With just three more days to go before the Australian Open begins, here’s a sneak preview on what to expect from four game changers. SWAROOP SWAMINATHAN
The co-ordinate 37°49? 18?S 144°58?42?E (co-ordinate is a system that enables every location on the Earth to be specified by a set of numbers) might not necessarily ring a bell, but the Rod Laver Arena, the stage that houses the above- mentioned co- ordinate, along with the other courts in Melbourne Park will witness some ringing battles to kick 2011 as the world’s top tennis players participate in the 2011 edition of the Australian Open beginning on Monday.
Rafael Nadal (World Ranking No: 1)
Indefatigable and obdurate might not be the most accurate adjectives to describe one of the greatest tennis players of the modern era but Spain’s Rafael Nadal fits into those categories as effectively as with orthodox adjectives.
The Spaniard - the current owner of the French, the Wimbledon and the U.S. Open - will become the first man in the history of the game to have a non-calendar Grand Slam if he wins the Australian Open.
Obstacles in the shape of Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer will provide stern tests, but don’t discount the Spaniard rising above the challenges to win his 10th Grand Slam.
Andy Murray (World Ranking No: 5)
It was a case of ‘so near, yet so far’ for Andy Murray last year. Just when it looked like he might bring home the coveted first Grand Slam of the year, Federer stopped him in his tracks. In a one-sided final, the Swiss beat the Scot. Since then, Murray has looked more like an accident waiting to happen rather than champion-elect.
Winning just two ATP World Tour titles last year, a significant fall from the six and five ATP World Tour titles he won in the previous two seasons, Murray would want to put the past behind him as he aims to become the first Englishman to win a major since one can remember.
Murray, though, need not look around much for inspiration; the English cricketers have already ratcheted up some glorious moments Down Under this year. Who can bet against him following the template and creating history?
But first, like every man aspiring to win a Grand Slam, Murray has to enter the second week unscathed.
Samantha Stosur (World ranking No: 6)
Tall, lean, muscular and possessing a playing style similar to Alicia Molik, Australia’s Samantha Stosur has seen a significant improvement in her rankings. Catapulting to fame after reaching the Roland Garros finals in 2009, Stosur has seen her consistency rewarded with a lofty ranking of no. 6.
While she is not the favourite to win, Stosur’s incredible groundstrokes from the baseline will trouble the best in the business. Given that Serena Williams has withdrawn and not many in the top 10 know what it is like to win a Slam, Stosur could emerge as the best among equals to give Australia its first woman champion of the 21st century.
Vera Zvonareva (World ranking No:2)
Reaching two Grand Slam finals in 2010, Vera Zvonareva had a breakthrough year. Although she has not yet won a Grand Slam, this could be the year where the Russian finally comes of age. Coming into the limelight along with the other Russian girls, Zvonareva has stood her ground while the likes of Anastasia Myskina, Svetlana Kuznetsova and Maria Sharapova have seen their rankings dip. The only thing which was missing from Zvonareva’s CV last year was a Slam. Can she step up to the plate to address that issue or will she wither away once the action starts?
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