Tenaciously Tennis

Australian Open 2011 Predictions: ATP Tour

Note: Please see my most recent predictions for the ATP tour’s 2011 Australian Open here.

With just two days until the Australian Open begins, it’s time to predict the finalists with a bracket-by-bracket breakdown. Will a recently ailing Rafael Nadal overcome any physical woes to take his fourth straight major title? Maybe Roger Federer feels the need to get to his first Grand Slam final since his win Down Under last year. Then, there’s the rest of the tour aching for a title. Here goes the potential results of the year’s Australian Open.

Rafael Nadal’s Section:

As the top seed and winner of the 2008 Australian Open, Nadal has proven he can take the title once more, especially with the win at the US Open against Djokovic in September. Nadal has a relatively easy draw as his first match against a seeded player pits him against compatriot Feliciano Lopez, a man he owns in their career head-to-head. That is, if Lopez, who lost to Nadal in straight sets in the fourth round of the US Open, can even make it that far. He’s lost an astounding eight-of-ten matches, since losing to Nadal. Although the seventh-seeded David Ferrer looks formidable with a win over David Nalbandian in the Auckland finals, Nadal hasn’t lost to him since 2007.

The only foreseeable obstacle standing in the number one’s way, therefore, is Nadal’s own health. He lost in a lopsided affair to Nikolai Davydenko in the Doha semifinals, but came back to win the doubles title.

Ones to Watch: John Isner, who helped the United States win the Hopman Cup, could put together some wins to get to the fourth round. He’ll potentially meet Marin Cilic, last year’s semifinalist along the way. The tenth-seeded Youzhny also lurks in the bottom half. Lleyton Hewitt, who made it to the fourth round last year, also appears in the bottom half, but faces Nalbandian first.

Bottom Line: Nadal has a ticket to the quarterfinals.

Robin Soderling’s Section:

Fresh off a title, Soderling is a dangerous fourth-seed. Having never made it past the second round, there may be some doubts. That, however, should change with a pretty comfortable draw until he meets Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in a possible fourth round match.

At the bottom of the section, Murray, last year’s finalist cannot be discounted. He won his last three matches at the Hopman Cup. He’ll be in the fourth round, where he might meet a number of solid-looking players.

Ones to Watch: Besides Tsonga, things look clear for Soderling at the top of this section. Murray’s half, however, seems stronger with 2006 finalist Marcos Baghdatis and the 2009 US Open champion Juan Martin Del Potro back after a wrist injury both present. Jurgen Melzer, seeded eleventh, may also put up a strong effort as his semifinal appearance at last year’s French Open and subsequent fourth round finishes at Wimbledon and the US Open illustrated.

Bottom Line: Soderling and Murray should get to the quarterfinals. There, it’s tough to say who will win. Murray edges Soderling with a recent victory at Barclays in their 3-2 career head-to-head. They’ve never played at a major, however, so endurance will also play heavily into the match. In that case, I see Murray advancing to join Nadal.

Novak Djokovic’s Section:

Things get tougher here with a slew of talented players. Djokovic, however, shines through, having won his last five matches between the Hopman Cup and the Davis Cup at the end of last year. His trip to the US Open final against Nadal also proves relevant along with his lone major title at the Australian Open in 2008. His biggest challenges come against Sydney finalist and compatriot Viktor Troicki in the fourth round. Djokovic, however, probably won’t have a problem. He’s defeated Troicki six straight matches in their seven match head-to-head.

Ones to Watch: For sixth-seeded Tomas Berdych, a cast of characters could prevent him from getting far in the draw, such as the American Ryan Harrison, the resurgent Richard Gasquet and Kei Nishikori, who now has Brad Gilbert on his team. Nikolai Davydenko and Fernando Verdasco also loom in potential fourth-round matches.

Bottom Line: Djokovic looks like a clear favorite into the fourth round. For Berdych, that’s not the case at all. I’ll go with Davydenko defeating Verdasco as he boasts a 7-1 head-to-head against the ninth-seed.

Roger Federer’s Section:

Federer, like Nadal, won’t have it too hard to get into the second week of the Sunny Slam. He’ll need to beat a number of Americans to do it, but that shouldn’t pose any threat. He owns Andy Roddick (21-2), Sam Querrey (2-0), and Mardy Fish (6-1) in their respective head-to-heads.

Ones to Watch: Gael Monfils and Chennai winner Stanislas Wawrinka also appear in Federer’s section.

Bottom Line: This is Federer’s chance to advance to the quarterfinals without dropping a set. Can Andy Roddick fight through, too?

In the Quarterfinals:

With these predictions, we’ll see Nadal facing Ferrer; Soderling against Murray; Davydenko against Djokovic; and Federer versus Roddick.

In the Semifinals:

Here, I see Nadal against Murray and Federer versus Djokovic to emerge as the final four.


Nishikori Kicks Off Year with Win Over Cilic

Posted in Brad Gilbert,Kei Nishikori,Marin Cilic by Ben on January 4, 2011

Kei Nishikori, who recently hired Brad Gilbert as coach, upset the second-seeded Marin Cilic in the first round of the Chennai Open. Nishikori won 4-6, 7-6 (0), 6-2. Cilic was the tournament’s two-time defending champion.

A recent Associated Press article quoted Nishikori: “I was nervous, first match for me … new coach, new trainer. It was a good match today.”

About changes to his game, Nishikori continued that his goal is “not to miss easy balls, not doing crazy stuff… (to play) more percentage tennis. In the second set I tried to make most of my first serves… I was making him move.”

As another article about the match states, “The world number 98 improved his head-to-head against the Croatian to 2-1, adding to his upset win at the 2010 US Open in five sets.”

While it’s too soon to praise Brad Gilbert’s coach for the win, I wouldn’t be surprised if Nishikori continues his strong play into the next couple rounds (and probably beyond, too). As his surprise run to the 2008 US Open fourth-round showed, and even his third-round showing in 2010, Nishikori has the ability to beat the best. If he remains injury-free, he might just join the ranks of the ATP’s top-tier soon enough.

Watch the video below for Nishikori’s five-set win over Cilic in the second round of the 2010 US Open.

What Brad Gilbert Can Do for Nishikori in 2011

Brad Gilbert, the former coach to Andre Agassi, Andy Murray, and Andy Roddick will be Kei Nishikori’s traveling coach for 2011. After some rough results due to an elbow injury, Gilbert’s world-class coaching could be just what Nishikori needs to get his form back.

Currently ranked 98 in the world, Nishikori enjoyed a career-high ranking of 56 in February 2009 before sustaining the injury that has plagued his career since. Nishikori put together some strong wins to get that respectable ranking. He surprised many after qualifying for the Delray Beach tournament as the 244th-ranked player in the world. Then, he Bobby Reynolds and Sam Querrey among others before  beating the top seed James Blake in the finals. The title meant a Japanese man’s first in 16 years. A few months later, he advanced to the fourth-round showing at the US Open in his debut there.

Nishikori has the ability and the drive to take his game to the top. He made it to the third round of this year’s US Open, and it’ll be interesting to see Gilbert’s influence on his game. At just 20, Nishikori still has a long time left on tour. It’ll be important for him to exercise every aspect of his game with Gilbert in case the relationship doesn’t last past the 15 tournaments in 2011.

According to a recent piece, “Nishikori will also continue to travel with his full-time coach, Dante Bottini, but will spend a week at Gilbert’s home in California before heading to the tournament in Chennai, which begins at the start of 2011. Gilbert will not coach him there, but will be with him at the tournament in Adelaide and at the Australian Open.”

Therefore, Gilbert is starting with the biggest events with Nishikori. Should he continue his strong form from the US Open and make a breakthrough at the Australian Open — his best showing is the first round — expect strong showings throughout the year to prove Nishikori’s back.

It’s always a great story when a player comes back from injury, makes big changes, and succeeds. I think Nishikori will embody that feel-good story in the coming months.

Team Changes: Federer and Murray Get New Coaches

It’s been recently announced that world number three Roger Federer and world number four Andy Murray have made some major decisions in their coaching going into the US Open Series. Federer, who’s been without a full-tim coach since he split with Tony Roche in 2007, is partnering up with Pete Sampras’ former go-to guy, Paul Annacone. Andy Murray, however, called it quits with Miles Maclagan — his full-time coach after ending his partnership with Brad Gilbert.

For Federer, the decision signals possible unease with two quarterfinal losses at the French Open and Wimbledon, events he dominated last year. As a result, the 16-time Grand Slam champion has fallen in the rankings, while rival Rafael Nadal finds himself in a commanding top spot. Yes, Federer won the Australian Open, but he’s going to need to get to the semifinals at the US Open at the least to save the year from being marked as the beginning of the end. Personally, I think he has more Grand Slam titles in him — at least enough to make it to 20 in total. We’ll see how Annacone factors into the next couple months.

As for Murray, firing Maclagan shows frustration with his game to an extent. Two times, Murray had the chance to win a Grand Slam title, and both times he was ousted easily by Federer. Murray replaced Maclagan, his coach for less than three years, with Alex Corretja, a player who got to two French Open finals. Corretja has been Murray’s part-time coach for about two years now.

According to a recent article on, “the three men [Murray, Maclagan, and Corretja] were finding it difficult to work together. Although Maclagan was Murray’s main coach, Corretja had been working with the team as a coaching adviser since May 2008, and will continue on a part-time basis in the build-up to the US Open.” Whatever the reason, let’s hope the change benefits Murray, who’s been having a great year, despite some lopsided losses in the late stages of the big events. For instance, Nadal beat Murray 6–4, 7–6 (6), 6–4 in the Wimbledon semis, before winning the title against Tomas Berdych.

Will these changes for the top men prove successful as the summer hard court season continues? We’ll have to wait and see. I’ll be judging the switch-ups based on their performance at the US Open in September.

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