Friday, January 29, 2010

Australian Open: Final Weekend Predictions

I didn’t have great luck with my predictions on Day 1 but in my defense, it had been long since we had them play a Grand Slam (especially given the hectic tennis calendar). Nonetheless, I’ve had better luck since and am here with my predictions for the final weekend.
The matches we have, and my predictions for the winners are:

Mixed Doubles Final:
Ekaterina Makarova and Jaroslav Levinsky v/s Cara Black and Leander Paes
The unseeded Europeans come up against the top seeded pair in this final. Black and Paes had a tough semi final and at many times looked like they could be out of it, but came through after two tough tie breaks and a super tie break. In sharp contrast, Makarova and Levinsky cruised through the first set without dropping a game, lost the second set and came back strong to win the super tie break 10-8. It’s a tough call between the two, but I think the pair from India/Zimbabwe will pull through, if only on experience.
Prediction: Black and Paes in the super tie break.
Men’s Doubles Final:                                               
Bob Bryan and Mike Bryan v/s Daniel Nestor and Nenad Zimonjic
Both the ladies and the men’s doubles finals have the World Number 1 and 2 teams facing off. In the ladies side, it was the number 2 pair of the Williamses winning it, but it may be a different story here. The Bryan brothers are high on confidence, it is their first Grand Slam tournament since they got back their number 1 ranking, and they’re hungry to hold on to it. Both teams had tough quarter finals, making it through on tie breaks, but the Bryans did it a little bit better. They should be adequately rested for this final though, having relatively simple semi finals. It’ll be interesting to see who takes the first set, as it may set the tone of the match.
Prediction: Bryan and Bryan in the three tough fought sets.
Ladies Singles Final:
Serena Williams v/s Justine Henin
The wildcard Justine Henin has shown the true spirit of the game. Coming back after her 20 month self imposed exile, Henin in already in her second consecutive championship match. On the way to the Aussie Open Final this year, she has claimed the scalps of Jie Zheng, Elena Dementieva (in the second round, no less), Yanina Wickmayer and Nadia Petrova (who took out reigning US Open queen, Kim Clijsters). She’s toiled through some of them, used tact through others, but in her semi final match against Zheng, she used sheer class and brilliance and walked all over her opponent 6-1, 6-0, not dropping a single game after the opener.
Serena Williams however, is quite another story. She’s a genius player, she’s a fighter, and she’s a winner. Defending champion here, she recently became world number 1 and is the top seed also. She just defended her doubles crown with sister Venus. And she is looking for her fifth Australian Open Championship. She had a tough match with Na Li in the semi final, but came through after two tie breaks. She knows the ropes, she has the experience, and she has the desire.
It’s as tough a call as any between these two with Serena leading the head to head 7-6. It is interesting to note though, that in the last five times these two have played each other, as well as the last five Grand Slam meetings they’ve had, Henin leads 3-2. This is the first time they play each other in the Australian Open, but as Henin said, if she wants to become a Grand Slam champion again, it is only fitting that she beat the best in the world to do it.
Prediction: Henin in three sets.
Men’s Singles Final:
Roger Federer v/s Andy Murray
The match that everyone wanted at last year’s Wimbledon will finally be played out on Sunday at the Rod Laver Arena. Andy Murray, the longest time contender has to prove he isn’t in fact just another pretender. Federer has a chance to make it 16.
Andy Murray has made it quietly through his draw. Without much fuss, without much expectation, the Scottish lab, who had a relatively flip floppy last year, rising as high as number 2 and subsequently falling to 5, has made it through to the final, pretty much unscathed. The one big hurdle in his way, defending champion Rafael Nadal, succumbed to a knee injury in their quarter final, and Murray must’ve heaved a sigh of relief. Marin Cilic, who had to go through Juan Martin Del Potro and Roddick, not to mention a brilliant Bernard Tomic, could not match the Scot in their semi final, and despite his early lead, and perhaps due to fatigue from his many five set matches, fell to Murray in four sets. For the second time in his career, Andy Murray is at the brink of tasting Grand Slam success.
Roger Federer has had the toughest draw amongst the top seeds, starting off with Igor Andreev. He dropped a set to Andreev, but shook off the early nerves, and marched on 6-0 in the fourth set to wrap up the match. He had an easy couple of matches against Victor Hanescu and Albert Montanes before he reached the round of 16. Federer was placed against former world number 1 and 22nd seed Lleyton Hewitt. The difference in their rankings wasn’t key though, as everyone knows a Grand Slam Champion on a good day is as good as any other player in the world. Federer played unbelievable tennis though, and walked out of that match in straight sets as well. Federer’s biggest challenge also came in the quarter finals. Playing the always dangerous Nikolay Davydenko, who beat him in their last two meetings, Federer himself admitted he was worried his streak of 22 consecutive Grand Slam Singles Semi Finals might be broken. The match started off on a misstep though, and the harsh sunlight and a slew of unforced errors, meant the World No. 1 was down two breaks on his way to losing the first set. The second set seemed to follow suit, until at 2-3, and down a break, something happened. Federer went on to win the next 11 games on his way to leading 2-6 6-3 6-0 1-0. The fourth set was tough though, as Davydenko fought back, and the two traded breaks until Federer finally found a way to wrap things up at 7-5. The semi final was as easy as it could get as Federer routinely broke the Tsonga serve, without offering a single break chance on his own service. In straight sets, and perhaps his best form of the tournament so far, Federer won 6-2 6-3 6-2 in less than 90 minutes.
Murray leads the head to head, 6-4 but in their only other Grand Slam meeting at the 2008 US Open Final, Federer won in a relatively simple straight sets. Federer also recently broke the Murray four match winning streak against him with back to back wins in Cincinati and London. With their current tournament form, and Federer’s ruthless annihilation of the otherwise brilliant Tsonga, it’d be hard to place a bet against him.
Prediction: Federer in three or four sets.

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