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looking ahead at Down Under...

So the Australian Open tennis championships are under way. It's a pain to get up so early at around 5.00 am (India time) to watch the Open, I prefer to catch up the results on its official website. I used to get up early when I was in college during Steffi Graf days. Her matches were scheduled to be the first -or at worse the second -match of the day. She always used to prefer it that way. Her early round matches usually used to get over within an hour, so it fitted well in my schedule. But those were my good, old days. 

Of course I did not expect India's Sania Mirza to do much. She could at best crack the top-20 and then taper off, but she's definitely not a top-10 player by any standards. Expectantly she lost to Nadia Patrova, 6-3, 6-2 in just 70 minutes. Not that Petrova is a push-over exactly, but if Mirza is at her best, she has the game to beat Petrova. I still feel that no matter how much she'll try and regroup herself going from here on (especially after a dismal and forgettable 2007 and 2008), Mirza will not break the top-20 unless she has a dedicated and a quality coach and she has access to adequate infrastructure in her hometown (courts other than hard-court to practice on). Still, the Indian media will go ga-ga over Mirza and the oldie lot of Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi; I don't understand why. I was just watching Times Now and their day's round-up of Australian Open in their sports capsule started off with "Good news for India; Mahesh Bhupathi and Mark Knowles have entered Round#3...". We Indians seldom look anywhere beyond cricket, and even there we're not the best team!!!

For the 2009 Australian Open, I am placing my chances on Andy Murray and Rafael Nadal. Though I would like Federer to win, I think his best days are behind him, as seen by his high standards. I do hope I am severely wrong on this; it's a treat watching him play. And though Nadal lost tamely in Doha earlier this year, I just watched his convincing victory over Tommy Haas of Germany and you'd be a fool to completely rule him out. Sure Nadal hasn't yet won a hardcourt Slam, but his game has improved tremendously over the years. This could be his breakthrough year at the Down Under. 

The woman's field is wide open but I like Elena Dementieva's chances this year. She's in fine form, unbeatable in both the warm-up tournaments she's played so far this year. Dementieva is a very good player and she's had some great results; she 's a runner-up at the French and US Opens in 2004.  The way she's playing these days, you cannot rule her out. She has the goods, but does she have the head? We'll see. But that is also why I would place Jelena Jankovic a bit higher on the chances-scale. She could well end up surprising Dememtieva and the rest of the field and I have a feeling this is her Open. 

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