Aussie Open Preview

Now that the Grand Slam from Down Under is barely underway, I thought I would take this opportunity to preview the year’s first Slam and give my picks on the men’s and women’s side.

MEN

Pick: Rafael Nadal

Though a Federer-fan(atic) myself, I’ve got to go with Rafa this time. Let’s face the facts – Rafa’s taken home the trophy at the last three slams on three different surfaces (clay, grass, and hard).  His last loss (in a Slam) came at the Aussie Open last year, when he was ousted by Scot Andy Murray in the quarterfinals.  Keep in mind, Nadal was forced to retire in that match, down two sets and 3-0 in the third, due to a knee injury.

I know that the hard courts have been Rafa’s least favorite surface over the years (winning only 1 US Open and 1 Australian Open, compared to his 2 Wimbledon titles and 5 French Open titles), but I’ve got to believe that he’s set to prove everyone wrong, as he has been doing in the last couple of years.  Look for a rematch between Federer and Nadal in the final (something we haven’t seen since the 2009 Australian Open), with Nadal (once again) prevailing in 5 sets.

WOMEN

Pick: Caroline Wozniacki

With Serena out, I think Wozniacki has got to be the favorite.  She’s been the most consistent player on the tour over the last year, and I think it’s about time she wins her 1st Grand Slam.  I think that she’s never been passed the 4th round here, but she’s been successful on hard courts in her career (a finals and semi-finals finish in the last 2 US Opens) and I expect her to eek out in a close 3-set final against veteran Kim Clijsters.

BIGGEST STORY

Surprise, surprise folks.  Will we finally see that Rafa-Roger clash that we’ve all been waiting for?  As mentioned above, the two have not met in a Grand Slam final since the Aussie Open in 2009, when Nadal defeated Federer in 5 sets.  The last time they faced off in a non-Grand Slam event was at the year-end Masters in London, with Roger prevailing in 3 sets.

Now, let’s take a more in-depth look at the numbers highlighting their rivalry…

Age

Federer: 29 | Nadal: 24

Total Grand Slams

Federer: 16 | Nadal: 9

*Note that both Federer and Nadal have completed the career Grand Slam (winning all 4 majors).

Total Titles

Federer: 67 | Nadal: 43

Weeks at #1

Federer: 285 | Nadal: 78

Head-to-Head

Overall: 14-8 (Nadal)

Grand Slams: 6-2 (Nadal)

Five-set matches: 3-2 (Nadal)

By surface…

Clay courts: 10-2 (Nadal)

Hard courts: 4-3 (Federer)

Grass courts: 2-1 (Federer)

These numbers point to one basic conclusion – that while Federer’s overall resume is more impressive than Nadal’s, that the Spaniard has dominated the rivalry between the two (at least at the Grand Slams).  I’m not sure what means for who will go down in history as the better player, but I think that this question should be tabled for a couple more years.

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7 Responses to Aussie Open Preview

  1. Monika says:

    Gimme a break. Fed all the way. He killed Lukas Lacko last night – the same guy who handed Nadal a set at bagel in Doha. Fed is on fire. Playing close to the baseline. Attacking. He won’t let go of the title easily.

    Don’t call yourself a Federer fan(atic) when you’re really a Federer fan(not.)

  2. kidveesh says:

    Fed is done. Get with the times Monika. Not all of us were born in the early 80s.

  3. Ajay says:

    Nice blog post, Neil, but a few (preliminary) points, followed by a few more. First, the Australian Open is already under way. Second, you leave out the crucial “THIS” in the sentence beginning, “I’m not sure…” in your last paragraph. Third, the last time Nadal and Fed played (in a non-Slam) was at Abu Dhabi this year, where Rafa beat Fed in two straight sets. As for the larger points (to not miss the players for the ballboys, as it were), first, when you predict that Rafa will “prove everyone wrong,” as he has been, it should be noted that only those ([Fed] fan[anatic]s) who actually didn’t (don’t) realize what a phenomenal player Nadal is were (will be) proven wrong as, for example, the self-identified Fed Fanatic who just left a post. It’s usually (only) such ostriches that are subsequently “surprised” when reality (e.g., the one you note under your “head to head” stats) hits them in the face, as it were, who then go on to emulate their hero by way of excessive tears and generally sloppy behavior that usually requires them to go to another room (unless, of course, it’s Fed himself as, e.g., in his last head-to-head with Nadal at the ’09 Australian finals, where he just broke down on court, right in the middle of the awards ceremony, requiring Nadal to console him). As a final note (and an apt reflection on what I just noted, i.e., the fanaticism of Fed fan(atic)s, to celebrate a first round victory against a no-name player? Really. Precisely the kind of bad taste that informs not only Fed’s on-court (post-match) behavior but also his commercials, e.g., the ones in which he’s seen lugging off a cartload of trophies. (I should also note here that such vainglorious ads are particularly funny when they air just after Fed loses, something that -gasp!- has been happening more and more frequently in recent years, another key point that you (conveniently?) omit from your “stats,” dear Neil.

    Bottom line (as you note, dear Neil): Last year, Fed won all of one slam, while Nadal won three (on three different surfaces – something even Laver, in his heyday, was unable to do). Nadal will go on to win this year’s Australian, especially (as the stats bear out) if he plays Fed in the final!

    • Grown says:

      This match was as edge-of-your-seat as they GET. Verdasco BROUGHT IT to Nadal, big time. He was on fire and had an answer for narely everything that Nadal brought his way. It was a phenomenal display of top notch tennis from two remarkably talented Spaniards. Whatever training Verdasco did in Vegas with Gil Reyes and his talk with Agassi obviously WORKED! I was so pleased to see Rafa through to the final after an epic match. This was worth waking up at 3:30am for – worth every second of lost sleep. If only more matches could be like this. Verdasco deserves HUGE applause for is performance and Nadal equally so for answering the challenge. And, yes, I did notice at the end of that very last game that Rafa had a look I’ve rarely seen on his face until AFTER a match. He looked emotionally pained and close to tears…it was very moving. Lots of respect back and forth between these two.

  4. pakastallion says:

    I am still trying to figure out if I enjoyed the article more, or the piercing commentary of one “Ajay.” While Federererer may have the better overall career, I think Nadal is the better tennis player. Having said that, neither of these distinguished men of the racket could hold the Hobikian sensation’s -Michael Chang- head band in his heyday.

  5. To my lamenters and dissenters alike, I offer the following in response:

    Monika —

    I’m not sure Fed’s easy win over L2 says much about his chances to win the Aussie Open, but I think you make a good point about his (new) attacking style. I think you’re alluding to him working with Paul Annacone (who, by the way, coached Sampras at the end of his career), who has instilled more of an “attack-first” mindset into Fed’s strategy. While I think this new strategy is Fed’s best bet against Nadal, I’m not sure that he’ll be able to sustain over a 5-set match. For example, he was working with Annacone all last summer and into the Open last fall, and while he showed flashes of this new game-plan, he fell back to his baseline tactics in the semis, where he feel to the Djoker.

    KidVeesh —

    For the record, Monika’s a late 70s product. But in other news, I think Federer still has a lot in the tank. He’s past his prime, but I still think he’s got a couple more Slams in him.

    Ajay —

    Good to see that you’re getting a lot of love on the blog. Hopefully that will impel you to write more regularly. Now, to your points —

    1) Thanks for the formal edits. Always appreciate it.

    2) Minor points. You’re right on Abu Dhabi, but let’s be clear. It was an exhibition tournament (which does not generate ATP points for either player), with 6 players and both Rafa and Roger were given “byes” in the 1st round. Also, those “two straight sets” were also two (tiebreak) sets, unlike the 6-1 decisive third set Roger handed Rafa in the year-end (non-exhibition) Masters in London.

    3) Ok. People shouldn’t be surprised that Nadal is doing what he’s doing. Fine, fine. He’s proved (at least in the last year) that he’s the best player in tennis, and so he should be the hands-down favorite to win the Aussie Open. But keep in mind, Roger still holds the head-to-head edge over Rafa on hard courts, and only 2 of Rafa’s Grand Slam victories have come on hard courts.

    4) About the crying incident @ the Aussie Open final in 2009. You’re right. Fed cried. Nadal consoled him. And I know you love it. But last I checked, it was Fed, not Nadal, who was hoisting the Champions trophy at the Grand Slam from Down Under last year.

    5) To your point about celebrating the win over L2, fine, but I think her point is less that he beat L2 and more that he’s incorporating the Annacone strategy into his game (but, I won’t put words in her mouth). Not to mention, I think I’ve received an email or two in the past from you, drooling over a 1st round Nadal drubbing.

    6) About the stats on Roger commercials and him losing, I spent 5-6 hours last night trying to find those, but I couldn’t come up with anything. But if you figure it out, let me know for sure. Or you can start keeping count now. Whatever floats your boat.

    P.S. Ajay, how bout your BOY Gulbis’s big 3-set loss in the 1st round? I was waiting for your celebratory email this morning, but noticed it was conspicuously missing.

  6. Ajay says:

    Dear Neil,

    1. Formal edits: In the last line of your response to Monika, it should be, “where he FELL to the Djoker,” rather than “where he feel to the Djoker” (we all feel the Djoker but that’s beside the point).

    2. Minor points: exhibition or no, a. a match is a match, b. it was the last time they played, c. tiebreak or no, Rafa won (besides, the TB only proves, yet again, Rafa’s superiority in the clutch – see every Grand Slam final he’s played against Fed for more re: this).

    3. Roger has a head to head advantage over Rafa on hard courts? Not in Grand Slam finals, baby!

    4. Don’t get so upset, Neil. It’s just a game.

    5. To come down to brass tacks (re: Rafa’s and Roger’s respective first round wins) 6-0, 5-0 > 6-1, 6-1, 6-3. Not that I (unlike some) am “celebrating,” let alone “drooling” over this, merely pointing it out.

    6. Regarding the aforementioned Roger commericial, here’s the link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OQbyDGHlTd4 (it took me all of 10 seconds to find it. Poor Neil – you’re either trying too hard or I don’t know what)

    As for the p.s. re: Gulbis, whatever.

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