With the new year comes the first major of tennis - the Australian Open. A lot of times the tournament 'down under' gets lost in the States because of the start of the NFL Playoffs and other regular season sports such as the NBA and NHL. With the NFL off for two weeks prior to the Super Bowls and the NHL resting for the All Star break coming up this weekend, what better time to turn our heads to the worlds top tennis players in Australia... the only issue is staying up late enough to catch the outcome. In a blockbuster weekend for Tennis - here's who I'll be rooting for...
No. 3 Roger Federer (-150) vs. No. 2 Rafael Nadal, 3AM - ESPN 2
Classic match up between 2 of the sports all time greats. It really doesn't get much better than this. Obviously Djokovic has cemented himself as the clear-cut No. 1 seed but something about this match up has that good old fashion 'rivalry' stamp on it - a la Ali and Frazier or McEnroe / Borg. These two will meet for the 27th time in which Nadal has dominated the series by a tally of 17-9. It's pretty clear that Nadal has consistently had Roger's number - but that was then, this is now. Federer is in the midst of a 25 match win streak dating back to last year and has looked as calm, cool, and collected as ever before. He has dismissed the likes of Juan Martin Del Potro, and has played virtually flawless up to this point in the tournament. Nadal on the other hand had a marathon 4 set victory of No. 7 seed Thomas Berdych who did everything short of push Nadal off the edge. Rafa looked uncomfortable for stretches at a time and was arguing calls a lot more (mostly because the line umpires were horrible) frequently.
I'm not going to lie - there's an affinity that I have for Roger because of his overall professionalism and just good natured personality. Actually at the beginning of the Australian Open, Nadal made some ill-advised remarks about Federer, because of silence on some of Tennis' biggest issues - the demanding schedule. For Nadal and his knee injuries its been quite apparent that the schedule has been pretty tough - but after Thursday morning's dual with Federer he should be able to get some long needed rest. I'll take Federer to beat Nadal in five sets in what will hopefully be one of the most memorable matches of our time. Too bad its only the semis.
No. 1 Novak Djokovic (-250) vs. No. 4 Andy Murray, 3AM - ESPN 2
In another early morning eye-scratcher the "other two" will go head-to-head for the 11th time in their young careers. Djokovic currently has the upper hand winning 6 of the previous 10 match ups. These two met in last years Australian Open where Djokovic won easily 6-4, 6-2, 6-3. Murray has never won a grand slam title - but something tells me he has a great shot this year.
In order for Murray to beat Djokovic he needs to serve very, very well. In his quarterfinal match against Kei Nishikori, Murray only got his first service in at a 44% clip. He'll need to do much better if he plans on going blow for blow with Djokovic. The key to beating Djokovic is putting pressure on him and being the aggressor throughout the entirety of the match. Obviously that's easier said than done, as Novak has proved to be one of the best counter-punches we've ever seen. If Murray can play his game and wear down Djokovic, who has been hobbled by a hamstring problem this week, he should be in store for his third straight Australian Open finals. I think he'll do just that. I like the underdog Murray to get through this one in a tough 4 setter over the world's No. 1.
Women's Semi-Finals: No analysis, just picks.
No. 11 Kim Clijsters (-110) vs. No. 3 Victoria Azarenka - 9:30, ESPN2
The Pick: Clijsters in two sets.
No. 4 Maria Sharapova vs. No. 2 Petra Kvitova (-135) - 11PM, ESPN2
The Pick: Sharapova in three sets.