12 January, 2013

2013 Australian Open Men's Bracket Breakdown


Tennis is officially back!  Two weeks after the tours kick off the season in real terms, all of the best players in the world (and those who love to watch them) will converge upon Melbourne for the Australian Open.  With less than 48 hours until the TV gets locked upon those azure blue courts for a fortnight, we take a look at the 2013 Australian Open Men's Draw and do all the demystification for you.  Here's your Aussie Open Men's Bracket Breakdown.


First Quarter



Novak Djokovic comes into the Antipodean major with a chance to earn a piece of history that's eluded even Roger Federer.  Djokovic could become the first man in the Open era to capture three consecutive Australian Open titles.  A win would also draw him even with Federer and Agassi's shared Open Era record of four titles at the event.  That's a thought for a fortnight from now though.  In the Serb's immediate crosshairs isn't tennis immortality, but a 31 year old Frenchman, Paul-Henri Mathieu.  Djokovic should advance comfortably to face Santiago Giraldo.  Yes, Giraldo's drawn fiery American next-big-thing Ryan Harrison in round one, but the Yank's record in Melbourne Park is practically Stosurian: 0-3.  He's also lost all four sets he's played against the Colombian.  The next section of the draw features three bold-faces: Radek Stepanek, Feliciano Lopez, Viktor Troicki and a qualifier, Spain's Arnau Brugues-Davi.  The winner of Troicki/Stepanek is a tossup (we would pick Stepanek, but his withdrawal from Sydney clouds the picture).   That leaves Lopez as the likely winner of the section and third round opponent for Djokovic.  Not that it matters much, Lopez is 0-5 against Djokovic and won't turn the tide in Melbourne.

The next two sections are headlined by seeds Stanislas Wawrinka (15th) and Sam Querrey (20th).  Querrey opens against a 30-year old Spanish qualifier, Daniel Munoz De La Nava.  He should then see comeback "kid" Brian Baker in Round 2 unless Russian Alex Bogomolov Jr. can begin to reverse his 2012 freefall.  Bogey's only won one main draw match since the US Open, so Baker's a safe pick. After a quiet fall, Baker pulled off an unexpected win over Jerzy Janowicz in Auckland last week, but Querrey made it all the way to the semis.  Wawrinka reached the 3rd round in Melbourne last year.  He opens this year versus a qualifier, Germany's Cedrik-Marcel Stebe and then should get past the winner of the journeymen's special between Flavio Cipolla and Tobias Kamke to set up a date with the laconic Californian.  Wawrinka-Querrey should be a good measuring stick of how far Querrey has to go in his comeback from injury.  If he wins, he could be ready to ascend to new heights in 2013.  If not, his rankings progress is likely to stall until the US Open Series.  I'm picking Querrey in a barnburner for the right to take on Djokovic.  At stake for Djokovic versus Querrey in the fourth round?  A chance to avenge his shock defeat at the Paris Masters to the American.

There's a ton of talent in the bottom half of this quarter headlined by fifth seeded Tomas Berdych.  Berdych is the poster-child for the "other guys."  The extremely talented, but less consistent players who might have snuck off with a major title or two if not for the historic dominance of the Big Four.  The big Czech opens his bid for the big check against the hard-working veteran Michael Russell; Frenchman Guilliame Rufin or Germany's Julian Reister is next.  Assuming safe passage to round three, there's the possibility of either the slumping Austrian, 29th seed Jurgen Melzer, or Spaniard Roberto Bautista-Agut, the fresh face who ended Berdych's run in the quarterfinals of Chennai.  Berdych has been a bit of a wild card lately.  Whereas 4th seed David Ferrer has displayed remarkable consistency winning tournament after tournament; Berdych is as prone to go deep into the draw as he is to be in Prague before the first weekend ends.  That said, we like his chances in the early going here. 

The predictably unpredictable Fernando Verdasco could survive the other section to challenge Berdych, but we think he'll continue his run of poor form.  Spain may have won the Hopman Cup, but Verdasco's only singles win of the vaunted team competition was over Thanassi Kokkinakis, a 16 year old fill-in player (and that took a first set tiebreak).  Verdasco's first round opponent Belgium's David Goffin is a baby-faced big match player whom we wouldn't be surprised to see upsetting the Spaniard.  Even if Nando survives, the wily veteran Xavier Malisse could upend him in the 2nd round as easily as a hot-serving Kevin Anderson or an inspired 11th seed Juan Monaco could in the following stanza.  We wouldn't be really surprised to see any number of guys come out of this section to face the winner of the top half of the quarter.

First Round Five (matches to watch)

Ryan Harrison vs. Santiago Giraldo
(31) Radek Stepanek vs. Viktor Troicki
(22) Fernando Verdasco vs. David Goffin
Fabio Fognini vs. Roberto Bautista-Agut 
Brian Baker vs. Alex Bogomolov, Jr.

Dark Horse: 

Sam Querrey

Semifinalist 

Novak Djokovic

Second Quarter


David Ferrer, the 30 year old Spaniard playing the best tennis of his life, headlines the second quarter of the draw as the No. 4 seed.  No matter how this event ends for the indefatigable one, he will leave Melbourne as the new Spanish No. 1; no mean feat in a country with 13 top 100 players this week.  Nonetheless, Ferrer's goal in Melbourne will still be reaching his first major trophy.  To get to the latter stages of the event, he'll first tangle with 5'6" Belgian veteran Olivier Rochus, one of' the few ATP pros over whom the 5'9" Ferrer towers.  The not-as-scary-as-he-once-was Ivo Karlovic (6'10") and American qualifier Tim Smyczek (5'9") will play the Height Differential Bowl for the right to be Ferrer's second round fodder.  From there, it gets a bit more difficult for Ferru, the mercurial Marcos Baghdatis or the young Aussie wild card John Millman (and their respective crowd) support likely await Ferrer in round three.  On paper, he should beat both handily; but paper's not a sanctioned ITF surface.  Ferrer lost a five setter to Baghdatis here in 2010, but we don't see that upset special being served this time.  16th seed Kei Nishikori and 23rd seeded Russian Mikhail Youzhny are the strong bets to come out of the next section and face each other in what should be a highly entertaining third round match for the right to take on Ferrer.  Nishikori had a breakout tournament here last year, reaching the quarterfinals, while Youzhny's results have trailed off of late.  Having never played each other, we'll give the veteran the slight nod to face Ferrer.  That's where it gets a bit interesting.  Ferrer is playing the best tennis of his life right now, but he hasn't beaten Youzhny on a hardcourt since Andre Agassi won his last Australian Open.

To say the bottom half of this quarter is wide open could come off a bit insulting to the fine players who are slotted here like 8th seed Janko Tipsarevic, 10th seed Nicolas Almagro, surprise Paris Masters finalist Jerzy Janowicz, Aussie legend Lleyton Hewitt and Pova's sugar Grigor Dimitrov, but really anything could happen here.  Tipsarevic is the top dog here, but he's no commanding presence.  He also might not get out of the first round.  Tipsarevic drew Lleyton Hewitt as his opener, which on paper should seem rather routine for a top ten player.  But one, this is a guaranteed night match on Rod Laver Arena versus the aging Aussie battler.  Two, as the twitterati write him off (yet again) he goes off and wins the prestigious Kooyong exhibition over Juan Martin del Potro in the final, after pushing past Milos Raonic and Tomas Berdych in earlier rounds.  We like Hewitt there, but he could be in trouble in the next round versus the tall, big-serving Luxembourger Gilles Muller.  We also like 41st ranked Dimitrov, who's dating Maria Sharapova (ergo the earlier comment) to use some of that newfound swagger to upend the 32 seed Julien Benneteau.  We're not sold on Poland's 6'8" Jerzy Janowicz yet.  He's the 24 seed who had a huge week in Paris right before year's end.  Yes, he beat five top twenty players on that run, but is he ready to back it up?  We're not sure.  He lost his only match of 2013 to Brian Baker in Auckland.  We could see the Italian Simone Bolelli sending Jerzy back to Europe for some more seasoning indoors.  That leaves Almagro, he gets American qualifier Steve Johnson in a tricky, but manageable opener and it should be smooth sailing for him until the fourth round when he'll come up against either Hewitt, Tipsarevic or Dimitrov.  Almagro's not automatic, but he did commence his season pushing Djokovic to three sets in the Abu Dhabi exo final.  We'll give him the benefit of the doubt to at least get three rounds deep here.  Then...?

First Round Five (matches to watch)

(32) Julien Benneteau vs. Grigor Dimitrov
(8) Janko Tipsarvic vs. Lleyton Hewitt
(24) Jerzy Janowicz vs. Simone Bolelli
John Millman vs. Tatsuma Ito
Lukas Lacko vs. Gilles Muller

Dark Horse: 

Lleyton Hewitt

Semifinalist 

Grigor Dimitrov



Third Quarter


Andy Murray opens his bid to be more than a one-slam wonder versus the man who almost ended his US Open title run before it began, Robin Haase of the Netherlands.  Many are pointing to this as a match to watch, and it might be, but the reality is that Haase has a reputation for snatching defeat from the jaws of victory in five setters versus top dogs.  Even if he plays Murray tough (and let's give the guy due credit, he will), we have little doubt of the eventual outcome.  From there, Murray should expect a couple more routine tests, including a possible dustup with Twitter lightning rod Sergiy Stakhovsky in round three.  The other side of the section is headlined by Alexandr Dolgopolov and Gilles Simon, it also features the major return of Gael Monfils, who unfortunately (or fortunately as it were) drew Dolgopolov in what could be a funky, first-round blockbuster between the two unorthodox athletic players.  Simon has a tricky road as well here, opening against Italian stalwart Filippo Volandri and likely staring down another former top 10 player Tommy Robredo next.  Simon is the class of lot, but his matches should be compelling viewing in the early going.

The top half of this section is home to sixth seeded Juan Martin del Potro whose bid for a second major sees an early boost as he shouldn't see a challenge of consequence until he comes up against the winner of Grega Zemlja and Marcel Granollers in round three.  The section below is boldfaced by erratic 12th seed Marin Cilic and is really anybody's to win.  Andreas Seppi is here as well, seeded 21st and looking to build on his strong fall. Seppi played the finals of Metz, won Moscow and usually gets past lower ranked players; he also typically falls to bigger, higher ranked players like Del Potro who looms in round four. This of course assumes Seppi plays to his seeding and Cilic doesn't.  Either way, we like Del Potro get through to the quarters.

First Round Five (matches to watch)

(18) Aleandr Dolgopolov vs. Gael Monfils
(3) Andy Murray vs. Robin Haase
(12) Marin Cilic vs. Marinko Matosevic
(30) Marcel Granollers vs. Grega Zemlja
Ricardas Berankis vs. Sergiy Stakohvsky

Dark Horse: 

Marin Cilic

Semifinalist 

Andy Murray



Fourth Quarter



At first glance, the bottom quarter features a lot of veteran favorites including Roger Federer, Nikolay Davydenko, Tommy Haas and a lot of the top young guns looking to shoot them down like Milos RaonicBernard Tomic and Benoit Paire.  As you would expect, any look at the fourth quarter pivots on Federer's potential path through the draw.  Federer's form is a bit of a question mark right now as his racquet's been silent since his Latin American exo tour in December.  With that in mind, this quarter shouldn't be a cakewalk for the Swiss master.  He opens versus the talented Frenchman Paire who reached the Chennai semis.  Then the Fed will likely see Davydenko, the 31 year old, ex-top 3 player who looked to have found the fountain of youth in Doha; beating Ferrer and making Richard Gasquet sweat for three sets in the final.  Sydney champion Tomic looms in the third round with an opportunity to justify the braggadocio against the all-time major champ.  Does this mean the Fed's ripe for an early upset?  Well, players will certainly have their chance.  Let's be clear, Federer should win all three of these matches handily; but if he's rusty and his opponent is inspired, he could fall at any of these hurdles.  The top half of the section is home to Philipp Kohlschreiber and Raonic, who are on a collision course to meet for the first time in the 3rd round in Melbourne, likely for a shot at the big stage versus Federer in the Round of 16.

The top half of the quarter, we'll dub the French quarter, 7th seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga will step up first versus his compatriot Michael Llodra, while 9th seeded Frenchman Richard Gasquet looms in the bottom half.  Want an odd stat?  Tsonga and Llodra have played five times, three times Llodra hasn't finished the match.  Both of the French copains, Tsonga and Gasquet should make their fourth round dates, but Gasquet does have the dangerous veteran Haas as a potential third round foe.  The almost 35 year old, 19th seeded German opens his tourney versus another veteran, 31 year old Finn Jarkko Nieminen.  If Tsonga survives a tricky matchup with Llodra, he and Gasquet should face off for the quarters and the right to face...


First Round Five (matches to watch)

(2) Roger Federer vs. Benoit Paire
(7) Jo-Wilfried Tsonga vs. Michael Llodra
(9) Richard Gasquet vs. Albert Montanes
Tommy Haas vs. Jarkko Nieminen
Nikolay Davydenko vs. Dudi Sela

Dark Horse: 

Tommy Haas

Semifinalist 

Roger Federer


Semifinals & Final

Djokovic d. Dimitrov
Murray d. Federer

Why Dimitrov?  Are we crazy?  Stupid?  Blinded by hype?  Don't we know he lost his last match to Fabio Fognini?  Fact is, a kid's got to make a move.  Milos Raonic was the first to crack the Top 20, but he's stalled a bit since; Jerzy Janowicz had a strong run in Paris, but we need to see him back it up.  Bernard Tomic seems more Mark Phillipoussis than Patrick Rafter thus far.  For all the resources of American tennis, Ryan Harrison keeps imploding.  The Federer/Rafael Nadal/Djokovic axis has brought a decade of unprecedented stability to the ATP Tour.  Eventually, one of the kids is going to break through, it's the circle of life.  Without the entire Big Four to keep the kids at bay, there's room for a breakthrough.

Why Dimitrov, why now?  First, we'd posit, why not?  He's at his career high ranking, he's made a coaching change dropping Patrick Mouratouglou for Mikael Tillstrom and he's sitting in a soft spot of the draw.  As strong as Ferrer, the top seed in Dimitrov's quarter has been, subbing in for Nadal as head Spaniard, he's not immune to an upset.  And anyway, we're not picking him to win the whole shooting match.  We think Novak Djokovic will smack him back down in the semis.  On the other side, Andy Murray is likely to get the best of Federer.  He actually leads the head-to-head 10-9 and wants a measure of revenge for Fed's win at the ATP WTF.

Champion: Andy Murray

Speaking of coaching changes Andy Murray's move to Ivan Lendl has done exactly what he'd hoped.  It took a player, who, on talent, could compete with  the best players in the world, and turned him into a complete package...one that might just be the best player in the world, especially on an outdoor hardcourt.  Murray opened his season collecting an appearance fee in Abu Dhabi and then winning the Brisbane final (d. Dimitrov).  Djokovic, for his part, has seemed a bit adrift in the last year, he's been unable to consistently boot up the Robo-Nole who tore through the 2011 season.  His last truly transcendent performance was his title match versus Nadal a year ago.  Where Murray once sank to big occasions, this year, we see him rising and Djokovic unable to keep up.

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