Johan Kriek on 2014 Australian Open – the men’s side

My television will be on virtually 24 hours of the day for the 2014 Australian Open. On the men’s side a number of rivalries will continue for that coveted trophy not to mention to aim for that number 1 ranking. Nadal is right on track with a win in the Middle East right before the major and has done nothing to disrupt his plans in any way. Business as usual for Rafa. He has not hired a “former great” as a coach like some of the other top guys and he was quipping that he was more worried about uncle Tony leaving him! Currently Rafa looks healthy, he has had some tough three setters in the Doha event he won and he knows his mental game is razor sharp at the right time. He is the man to beat in Australia!

Novak Djokovic was overtaken by Rafa in the ATP rankings by winning late in the year. Novak is ready to challenge Rafa anew for that number 1 spot. It was quite a surprise when I heard that Boris Becker was hired by Novak to join his coaching team. However, when Federer split from longtime coach Paul Annacone a few months ago, it didn’t take long to narrow down the list of potential coaches to Stefan Edberg. In my opinion a perfect match for Roger. Some term the new coaching arrangements as “celebrity coaches”. I think it brings more to the sport on many fronts and we may see some interesting things this year! It is not only the current top guys against each other but it is a new rivalry between “boom boom Boris and “nice guy” Stefan and Ivan “the terrible”! Interesting to know that the top players are looking for “it all” from guys from my era. It is going to be avery colorful and interesting year!

Roger has a lot of “play” left in him and I am looking forward to see him and Edberg work on some “pressure tennis” in the next two weeks. If anybody should use a more “risky” attack style tennis, it is Roger! He finally seems to have found a slightly larger racket and his “head” is now in the right place to trust his racket. Always a tricky situation to switch rackets for anybody and I hope Roger comes back with a vengeance. It would be awesome.

Andy Murray has had Ivan Lendl in his corner the past few years with outstanding results. Andy just came back on tour after back surgery and he looks a little tentative in pushing himself at full tilt. He will do well if he stays healthy and not put too much pressure on himself to perform at his highest capabilities. If he focuses on taking each match one at a time and not look ahead too much and not get swept into the media’s expectations of him, he will go far in the draw. I do not expect him to win the tournament.

The top half of the draw is much tougher than the bottom half. Rafa kicks off his tournament against Bernard Tomic who reached the finals of Sydney. This should put the Aussies on the edges of their seats right away the first day! Tomic has had to deal with a bunch of very negative “off court stuff” with his nutty father this past year with the father assaulting a French coach working with Tomic in Spain. Issues like this are unfortunate as I think Australian tennis fans want to get behind a rising star of their own. It remains to be seen if Tomic is moving past these personal issues that had a big impact on his tennis last year and buckle down this year and mature into his game. He has shown he has the talent and the shotmaking to go head to head with the biggest players in the game. The one thing lacking is the “mental toughness” in his game. We will see how he fights against Nadal. If he wins against Nadal a new chapter in Aussie tennis may begin as there have been very few success stories lately with the exception of the Brisbane tournament where Leyton Hewitt beat Roger Federer in the finals in three sets. Never count “Rusty” out and I predict that Leyton will do well this year!

Juan Martin Del Potro from Argentina has been steadily climbing back the past year after some injuries. He is a quiet operator but a huge threat to any of the top seeds. If all goes according to the seeding, he will meet Nadal in the quarters. That is a match I will not miss.

Andy Murray may build some strength if he gets a win or two but then will meet his mom Judy’s favorite male player “Deliciano” aka Feliciano Lopez from Spain in the third round. Talk about conflicting emotions in the player box! Lopez could win this encounter with his huge serve and Murray not being 100% physically yet. I heard he and Murray have the same haircut…..I am going to stop right now… 😉

Milos Raonic is a rising star from Canada and so is “baby Federer” Grigor Dimitrov from Bulgaria. They will meet each other in the third round and the winner may meet Nadal in the quarter final. Should make for a great match between these two up and coming talents.

America’s highest ranked player is John Isner who has had spectacular matches at majors. He is destined to play a guy he must be getting sick of seeing in his path- Phillip Kohlschreiber from Germany is a tough competitor and has a wicked one handed backhand. It could be a fifth set tie breaker to decide this one!

Tsonga is in Federer’s path and is one of those players that needs to get “hot” to win. If not he is very beatable. With fellow country man Gilles Simon out of the draw due to an ankle sprain, Tsonga has a very good chance to pull through his section to meet Roger in the round of 16. The big hitting Tsonga has what it takes to beat any of the top players but he can easily “pull off the court mentally for a croissant” and that leaves the fans wondering when is he going to really “arrive”. Tsonga could be a dark horse like Del Potro in the tournament. But it remains to be seen….

The bottom half of the draw is definitely easier imho. Djokovic should breeze through the draw to the semis where he will play Stanislav Wawrinka. Wawrinka has had some “heart breakers” in 2013 but he has improved steadily and would like to finally break into that rare space of the top 4. Stan can play any type of game he wants to play and with great hands, huge serve and perhaps the best one handed backhand in the game, he can upset Novak but the “planets will have to align” perfectly. That should be a great match!

If anybody deserves a major under his belt it is David Ferrer. He has fought and clawed his way to #3 in the world but lately he has had a few uncharacteristic losses. Is it because he has split from his longtime coach? I am one of his biggest fans and supporters because he truly maximized his game both physically and mentally. He is truly a beast out there and I hope he does win a major, I really do. This may not be his best tournament but I hope he plays a little more aggressively and closer to the baseline and risk some more net rushing and builds confidence for the rest of the year. He is always great to watch and we can all learn from his work ethic.

Two guys that probably are tired of seeing each other across the net is fellow South-African Kevin Anderson and Thomas Berdych. They have had several encounters last year with very tough matches but Anderson came up short. Anderson is a big-time server at 6 foot 8 inches, with great hands and a very solid back court game that matches the best in the world. Kevin is one of the players I think who can become a “top ten” player within a year if he puts it all together and takes advantage of opportunities that comes his way. If Anderson can fight past Berdych he has a great chance to go very deep into this year’s Australian Open. He is a very dangerous player in the draw and I hope he breaks through to the top ten soon. He is that good.
Berdych is one of those players that looks incredibly good, has a huge game wherever one looks but then falls short time and again in the majors. Not sure why. He should be in the top 4 mixing it up with the top guys but for some reason he is a notch below the top 4. He has been “hovering” in the top ten players for some time now. If he puts it together he could be top three! Winning majors! We will see this year.

I don’t see too many super exciting matches in the bottom draw like I see in the upper draw but one can never discount the odd thing happening in majors. We have seen apparent “no chances” making it deep into the event in the past but I don’t think it will happen this year “down under”. There will be very colorful characters like Italian heartthrob Fabio Fognini, a very talented player but who can easily be a main character in an Italian opera when he doesn’t like the calls! He is a crowd favorite and so is Marcos Baghdatis from Cyprus. Thank goodness for colorful characters out there! I like to watch them both.

Leyton Hewitt has done incredibly well to beat Roger Federer in the Brisbane event right before the Oz Open and “Rusty” may just excite the natives enough to pull him through to meet Nadal in the round of 16. Interesting, both Brisbane finalists in their 30’s.
Age is but a number folks…..:) I love it! Come on Tommy Haas, join them!

I will be glued to my tv and to my electronic mobile devices to keep up with the action while I am reminiscing about my two Aussie wins I had in 1981/1982. It takes a lot of hard work to get it. I might even get off my Facebook and visit Twitter a bit more during the next two weeks.

I hope to be there next year! I miss Melbourne…

Johan Kriek

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Meet the Author

Johan Kriek has won two Australian Opens, was a semi-finalist at the US Open, reached the semi-finals at the French Open and the quarterfinals of Wimbledon. He has won 14 professional singles and 8 doubles titles, reaching an all-time high ranking of Number 7 in the world. Kriek’s most memorable wins include victories over Andre Agassi, Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe and Bjorn Borg.

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