Friday, January 16, 2009
Updated: January 17, 5:34 PM ET
Not a snowball's chance to win Down Under
I think I'll leave all the handicapping and predictions to the usual suspects this time around and do a post in honor of Marat Safin, that well-known alpinist and tennis's patron saint of lost causes. So let's take a look at the Australian Open draw and pick a few lost causes and hopeless cases -- players who don't have a snowball's chance in hell of winning, no matter what their rankings, résumés or histories may indicate:
1. Lleyton Hewitt: This one really hurts, but we're being honest here, right? I wasted years of my life waiting to write the great "Lleyton Hewitt wins his home major" story, and year-in and year-out, Lleyton has underperformed in Melbourne. This, by the way, is to my mind an aberration, because I always felt that his conspicuous similarities to Jimmy Connors would enable him to do what Jimbo did: stick it to his domestic critics (who are legion) by playing his best tennis in his home Slam. The only truly bright spot on Hewitt's record Down Under is 2005, when he was runner-up to our patron saint in the best Aussie Open he ever played.
2. Svetlana Kuznetsova: Like a lot of other people, I love this girl. And while she's destined to be lumped in with other One-Slam Wonders (do the names Coria, Majoli and Costa mean anything to you?), she's actually better -- much better -- than that. Plus, she's got an interesting personality and an off-beat type of charisma. But you can always count on her to hit the "eject" button when she gets into the upper atmosphere of the draw. And in Melbourne, she has never even flown high enough to develop an itchy trigger finger. Even if she manages to get to the quarterfinals for only the second time in her career (2005), she'll be poised to bail.
3. Marcos Baghdatis: This guy has emerged as Exhibit A for all the pundits who question the quality of the competition Roger Federer has faced in his remarkable run of Grand Slam success. Baghdatis burst onto the international stage when he rolled into the Australian Open final in '06. Since then, he has passed the elite-eight mark just once and is actively challenging David Nalbandian for the "fatso award" that goes to the most out-of-shape guy on the tour (judging by waistline size).
4. Amelie Mauresmo: She had a career year in 2006, winning in Australia and at Wimbledon -- triumphs that seemed to wipe away her growing reputation as a choker. But from the start of 2007 her progress has been regress -- a downward spiral on all surfaces, against all players. It's been almost two years since she has been to a major quarterfinal, and there's no reason to think she'll reverse that trend.
5. Fernando Gonzalez: This guy has emerged as Exhibit B for
(see No. 3). They used to call this guy "Gonzo" for his tendency to load up and blast the ball every chance he got. After he reached the final in Melbourne in 2007, people still called him "Gonzo," but this time it was in a good way. Last year, he lurched out in the third round, and while he had decent results at Roland Garros and Wimbledon, he's no longer working with his coach of 2007 (Larry Stefanki, who now coaches Andy Roddick) and he's back to the old "you never know what you're going to get" Gonzo.
To heck with all those dreary "how far do you think Andy Murray will go?" exercises -- I'm going to track the results to see who among this group flames out first.