Friday, January 22, 2010
Updated: January 23, 6:13 PM ET
Vetting the top dogs through Week 1
MELBOURNE, Australia -- So far, so good for the No. 1s at the Australian Open.
After surviving a scare in the first round, Roger Federer eased past his next two opponents and must like his chances in the fourth round. Serena Williams, meanwhile, not averse to a hiccup or two in the early rounds, appears completely focused, not conceding a set.
Some tennis fans must have been alarmed when Federer dropped a set and came within a whisker of being taken to five or, worse, losing to heavy-hitting Igor Andreev in the first round. But Federer got a tough draw, similar to Wimbledon 2006, when Frenchman Richard Gasquet showed up on the opening Monday. Andreev is the caliber of player Federer normally meets in the third round, not Saturday's victim, Spanish clay-courter Albert Montanes.
Although Federer's days of winning 11 or 12 tournaments a season are gone -- which he acknowledges -- and the field is getting closer, he's still the man to beat here. Nikolay Davydenko, getting more entertaining every week, possesses the game to win a major and probably deserves to net one, but should the Russian encounter Federer in the quarterfinals, as expected, the Swiss won't lose.
Beating a 15-time Grand Slam champion over three sets is one thing. Pulling it off at a major is quite another.
Fed knows the drill.
He also got the rub of the green, as if he needs it, with U.S. Open champion Juan Martin del Potro, the persistent Andy Roddick and Andy Murray, hoping to finally win a big one in 2010, all in the opposite half, along with -- of course -- Rafael Nadal. Twenty-three straight Grand Slam semifinals it is.
"After [Andreev], I was able to come through comfortable in the next two rounds," Federer told reporters. "I feel like I'm obviously fresh and ready to take on the bigger names. Obviously, you'll elevate your game gradually as the opponents get harder."
Now, no one expected Williams to exit early, since she avoided the unseeded Justine Henin and similar danger in the draw. And Serena never loses in the first round of Grand Slams.
A gimpy leg, though, might have suggested the 11-time Grand Slam champion would struggle. Instead, she has pummeled a promising Pole (Urszula Radwanska), a Czech who has beaten a world No. 1 (Petra Kvitova) and a talented Spaniard who knocked off sister Venus at the Australian Open last year (Carla Suarez Navarro).
"I think she's looked great," U.S. Fed Cup captain and ESPN analyst Mary Joe Fernandez said. "She's been very sharp early on. Usually the first week you see a little more vulnerability. She's looked good on serve, return, and she's moving well."
Henin and Kim Clijsters were Williams' biggest threats heading into the tournament. Clijsters -- who had Williams beat at Flushing Meadows well before the latter made it official by threatening a line judge -- is gone, and Henin is creaking. Any sort of extended match for Henin in the fourth round against Yanina Wickmayer and it's hard to envision the seven-time Grand Slam champion's body holding up.
Already at a disadvantage due to her small frame, unlike Clijsters, almost two years out of the game means Henin isn't used to the rigors of a Grand Slam fortnight.
Unless Venus surfaces in the semifinals, Williams picks up a fifth Australian Open title.