems perpetually poised on the brink of something big. He might be due to break through against iron Russian Nikolay Davydenko in the round of 16 after losing to him four times (three on hard courts) in the last two seasons. Before looking that far ahead, however, consider that Belgium's Xavier Malisse, the third-seeded Davydenko's probable third-round opponent, won his first tournament this season and has beaten the Russian on hard courts in early rounds both times they've played. Expect a wearing duel between eighth seed David Nalbandian and 12th seed Tommy Haas, who somewhat surprisingly have never played each other on hard courts and are on a collision course for a fourth-round tilt. If Haas and Berdych meet in the quarters, give the veteran German a slight edge.
First-round notes: Oh, brother. If 5-foot-5 Olivier Rochus of Belgium survives his Mutt-and-Jeff pairing with 6-foot-7 Aussie Chris Guccione, and Christophe Rochus finds a way to beat 28th seed Sebastien Grosjean of France, the siblings will play in the second round.
Bottom half, bottom quarter
Even those ornery draw gods might have wanted a do-over after pulling Carlos Moya's name to face James Blake. Most fans would rather see both crowd-pleasers, who oddly enough will play in Saturday's final in Sydney, stick around longer. Blake, however, is still the choice to emerge from this part of the draw, beating Lleyton Hewitt -- whom he topped for the first time last season -- in the round of 16 and Andy Murray in the quarters. Those matchups are by no means cakewalks, and Blake's build doesn't give him much margin for error in intensely hot weather. But Hewitt's career seems too unstable right now to withstand the pressure in his home Slam, and Blake's seasoning and composure, if nothing else, should make the difference against Murray. One more prediction: This will be the tournament where Blake breaks his five-set jinx. As for No. 2 Rafael Nadal, Murray will fell him in a corker of a fourth-round match. The sleeper in this group is the up-and-coming 6-foot-5 Juan Martin Del Potro of Argentina, who had a nice showing in the Adelaide tune-up. He could set up a clash with Hewitt by upsetting Chile's Fernando Gonzalez, which isn't out of the question; Del Potro took a set from him last fall in Basel.
First-round notes: Nadal probably wasn't happy to see American Robert Kendrick, who nearly knocked him out in the second round at Wimbledon last year, slotted with him.
Bonnnie DeSimone is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com.