Ok I'm a little late with this but there's still enough time to sneak this in. In a little shy of 20 minutes, the first Slam of the year gets under way, one where for the first time in 5 years Federer much to his annoyance, goes in not as 'The One', but joint favourite with a certain 'Flying Scotsman'.
As in the past questions will be answered (Djoko's rather 'Heady' decision to change his racquet for one - a poor pun yes, though not as poor as the decision itself), fortunes will be made (we're ripe for another breakthrough - I too like 2Hander can feeeeel the electricity in the air) and hopes are almost certain to be dashed. Tennis Blogs have for weeks now been awash with the usual swath of will-they-won't-they predictions charting the entire span of opinions on rivalries, breakthroughs, comebacks and decline.
I agree with some - Nadal is ripe for some hard court ecstasy this year, maybe not at this Open, although it wouldn't surprise me considering the performance he gave at the AbuDhabi Exo at the beginning of the year. Disagree with others - Verdasco as convincing as he's been in Brisbane, remains for me a kind of overachiever, who though a little underrated at times has probably already reached his career high ranking at #11; he may still make the occasional Wawrinka-like foray into the top ten, but will I suspect remain more famous for his off-court partnership with Miss Ivanovic.
It was in the midst of all this, quite refreshing to see this set of anti-predictions from Mr Bodo, and though I agree with his list, I do find the presence of certain names on it a little unsettling, not least the guy in whose honour it was compiled.
I wanted to do something in the middle of these two extremes. So here's a list of players I'll be looking out to go out there in Melbourne and do the unthinkable: go against the grain of prevalent thought. There's a few in there (Nadal for instance) that I'm actually really hoping come through. Some of these are quite personal and consist of players whom I've not so much written off, but can never a-la Verdasco, reasonably expect to pull off the unexpected. There's also, perhaps predictably, the usual set of headcases: tortured (and not so) geniuses that have more talent than they know what to productively do with on court. I'd like members of this group to come through, but have been disappointed so many times, I feel it's time to begin baiting them and really rile them into some kind of form. And then there's those whom I unashamedly dislike: mostly for their style of play and occasionally their personality (sometimes a distasteful mix of both).
To that last group in particular, I defiantly invite you to make a liar out of me. I don't believe you can make good on the positive press you sometimes get, but like I say to everyone on this list: go ahead and prove me wrong...
I thought it better to use the more common variant of his first name than a different word suggesting 'a want of mental competence' that springs rhymingly to mind. That really would be unfair as it's not an accurate depiction of him or his problems. But I'm tired Reeshee; people are probably bored of hearing me say this, but it is something akin to high treason that you've only gone beyond the fourth round of a Slam once in your career. Once.
Well to blazes with your backhand and other stylish strokes which your on court record is making less picturesque day by day. I serve you notice: A Slam quarter or a Masters final by the end of the French Open. Anything less will see you in my very own version of Room 101, where you'll be subjected to such gruesome sights as Radek Stepanek's forehand and repeated replays of Azarenka banging away from the baseline. You have been warned.
A little Lleyton-the-day Hewitt
I'd love to be proved wrong about this. I wouldn't normally act as an agent of doom for Rusty as despite some of his more questionable episodes, I've been a long running fan and (aside from a few moments where he frankly should have known better) have grown to like his rather untamed 'Lord of the Flies' brand of brutishness he brings to tennis.
Whether its the primaeval 'CAHM-ONs', the crouching fist pumps to the ground (which feel a little too much like the delivering of a death blow to a defeated foe) or the controversial 'Vicht' salute there's plenty to like or dislike about the man depending on which side of the fence you are on.
But facts are facts and the particular fact that remains in my mind is that his tennis simply didn't keep up with the times, and he was already an ailing force on tour before the recent problems he's had with his hip.
So sorry Lleyton - and once again PLEASE prove me wrong - but unlike your Dorando-Pietri like, marathon performance against Baghdatis last year, I don't expect to see you in the second week.
Rafael 'The-New-Me' Nadal
Nike are clearly taking their rebranding of Nadal very seriously. It hasn't gone down well with everyone, but it's not the only change we may see in 2009.
He's been undergoing some more fundamental changes to his game, the reasoning and underpinning philosophy of which it's difficult to disagree with, but which many have observed may turn him into more of a beatable force on tour.
I believe at least some of these changes are both welcome and necessary (shortening points, more forays to the net - not sure about the re-architected forehand motion) and may prove pivotal in his quest for that ever elusive hard court title. I predicted 'good things' for him on hard courts this year - but surprise me Rafael - let's see you do it right out of the blocks and go all the way in Melbourne.
Ana 'Its All Fernando's Fault' Ivanovic
I think you all know my opinions on the baseline bashing so prevalent in the WTA these days; and since I've done my fair share of Ana-bashing since the inception of this blog, I'm going to turn a new leaf.
We all know the levels of quality and variety in Womens Tennis are a little wanting right now, so as far as I'm concerned anyone that can take advantage of that (except Victoria Azarenka, see below) is entitled to do so; and in her defence she has done a lot of work on that suspect movement of hers and does has a very classic-looking forehand (there's rather too many lassoos on tour for my liking) that is a strong candidate for the best in Women's Tennis.
So while I still strongly believe you lack variety, while despite some much needed improvements, your movement is still not and may never be your strongest point, and while you (all too frequently) unravel mentally quicker than a yo-yo, I will on this occasion spare you my criticism and instead invite you to let your racquet do the talking. Do yourself and your fans a favour by digging yourself out of this mire you've been in since your first Slam last year. It is only a mire, not the Everglades. In this era you do belong in the top five.
What's that? No coach needed, you say? Glad to see you're getting into the spirit of things.
Novak 'Heady' Djokovic
It's not just me that doesn't understand his reasons for ditching a racquet he won a Slam with. Money? If that's the case, sack your financial adviser as that's so short term a view of things its positively claustrophobic. Let me put this into perspective for you:
- You won a Slam with it (forget I already said that - you need the mental reinforcement)
- You beat Roger Federer with it at the height of his powers (no I don't mean the mono-Fed, I mean your encounter with him in Montreal 2007)
- You beat Rafa with it
- Want more? - you were at the beginning of 2008, considered the best hard court player in the world, and that's before your first Slam.
Anyway there's a lot more confusion in my mind about where Djoko's game is at, than can be explained way in terms of simple equipment choices. Put simply I don't think he will follow up on last year. He'll be lucky to make the quarters.
Like many, I had her pegged as a more enduring top tenner. And in the absence of Henin and Sharapova, she seems in my mind capable of the type of success Safina had last year.
But Nicole, you've now sunk so low and for so long that your form by rights now, should only go up. Aside from Serena Williams and the sound of Azarenka's voice, your section of the draw doesn't appear particularly threatening.
I haven't written you off yet, but there's only so long a period out in the cold that you can theoretically tolerate (you're no Serena who can win a Slam ranked #81 in the world and totally out of shape) so silence the naysayers and set the records straight, it won't be long before I join their ranks.
Fernando 'Its All Ana's Fault' Verdasco
See above (third paragraph) for my view on Fernando. I doubt very much I'll see you in many SWOS's this year - that's second-week-of-a-slam for those of you still interested enough to read this far. But go ahead Fernando. Show us that you're really hotter than the potency suggested by the small print on your bottle of sauce. I'll eat my words - and some chilli sauce in your honour.
More anti-picks coming your way tomorrow (let's hope they aren't out before I post tomorrow!), but the Open is due to get under a way in less than an hour and my head hurts...