Dark Horses and Donkeys… Who I’m Picking (and Who I’m Not) for the Australian Open
Christmas is coming and while I’d love to say this time of the year means family and being thankful for everything, the first thing that comes to my mind when the air warms and Christmas approaches is that the Australian Open is less than a month away. To be fair, I have a legitimate excuse; my brother and father will be coming over for the tournament while Christmas will be spent without them, (thanks for that, expensive airlines). I tend to spend the Australian Open taking a break from thinking and writing about tennis. I immerse myself in the fan experience and if I get inspired along the way, so be it. I probably won’t be writing too much about it then, so I’m releasing my dark horse picks ahead of everyone else. Here’s the players I’d be backing if I were a betting girl, and those I definitely wouldn’t.
Martin Klizan: Martin may not sound like a particularly formidable name, but both Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Jeremy Chardy discovered the hard way that you can’t judge a book by its cover when he upset them both at the US Open this year. The lefty followed up his USO success up with an ATP World Tour Title in St Petersburg, cementing himself as the official ATP 2012 Newcomer of the Year. The Slovak player may be unseeded come the Australian Open and will be a name no one wants to see in the first round.
David Goffin: “Who is this kid,” were words tweeted multiple times when Goffin took the first set off Roger Federer at Roland Garros this year. He followed up his fourth round finish, (yes, he did eventually lose to Federer), by making the third round of Wimbledon just weeks later. Huge wins on clay and grass prove Goffin is a versatile, big-stage kind of player. Don’t be surprised if he uses the Australian Open as a springboard to a fantastic 2013. He may not be a tennis fan’s best kept secret for much longer.
Jerzy Janowicz: Unlike both Goffin and Klizan, Janowicz managed to capture the world’s attention when he made it all the way to the Paris Masters final at the end of 2012. With the tournament suffering from a depleted field, Janowicz provided the media with plenty of headlines as he shocked Marin Cilic, Andy Murray, Janko Tipsarevic and Gilles Simon with ruthlessly aggressive play. He lost to first-time Masters winner David Ferrer in the final, but the 22-year-old Pole finished the year in the top 30 and will be closely watched come 2013′s first Grand Slam.
Varvara Lepchenko: Her name might not sound particularly American, but she is in fact one of the USA’s most promising up-and-comers after gaining citizenship in 2011. With visa issues sorted, Lepchenko had her best year on tour, rising up from a ranking of 127 to an end of year ranking of 21. Lepchenko played the role of giant killer in 2012, making the third round at both Wimbledon and the US Open and the fourth round at Roland Garros. At 26 years old, the former Uzbek player prides herself on mental strength, meaning she’s unlikely to choke under the pressure of being touted as one to watch.
Heather Watson: With all eyes on her popular compatriot, Laura Robson, Watson did an excellent job of sneaking under the radar in 2012. The British No.1 made fewer headlines than the glamorous Robson, but she captured her first WTA singles title at the HP Open and won two doubles titles, showing she lets her racket do the talking. Watson possesses a strong mentality and is capable of felling a few of the big names in the early rounds. At 20, she’s on the cusp of making a big breakthrough.
Bernard Tomic: There’s no doubt the controversial Australian plays best on his home stage, but with issues both legal and tennis-related, the 20-year-old is more likely to crumble under the pressure than make another fourth-round run. Dubbed ‘Tomic the Tank Engine’ for his lack of willpower and stamina, there is no reason to suggest Tomic will suddenly up the ante come Melbourne. In fact, he’s currently looking more likely to spend more time in court than on one.
David Ferrer: It might be tempting to think the ‘other’ Spaniard will finally have his time in the sun come January based on his recent Masters title and a superb 2012 in which he won seven titles - more than any other ATP player. However, despite his impressive season, Ferrer still failed to beat Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, although he did topple Andy Murray once. His hasn’t shown any signs of overcoming the big four, and while he’s a write-in for the quarter-finals, it’s hard to see him progressing past the semis.
Sam Stosur: Unlike Tomic, this Australian has plenty of motivation and ambition to succeed, but a lack of confidence often lets her down when times get tough. Her unfortunate cases of nerves are even more prevalent at home. If Tomic does lose early, all eyes will be on Stosur and the pressure will be as intense as it was in 2012, when she lost first round. Stosur has the capabilities to succeed at Melbourne Park, but she’s far from a sure bet.
Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova: Pavlyuchenkova hasn’t caused the controversy Tomic has and she’s much better behaved, but an underlying lack of motivation is familiar to both of them. Unless she, like Tomic, starts training harder and getting herself into shape, she’s going to have a tough time improving on a disastrous 2012. She has the talent, but talent is nothing without work ethic.
So there we have it. Let me know your picks for the Aussie Open in the comments section below (and don’t forget to check out onthegotennis, where I’m writing more often).