Busted Racquet analyzes the men's draw at the upcoming Australian Open.
Flip on the cruise control, Rafa. The path for Rafael Nadal to the semis is the best he could have hoped for, littered with fellow Spaniards he owns (Feliciano Lopez and David Ferrer, the highest seed in Rafa's bracket) and achievers both under (Marin Cilic) and over (Mikhail Youzhny). A possible third-round battle with Cilic or John Isner could be trouble, but it's hard to see Nadal tripping up before the final four.
The fact that Robin Soderling passed Andy Murray to become the No. 4 seed in Melbourne could have been a huge deal. As the No. 5 seed, Murray may have been placed on a side with Nadal, Roger Federer or Novak Djokovic and been forced to face one of those top seeds in the quarterfinals. But by the luck of the draw, he got placed in Soderling's quarter. No harm, no foul for the drop in rankings.
Murray's route to the quarters shouldn't pose too much trouble. Jurgen Melzer is the highest seed he'd face. Two other dangerous players, Marcos Baghdatis and Juan Martin Del Potro are dealing with injuries and not in top form (and one is guaranteed to be gone before the third round). As for Soderling, he faces some potential trouble in Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Ernests Gulbis. Though the Swede was in great form in winning Brisbane, he seems due for an early exit.
With Nikolay Davydenko (23), Richard Gasquet (28) and Janko Tipsarevic (unseeded) lurking in the top half of this quarter, I'd feel nervous if I were Tomas Berdych (6). Although, with the way Berdych has been playing since Wimbledon, the talent could be far less and he'd still be nervous.
On the bottom half, Novak Djokovic should cruise.
It wouldn't be an upset if you could see it coming, but Andy Roddick's early rounds look to be as upset-proof as it can get. Getting some quality matches under his belt in the opening round would be a nice way to get some Grand Slam momentum back after his disasters at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. A fourth-round match with Gael Monfils could be great viewing and inevitably lead to articles about whether the winner is back and the loser done.
On the bottom half, Federer could see Frenchman Gilles Simon in the second round, a man he's never beaten. (Granted, they've only played twice, but still; how many players can say they're undefeated against a 16-time Grand Slam champ?) Fed has made it to the quarters in 27 straight majors. Could this be the one that trips him up? Probably not. I just wanted to get it on record that I raised the question, just in case.
Best first-round match:
David Nalbandian (27) vs. Lleyton Hewitt
Best first-round upset possibility:
Jarkko Nieminen over David Ferrer (7)
Best possible second-round match:
Marcos Baghdatis (21) vs. Juan Martin Del Potro
Best possible third-round match:
Fernando Verdasco (9) vs. Nikolay Davydenko (23)
Best possible quarterfinal:
Robin Soderling (4) vs. Andy Murray (5)
Nadal over Murray
Djokovic over Federer
Djokovic over Nadal