Mixed approaches for top men pre-Australian Open

The elite of men’s tennis have endured contrasting fortunes so far during the first week of the new season. With the inaugural Grand Slam of 2014 starting on January 13 it is worth evaluating what these results, or lack of them, may signify.

At the very pinnacle of the rankings, all seems well with world number one Rafael Nadal who has progressed through the early rounds at Doha. Any worries that fans felt at the Spaniard going to three sets against Tobias Kamke in round two have been assuaged by an improved performance when facing Ernests Gulbis in the following round. Nadal typically requires a run of matches in order to hit his stride and acknowledged the tough match against Kamke was useful:

“I spent a lot of time on court, so that’s important for my preparation, too.”

Nadal did not play the Australian Open last year but won the tournament back in 2009 and was runner-up in 2012.

While the Spaniard has been tuning up his game all the other big names at Doha have fallen by the wayside. World number three David Ferrer only managed one win before going out in straight sets to German Daniel Brands. Ferrer has a record number of points to defend this season, including a career best equalling semi-final finish at the Australian Open, and this defeat to a significantly lower ranked player does not augur well.

He will now likely play in Auckland next week, in a continued attempt to find form before Melbourne.

The third seed in Doha was Andy Murray, who was returning from a long layoff due to an operation on his back. Murray enjoyed a mismatch win over world number 2129 Mousa Shanan Zayed but lost the subsequent encounter with Florian Mayer. The Scot was a set and 3-0 up but had no answer as the German came back to win 3-6 6-4 6-2. After the match the world number four told reporters he was still adjusting to playing competitively again:

“I am stiff and sore but that’s to be expected. It’s more the joints rather than muscles. I have to get used to changing direction and playing at this level again. I didn’t have high expectations because I have not had many matches.”
Murray has reached the Australian Open final on three occasions but has yet to win in Melbourne. Last year he finished as runner-up to Novak Djokovic.

Given his lack of match time before this year’s tournament, Murray will be hoping for a kind draw in Melbourne in order to ease his way through the early rounds before hopefully picking up the pace in week two.

Defending Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic has chosen to limit his pre-tournament court time to just his two appearances at the Abu Dhabi exhibition. So his first competitive appearance of this season will be in the first round at Melbourne. It is hard to criticise this strategy given he did the same thing last year and came away as champion but, like Murray, a tough first round draw could prove problematic. Djokovic has won the past three Australian Opens and four overall.

Roger Federer for his part has been ticking over in Brisbane, playing with the 98 square inch racquet he used briefly last year. So far the Swiss has defeated Jarko Nieminen and Marinko Matosevic in straight sets and will face Frenchman Jeremy Chardy in the semi-final. Given Federer won only one title in 2013, a tournament win in Brisbane would be a welcome boost for him before heading to Melbourne. Federer has won the Australian Open on four occasions, most recently in 2010.

Completing the top six players, Juan Martin del Potro will begin his ATP season in Sydney next week. The world number five has reached the quarter-final stage in Melbourne on two occasions – in 2009 and 2012.

 

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