Below are Chris’ picks for the men’s singles draw. (Printable draw here:
You can’t bet against top seed Roger Federer. He opens against the dreamy Diego Hartfield, who gave R-Fed two tight sets in the first round at Roland Garros in 2006. This time, Diego will be blown out of the water.
One of the most interesting first round match-ups is Fabrice Santoro against John Isner. Isner hasn’t quite developed his slam chops, so I’ll tip my hat to Fabrice. That, and I’m secretly gunning for the guaranteed entertainment of Federer versus the Frenchman in the following round.
Roger’s semi appearance is a given, but it’s tough picking for the other slot because there are seven former slam finalists in this half. Instinct says to pick one of those guys…
Djokovic: Nole is the highest seed and the logical choice, but I think he’s due for a sophomore slump and I didn’t find his play at the Hopman Cup all that impressive. [Erwin: not to mention his back is already misbehaving.]
Hewitt: God bless him, but surface change or not (and backed by Tony Roche or not), the Aussie hope will be lucky to get to the Round of 16. He should just pass things on to Chris Guccione and have some fun.
Safin: With Marat, as always, it all depends on who shows up, plus he comes in with not having played a professional match since his loss to Ivo Karlovic in last October’s TMS Madrid. He could very easily go out to his first round opponent, up-and-comer (and Aussie Open first-timer) Ernests Gulbis. Hey Vern, I pick the kid to win this one.
Johansson: The Swede hasn’t mattered since his eye injury and he plays Baghdatis in the first round.
Nalbandian: The Argentine is suspect due to his back.
Ferrero: Juanqui has a tricky first round against Kiefer, but the Spaniard should get through.
Baghdatis: Marcos has played well at Kooyong this week and will come into the Open with that momentum. I pick Baghdatis him to make it past Johansson and Gulbis on his way to the semifinals.
Aside from those seven, there’s also David Ferrer. He’s mellowed significantly compared to his year-end play (vying for TMC Shanghai against Roger), but if he gets hot he has a chance to get to the semis.
Dark horses: My dark horses in this half are Dmitry Tursunov and Gooch -– who just happen to be meeting in the Sydney finals this week. This match will probably be an indication if my dark horse selection is accurate.
Tursunov’s biggest challenge would be Djokovic in the third round, but maybe that’s when Djoko’s sophomore slump fails the Serbian? And if the seeds hold up, Guccione has big upset potential against streaky Gonzo in the second round; then Almagro, who’s never made it out of the first round in Melbourne; then either Blake or Ljubicic in the Round of 16. I’m going to bet (which I can do. But not you, Potito Starace!) on James or Ivan not playing their best. Gooch makes it to the quarters.
Mostly a boring bottom (hyuk) half, but there are a few gems like the potential Round of 16 match between Richard Gasquet and this year’s Doha champ, Andy Murray. Andy will be tested by his tough first round match-up against surging Jo-Wilfred Tsonga. If the Scot makes it through that, he’s through to the semis.
Murray’s quarterfinal opponent won’t be fourth seed Kolya Davydenko, who hasn’t shaken off the betting scandal and could lose to Adelaide champ Michael Llodra. Despite Youzhny and Karlovic (that’s the Croatian word for “tie breaker”), I pick Stanislas Wawrinka to make it through to the quarters for a rematch of the Doha final.
In the final two quarters, only three names matter: Andy Roddick, Rafa Nadal, and Mardy Fish. I like the way Mardy looked at the Hopman and he did well in Melbourne last year. He’ll go out to Roddick in the Round of 16 in a fun and friendly encounter.
Nadal’s health and fitness I think will be a non-issue here and his biggest roadblock to the quarterfinals is fellow mallorquín Carlos Moya. They had a tight match (three tiebreaks) sets earlier this year in Chennai, but Nadal should take this one in four.
Despite Murray’s recent form, the Australian heat takes it’s toll on him and we see the Murray of old — Crampy McCramps — lose to Roddick in three. [Erwin: but what about all that Bikram yoga he’s been doing?]
Quarterfinals: Federer d. Guccione, Baghdatis d. Ferrer, Murray d. Wawrinka, Roddick d. Nadal
Semifinals: Federer d. Baghdatis, Roddick d. Murray
Final: Roddick d. Federer. I know, I know, that’s a pretty big limb I’m on but I don’t think Federer is coming into the Open at 100% and Roddick will be riding his wave of confidence from his Kooyong success. Making it all the more bittersweet will be the fact that Roddick finally gets his win in Melbourne, and not under the Flushing Meadows.
What do you think of Chris’ picks? Tell us!