Federer slammed by Aussie draw

Martin Rogers
Yahoo! Sports

Roger Federer finds plenty to get angry about these days, and his Australian Open draw likely won't improve his mood.

The Swiss master, famed for his outbursts and tantrums in his younger years, had little reason to vent his ire once he started dominating the game through the middle of this decade. However, as his game dipped slightly in 2008 from its astonishingly high levels and his No. 1 ranking was surrendered to Rafael Nadal, some of the old fury crept back in.

And Federer isn't too popular with the locals Down Under after suggesting a tinkering of the schedule to push back the Australian Open from its accustomed spot on the calendar. Now, if he is to begin his year in a manner he hopes will regain the top spot in the rankings and add a 14th Grand Slam that would tie him with Pete Sampras, then it will have to be done the hard way at the Open.

While the other members of the men's Big Four – Top seed Nadal, No. 3 seed Novak Djokovic and No. 4 seed Andy Murray – all were handed relatively comfortable potential paths toward the quarterfinals, Federer's route will test him at virtually every stage.

After Italy's Andreas Seppi, he likely will face Carlos Moya of Spain. Moya is far from the level he was at when he reached the final Down Under in 1997, yet he still is one of the toughest opponents Federer could have met at this stage.

Next up in Round 3 could be Marat Safin, who beat Federer in an epic struggle at Rod Laver Arena four years ago and still on any given day has the game to trouble his old rival.

Looking further ahead, Federer is on course for a meeting with defending champion Djokovic in the semifinal, the same man who beat him at an identical stage 12 months ago. That straight-sets triumph was a breakthrough for Djokovic, who would go on to clinch his maiden Slam title 48 hours later.

Djokovic has one of the easier passages through the early rounds, although a last 16 meeting with Andy Roddick or David Nalbandian offers some interesting possibilities.

Nadal will be similarly pleased with his draw and could face Murray in another semifinal, providing a potential opportunity for Nadal to avenge his defeat at the same stage in the U.S. Open last year.

The Australian Open is notorious for throwing up surprises, and not since the 2006 French Open have the four top seeds all progressed to the men's semifinals in a Grand Slam.

Yet with the Big Four seeking to confirm their dominance at the top, don't be shocked to see them still standing and ready to do battle with each other late in the tournament's second week.

Yahoo! Sports prediction

Semifinals: Federer beats Djokovic, Murray beats Nadal

Final: Federer beats Murray

Women's draw: Which Williams will dominate Down Under?

None of the top four seeds wanted to be in the same draw as Venus Williams at the Australian Open.

Fourth seed Elena Dementieva ended up with the short straw and will hope to improve her 2-7 career record against the sixth-seeded Williams if they face each other.

An all-Williams clash between Venus and younger sister and No. 2 seed Serena could take place for the second Slam in a row, although in the semifinals this time following their quarterfinal at the U.S. Open, won by Serena.

With 2008 champion Maria Sharapova not in the event due to a rotator cuff injury that has not fully healed, the biggest challenges to the Williams sisters should come from top seed Jelena Jankovic, No. 5 Ana Ivanovic and No. 3 Dinara Safina.

Jankovic finished last year as world No. 1 despite having never won a Grand Slam and is desperate to add that achievement to her resumé. She defeated Serena Williams in the Melbourne quarterfinals last year, while fellow Serb Ivanovic disposed of Venus Williams the following day.

Safina, 22, looks poised for a serious assault on the No. 1 ranking this year but has often struggled in Australia, never making it past the third round. This year she faces a tough potential quarterfinal opponent in Ivanovic.

As ever, the scheduling in Australia could be crucial to the hopes of the leading players. Either performing through the sweltering heat that Melbourne often throws up this time of year or being forced to play deep into the night at an evening session tests the recovery powers of the game's elite.

Yahoo! Sports prediction

Semifinals: Jankovic beats Ivanovic, Serena Williams beats Venus Williams

Final: Serena Williams beats Jankovic

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