The New Year is not but two days old but the pros are already gearing up for the Australian Open by taking part in the warm-up events with the first one, the Brisbane International, already underway.
Unlike the clay court or hard court seasons, the “Aussie” season is a two week whirlwind of several events, some playing concurrently, and even on different continents with some of the top men, including Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, choosing to get ready at the Doha event in Qatar.
All eyes will be on Justine Henin this week at Brisbane as she makes her return to the tour with an opening match against No. 20 Nadia Petrova. Even if Henin gets some big wins here and at Sydney, featuring nine of the top ten women, I still think her draw at the Open will be the deciding factor if she’s got a shot to win it all.
With the brevity of the AO series it would be hard to look for trends or players on winning streaks to gauge what might happen in Melbourne later this month. Still, I would look out for Lleyton Hewitt, Sam Stosur, Jelena Dokic and rising star Bernard Tomic as they all will want to make strong showings now if they have any hopes of winning their country’s Grand Slam.
Check out the Brisbane International Site here.
Marat Safin’s love affair with Asia continues. Even though he lost his second round match in Shanghai to Tomas Berdych 6-3, 4-6, 6-4, he was the one asked to hit the autographed tennis balls into the stands. Of course there was another mini-ceremony at the end with video of Safin back in his “movie idol” days with the appropriate “Wild Thing” as the soundtrack. Safin did take time to thank all of the fans in both Beijing and Shanghai for their support.
Meanwhile, injuries and the debate over them continues to mar the event. Juan Martin Del Potro and Tommy Haas both retired in their matches. Rafael Nadal, who joined Andy Roddick in complaining about the tour’s grueling schedule, looked ok in his win over James Blake.
Lleyton Hewitt, who knows a thing or two about injuries, lost a tough three setter to Gael Monfils 4-6, 6-4, 6-2. Monfils who wavered between playing fifteen feet behind the baseline to then coming up with vicious forehand winners finally decided on an attacking style of play that saw him the last six games of the third set.
Other winners included Robin Soderling, Tommy Robredo, Gilles Simon and Novak Djovokic. Ivan Ljubicic scored the biggest upset of the day taking out Fernando Verdasco.
Tomorrow’s key match ups will be Soderling/Tsonga and Gonzalez/Davydenko as all are trying to make it to London.
With shades of an Asian horror flick, it seems like Andy Roddick is double cursed. After losing first round in Beijing, Roddick lost again in the first round of the Shanghai Masters to Stanislas Wawrinka after Roddick retired due to a left knee injury in the first set.
This is where it gets “creepy”. Wawrinka is the same guy Roddick played and ended up with a strange injury in their semifinal match in Rome back in ’08.
It gets worse. Roddick who was hoping to pick up a few wins to qualify for London is still on the bubble and may have to hustle up something special in the Paris Masters a few weeks ago to help his chances. But Roddick said afterwards he was more concerned about his health than the final event so who knows if he will even play London.
In other first round play, Tomas Berdych outlasted China Open finalist Marin Cilic 7-6 (8), 3-6, 6-4. Nikolay Davydenko blew past Igor Kunitsyn 6-4, 6-2 while Lleyton Hewitt dismantled a rather lethargic John Isner 6-2, 6-4. Hewitt played sharp returns and even handled Isner’s looping kick serve that would sail several feet over Hewitt’s head.
Wednesday’s action sees another Rafael Nadal vs. James Blake match while Juan Martin Del Potro takes on Jurgen Melzer of Austria.