Hey all, the start of the new tennis season is edging closer and closer with Brisbane, Qatar and Chennai all starting at the end of December, those tournaments don't matter a great deal as they're just tune ups for the main event so I thought I'd look even further ahead to the Australian Open which starts on January 14th.
That's also the first time we'll be be seeing Roger on court as he's skipping Qatar and opting for the practise courts instead. With a somewhat disappointing indoor season I'll take a look at what can we expect from Federer in Australia and also discuss whether or not Djokovic is nigh on unbeatable down under.
How will Federer perform in Melbourne?
Roger last won the Aus Open in 2010 and since then it's been a disappointing tournament for him as far as I'm concerned. He's played well in the early rounds the last 2 years, almost looking invincible, before losing to Djokovic in straight sets in 2011 and then crumbling to Nadal in 4 sets in 2012.
I personally think we'll see something similar again this year, the surface has been slowing down each year and that doesn't help him. Roger had his best years on the ReboundAce surface and I've pulled out a quote from Roger in 2008, the year the surface changed to Plexicushion, that sums up both my thoughts, and his on the matter:
I think the surface is a little bit too slow, in my opinion, everything is already slowing down. Everybody's already complaining that, you know, we're playing too much from the baseline. So we'll only see more of that here in Australia, that's for sure.
I'm not writing him off but I just think his chances are greater at other slams later in the year, I think really Roger's chances boil down to the three things:
- The speed of the courts
- Whether he's refreshed after looking burnt out at the end of last season
- How short he can keep the points
As I mentioned above, the courts in Australia aren't the quickest which doesn't really suit Roger's naturally attacking game. If he runs into great retrievers like Nadal and Djokovic then I can see problems for him. For the first 30 minutes of last years semi final Roger played tactically brilliant against Nadal but then fell back into old habits and lost the plot, spraying his forehand and allowing Nadal back into it. The same happens with Djokovic who is able to stay in so many points and Roger can't hit as many winners as he'd like.
The second factor is how Roger has recovered in the off season, he looked burnt out in Shanghai, Basel and the World Tour Finals so it's important he's recharged the batteries. He looked full of beans at the Exhibitions in South America so hopefully a relaxing Christmas and then some practise sessions will allow him to hit the ground running when he get's back into competitive play.
The most important factor in that list above is how short Federer can keep the points, this is important on all 4 surfaces but in Australia it's almost paramount to his chances. This is because the surface in Australia ruffs up the new balls incredibly quickly and that slows them down significantly.
Fluffed up balls get heavier and travel through the air slower, that means longer rallies and that plays into the hands of players like Murray, Djokovic and Nadal. Slow courts and slow balls is a bad bad combination. If Roger can keep the points short, he naturally plays more confidently and he also keeps the balls fresher, which when serving out a set, could be mission critical as they'll fly through the air much quicker. I'd probably go as far as saying that Roger's chances of success in Australian hinge on how short he can keep the points. Any drawn out baseline rallies and I don't think it ends well for him.
Side note: I know it's very early but I made a prediction early in 2012 on the blog that I'd be judging Roger's season on his Wimbledon performance, that turned out to be a wise move. This time around I'm doing something similar and I think the US Open is the one to watch next year and that's the tournament that I think will define his season. I thought I'd get it in early 😉 as it will also serve as a reminder to not get too downbeat if there's some tough losses in the early part of the season.
Is Djokovic Unbeatable on Plexicushion?
The big worry if you're a Federer fan is Djokovic, his record in Melbourne since the surfaces changed is imperious. I've said on forums and on twitter you get the feeling he's almost unbeatable on it these days.
Since 2008 he's won 3 of the last 5 Australian Opens, he's only dropped 16 sets since 2008 (winning 88 sets) and he only dropped 1 set en route to his first win in 08 and then again on his win in 2011. Those are solid stats.
Last year he defeated an inspired Andy Murray in 5 sets and then went onto out slog Nadal in a marathon final which will no doubt give him a lot of confidence when he returns there in January. The surface suits his game down to a tee; it's slow, which allows him to retrieve very well, but you can still play offensively on it which he often tries to do off the backhand wing. Novak is also great at still keeping his shots somewhat offensive even when he's defending and that always seems to work well for him in Australia.
Really you have to say that Australia for Djokovic is almost like Wimbledon for Federer. It's where he won his first slam, he gets support over there and he just seems to be at home on Rod Laver Arena. It's kind of strange because he used to struggle with the heat, even retiring in 2009 because of it but since then it's become a second home for him and from what I've seen he looks more comfortable in Australia than at any other Grand Slam.
The way I see it, I think it's tough to see past Djokovic winning his 4th title come the end of January. Upsets can happen but it's going to take something special to really upset him. Perhaps Roger is the only one capable of doing that to be honest. Nadal and Murray can and have beaten him in Grand Slams before but if Novak is really on form then I think he beats both those guys, they're almost reliant on his level dropping to be in with a shout.
Whatever happens it should be an interesting start to the year, it's Murray's first slam since his maiden US Open Victory, it's Nadal's comeback slam after a lengthy layoff, Djokovic is wanting to defend his title and stamp his authority down as the best player in the world and then we have Federer, playing without too much expectation but definitely wanting to put in a good performance to get his year off to a good start after a somewhat disappointing year end. All those things add up to provide some top class entertainment and I'm looking forward to it.
What are your expectations for Federer in Australia? Do you think Djokovic is unbeatable on plexicushion?