What have we learned from the 2009 Australian Open? (By Betfair)


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Dec 2, 2008
What have we learned from the 2009 Australian Open?

When Federer says something even mildly controversial we should listen, according to Simon Mundie of the Betfair Canada Blog.

At the outset of the first Grand Slam tournament of 2009, most tennis enthusiasts were in agreement that the winner of this year's Australian Open was the most difficult to pick since Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal began their domination of the men's game.

There were several genuine contenders, not least Andy Murray, who started the event as the tour's hottest player and the bookmakers' favourite; yet the final ends up featuring the same two players who have dominated since 2004. Nevertheless, the Open has taught us a number of things well worth bearing in mind for the future.

As already mentioned, Murray entered the tournament as favourite after a superb run of form dating back to last year's Wimbledon Championships. The Scot won two Masters Series titles, a good barometer for future Grand Slam success; reached his first major final in New York, and notched up wins over the so-called 'Big Three' of Nadal, Federer and Novak Djokovic.

He got 2009 off to a flying start, picking up a couple of titles and looking stronger both mentally and physically than ever before. However, Federer was the first man to express an element of doubt at Murray's position as favourite, believing it generous to favour Murray ahead of the two players sitting at the very top of the world rankings who had proved themselves at the biggest events on numerous occasions.

At the time, it sounded like a mixture of arrogance and sour grapes; an unwillingness to accept that the Swiss, as well as world number one Nadal, were no longer a shoo-in for a final Sunday show-down. As the field has panned out in exactly the way Federer suggested it would, one has to accept that when the elegant Swiss makes his views known, it's worth paying close attention.
While Federer is unlikely to ever dominate the tour week in, week out like his did for a few years from 2004, he clearly now saves his best tennis for the majors, much as Pete Sampras did later in his career. The current world number two understands his legacy as a great of the game is secure, and the only thing standing between him and the 'Greatest of All Time' tag is the number of Grand Slam titles he can add to his collection. If he wins the final against his nemesis Nadal, he will be level with Sampras on 14 wins, with enough time to establish himself as the most prolific Champion of all time.

As for Murray himself, despite certainly being a contender at the Grand Slam events, it will be a while before anyone rushes to favour him ahead of the current greats of the game. Part of the reason for that is that best-of-five set matches are a different animal to best-of-three. Murray's game is built around subtlety and variety; he doesn't have the power of some of his peers, and therein lies his, albeit small, problem.

When he comes up against players with more brute force, like Fernando Verdasco this year or Jo-Wilfried Tsonga last, he still runs the risk of being blown off court. Over five sets, he becomes even more vulnerable because the big-hitters can play themselves into a groove and batter him into submission. However, not winning this year's Australian Open may end up being a blessing in disguise, as there shouldn't be quite the same level of expectation for him to become the first home grown men's champion at Wimbledon since Fred Perry when the grasscourt season rolls around this summer.

Furthermore, Murray did do enough though to suggest his time will come.

Another man who was vocal in his criticism of Murray's billing as favourite was Djokovic. While Federer has been vindicated in his views, the Serb world number 3 certainly has not. He was unconvincing in his fourth round win over Marcos Baghdatis, and was a beaten man when he proceeded to retired citing exhaustion against Roddick in the quarter finals.

That decision itself has dented Djokovic's reputation, with Federer saying he was not surprised that he did throw in the towel, pointing out he had done it on six previous occasions, including three times in Grand Slam events. The insinuation was that the Serb is something of a quitter, whose physical and mental strength is not of the highest calibre, particularly over five sets. That will give his future opponents a lift in the coming months, and it will be interesting to see whether he can maintain his position in the world's top three.

Djokovic's efforts to stay there will be further tested by his recent questionable decision to switch racket brand. It seems he now struggles to hit with the same pace of shot; he appeared frustrated on numerous occasions throughout the fortnight with a lack of penetration off the ground, particularly on the forehand side. He has a lot of points to defend between now and Wimbledon, and a small slide down the rankings appears likely.

As for other lessons learned, one is that David Nalbandian cannot be trusted to ever fulfil his potential. The signs ahead of the tournament were encouraging, winning one of the warm-up events and finishing 2008 strongly, yet he flattered to deceive once again. You would have to be extremely brave to back the Argentine at any future Grand Slam tournaments, as he has disappointed on too many occasions.

The revelation of this year's tournament has been the left-handed Spaniard, Verdasco. Buoyed by Davis Cup success in 2008 and a visit to Andre Agassi's old guru Gil Reyes in the off-season have turned him from a talented shotmaker into a genuine contender. His forehand has always been amongst the best in the game, but now he has added subtlety, strategy and self-belief; a potent combination.

If Verdasco can turn his game around, so could the likes of Tomas Berdych. He should have beaten Federer in the fourth round, winning the first two-sets, but in the end did not have the necessary belief to carry him over the line. If he can find that confidence from somewhere, he could join the growing band of players jostling for position just below top two in the world.

Federer himself said he doesn't enjoy playing Berdych, particularly early on in tournaments. He believes the Czech should be ranked higher than he currently is, and if there's one thing that this year's Australian Open has taught us above everything else, it's that when Federer speaks, it's worth paying close attention.

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