The first Grand Slam of the year is upon us and has already brought us some fantastic tennis and surprising results. We’ve seen hometown favorite Sam Stosur go down, Gael Monfils make a booming comeback, and Kimiko Date-Krumm become the oldest woman ever to win a main draw match, at 42 years of age. The second round has come to a close, so it’s time for tennis analysts Tim Israel and Mason West to make some predictions as to who will rise to the top, exit early, and which underdogs will make a run down under in Stoop Sports’ first ever article on the global game.
Who’s going to make the Finals?
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (7) vs. Novak Djokovic (1)
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga: He had a disappointing showing in last year’s Australian Open, exiting in the fourth round to the ever so gritty Kei Nishikori, but Melbourne has been home to Tsonga’s best tennis in his career. He made his only Grand Slam final back in 2008 and reached the semis in 2010, and expect to see Tsonga make another deep run this year due to his favorable draw. There’s only one man standing in his way of the quarterfinals, #9 Richard Gasquet who I see as no threat to Tsonga, so once he gets to the quarters it will take one great match against Federer to slot himself in the semis. With a win over Federer he will have all the momentum he needs to take down most likely Murray or Del Potro for a meeting with Djokovic in the finals. This is a risky pick being that he probably will have to beat two guys ranked higher than him to reach the final, but his aggressive play style and high energy will carry him all tournament.
Novak Djokovic: He has a spot booked in the finals already, simply because there’s nobody in his half that can beat him. It’s not going to be Berdych, it’s not going to be Ferrer, and it’s definitely not going to be fellow countrymen Janko Tipsarevic. So who’s it going to be? Sam Querrey. That’s a joke. And don’t even say Kei Nishikori. Djokovic is the best player in the world and isn’t going to lose to these guys. He’s too consistent, too fit and too intelligent of a player to go down before the finals. The only guy that I see with any serious chance to beat, not just play a good match against Djokovic, is Fernando Verdasco, but he may not even get the chance to play him.
Winner: Djokovic over Tsonga in four sets. 6-7, 7-5, 6-3, 6-3
Andy Murray (3) vs. Novak Djokovic (1)
Andy Murray has an extremely easy draw heading down the road and no one that’ll really test his fitness till he meets the best of the best later on. Tons of confidence going into the 2013 season after his Olympic title at Wimbledon and then following that up with winning the 2012 US Open. His new coach Ivan Lendl has got him playing extremely well and with a better mentality since taking over in 2012. Look for Murray to continue his good form and be a serious threat, as always, for the title.
Novak Djokovic is cruising as of late and playing generally pretty solid tennis. In the third round he faces Radek Stepanek (31) someone he should get by without any trouble. Following that it gets more interesting with the winner of Sam Querrey (20) and Stanislas Wawrinka (15) as Djokovic’s next possible opponents. As I’ve said, I think Djokovic will get through pretty handily but he does face more seeded players than the other top seeds in his quest to the finals.
Winner: Andy Murray over Novak Djokovic 6-7, 7-5, 6-4, 7-6.
Who’s poised to make a surprising run? (1 ranked and 1 unranked)
Fernando Verdasco (22): I may be living in the past, but I am a huge Verdasco fan and although he hasn’t made a Grand Slam quarterfinal since the 2010 US Open, he has an explosive playing style which has faired well in Australia. Anyone who watched his semifinal match against Nadal in 2009 has a soft spot in their heart for him somewhere. He had a tough first round match but rebounded very nicely by trouncing Xavier Malisse. With a win over Kevin Anderson next round, all he will need is to play one great match against Berdych or Jurgen Melzer to have a date with Djokovic in the quarters. He may be 20, but I do believe that Verdasco still has some left in the tank. Those 95 winners against Nadal in ’09 are ready to be unleashed again.
Julien Benneteau (Unranked): Benneteau already has two good wins down under, handling rising star Grigor Dimitrov and staying tough against veteran Edouard Roger-Vasselin. He’s matched up in the third round with Janko Tipsarevic who is very streaky and is coming off a tough five setter. It’s a tough match for Benneateau but he is a very experienced player and has the ability to win. Don’t be surprised if the Frenchmen takes down the Serbian and then gets another win in the fourth round over Almagro.
Juan Martin Del Potro (6): Although he’s seeded #6, I see anyone outside of Murray, Djokovic, and Federer as an underdog to win this thing. I may be extremely biased in this pick as he is my favorite player on the ATP tour, but besides that fact, his game speaks for itself. At 6’6” and only 24 years of age, Del Potro offers an exciting package of youth, mobility, height, power, accuracy and mentality. I think there have been a couple times in his past where he got unlucky and with the 2009 US Open added to his trophy cabinet, he certainly possesses the big game experience. Reaching the quarterfinals of the Aussie Open in 2012, look for him to improve to the semifinals if he doesn’t go all the way.
Gael Monfils (Unranked): Formerly one of my favorites to watch when he was a top 15 type player, Monfils has certainly fallen off as of late; but hold on a second. Looking for a refreshing start for the 2013 season and already upsetting the number 18 Alex Dolgopolov in the first round in 5 sets, I can see Monfils making a small run at it, though his play is always unpredictable and inconsistent as of late. Facing an unranked opponent next and then possibly Gilles Simon (14) in the 3rd are easier match ups for him compared to some other unranked competitors.
Which top player will be exiting early?
Thomas Berdych (5): Berdych is a fantastic player and when he’s on his game can compete with the top four in the world, but with Jurgen Melzer and then Fernando Verdasco lined up to play him, he’s going to get upset. The problem with Berdych is he’s very susceptible to off days, losing in the first round of last year’s Wimbledon to Ernests Gulbis and the Olympics to Steve Darcis. If Berdych does get past these two, expect him to give Djokovic a very tough quarterfinal match.
Roger Federer (2): Federer faces top 10 potential player in Bernard Tomic in the third round. Tomic is of a young 20 years of age, 6’ 5” and has experiences in playing in the 4th round and quarterfinals of tournaments already. With the crowds pulling for all the Aussies that remain in any matchup, it is tough to argue that this match won’t be emotional, long and victorious for one. Look for Tomic to upset Federer in 5 sets.
Who’s going to make the Finals?
Serena Williams (3) vs. Agnieska Radwanska (4)
Serena Williams: This was a tough choice between her and Azarenka to make the final, but Serena is a stronger player when she’s at her best. Serena’s 6-0, 6-0 first round domination over a mediocre player is just a preview of what she is capable of. Anyone who’s ever watched women’s tennis before knows that Serena Williams is the #1 player in the world, whether she owns the ranking or not. Her quarter has some intriguing players such as Yanina Wickmayer and Maria Kirilenko, but she should be able to handle them. Her serve and forehand when they’re consistent are the most lethal in the women’s game. Kind of like Tiger Woods five to ten years ago, it’s never a bad bet to take Serena over the field.
Agnieska Radwanska: Radwanska has been highly ranked for the past five years, but the 23-year old stepped into a new spotlight last season, making the Wimbledon final and putting up a valiant three set fight against Serena. This was a tough choice between her and Na Li, but Radwanska’s unique balance of consistency and a powerful forehand gives her the edge. Her next match is against the up and coming Heather Watson and after that she takes on one of the Serbians, Ivanovic or Jankovic. If she gets by either of them I see a clear path to the finals. She will miss Sharapova because the Russian star will be exiting to the likes of Venus Williams, and if not her, Kerber.
Serena Williams (3) vs. Maria Sharapova (2)
Serena Williams: She has an extremely easy draw compared to Victoria Azarenka (1), Sharapova, and Radwanska (4). She blew by her first round opponent, Gallovits, 6-0 6-0, and knowing that she doesn’t need to play the (20) or (14) seed till the 4th round is very nice for her. There really is no threat to her with Kvitova getting knocked out.
Maria Sharapova: She has already rolled into the third round with two back to back 6-0 6-0 results. Up next, she surprisingly has to face Venus Williams (25). Regardless, I don’t think Venus poses enough of a threat for the title anymore and she’s obviously had a lot of issues with her health over the last couple of years. After Venus, Sharapova won’t have to face another seeded player if things go correctly till the quarterfinals. Facing Kerber (5), the young German in that round, I see a good opponent for Sharapova to prepare for who she has a 3-1 head to head record against in her career.
Winner: Maria Sharapova over Serena Williams 7-5, 6-4
Who’s poised to make a surprising run? (1 ranked and 1 unranked)
Sloane Stephens (29): The young 19-year old American is storming up the world rankings and looks like she’s taken the reins of being the next top American woman from Christina McHale. Stephens is in great shape and is a very athletic girl, with a fantastic forehand. With #8 Petra Kvitova getting knocked out, Stephens actually has a very favorable draw to make a run deep in this tournament.
Jie Zheng (Unranked): Zheng crushed the hearts of the Australian crowd knocking out hometown favorite Sam Stosur in the second round. Zheng is a former Australian Open semifinalist so she has the ability to make a run and beat ranked players. She’s going to have to stay hot, but there’s no pressure on her and she’s as talented as anyone she’s going to play. Also I want to give a special shout out to Kimiko Date Krumm who has a very reasonable draw, to keep winning. At 42 years old she’s the oldest woman ever to win a main draw match.
Caroline Wozniacki (10): Former world number 1 and still very young at the age of 22, look for Wozniacki to come in fresh as the pressure of being the number 1 no longer falls on her shoulders. She knows how to play in big matches, reaching the 2009 US open final and various semi finals and quarterfinals. She too could avoid the number 1 in Azarenka till the quarterfinals. Look for her to take advantage of her time as the only other top seeded person in her draw, Errani (7) was taken out in the 1st round.
Svetlana Kuznetsova (Unranked): My long shot pick, just 27 years old and a proven winner of the 2004 US Open and 2009 French Open. Early this year, after a comeback from missing the 2012 US Open, she upset former world number 1 Caroline Wozniacki. People aren’t expecting much of her, but Kuznetsova holds a lot of power and experience, two key factors that could lead her to a deep run in this year’s tournament.
Who will be exiting early than expected?
Maria Sharapova (2): I’ll keep this short. Sharapova is going to lose to Venus Williams in the third round. Sharapova hasn’t given up a game, but Venus has also been stellar in her two matches, and it’s a trap match for Sharapova. She’s getting a lot of attention which means the pressure is high, and everyone is counting Venus out because she’s old. All I’m going to say is never count out a Williams sister.
A. Radwanska (4): She goes into this one facing the unseeded Heather Watson of the UK in the 3rd round. Watson, a promising and budding potential star at the ripe age of 20 could potentially upset Radwanska in this match. It’ll take quite a solid performance but I see the crisp hitting Watson grabbing a sneaky 3-set win.