We’re mere hours from the start of the 2011 Australian Open. The preview is coming late, and this is the first time in four years that I’m not linked into cable television for the tournament. (For all my gripes about television, the main one is the cost — yet somehow it ended up that my wife and I were plugged at that moment in three different domiciles in three consecutive years.) I’m also without internet at the house still, over a month removed from the move that will provide some salvation in that department. So what this tournament means to me this year in personal terms is something that has yet to be determined.
It’s really quite sad, because the Australian might just be my favorite of the four Grand Slam tournaments on the tennis calendar. It broadcasts at times amenable to my deranged sleep cycles, and tennis is the sport my wife and I seem to be able to most consistently get into together as spectators. There’s always the new-year feel to things, the summertime turning our winter upside down here in Eugene and players arriving Down Under in varying states of fitness. Anything is possible when the men and women hit the courts in Melbourne, as the next fortnight will attest. To give you my nickel’s worth on things, here are the five big stories I see in the men’s and women’s doubles draws:
- Can anyone challenge the Bryans? – Winners of four of the past five Australian Opens, with only their quarterfinal upset to Mahesh Bhupathi and Mark Knowles in 2008 to derail their run of dominance in Melbourne, the Bryan brothers have owned Australia over the past half-decade. With the team that had given them the greatest recent challenge, Aisam-ul-Haq Qureshi and Rohan Bopanna, absent from this year’s Australian Open, the biggest rising threat to their streak is now gone. Without the Indo-Pak Express there to challenge them as they did at last September’s U.S. Open final, and a field of doubles teams that has shuffled their deck in the past few years, the smart money has the Bryans claiming the three-peat, giving them five career Australian Opens to equal the total of Slams they’ve won at the other three sites combined.
- Could it be a costly split? – In recent years, the tandem of Nenad Zimonjic and Daniel Nestor has been the biggest threat to Bob and Mike Bryan in men’s doubles draws from Melbourne to Paris to London to Queens. Yet we’ve seen this successful partnership split to find new partners. Zimonjic, the #8 seed with new partner Michael Llodra, and Nestor, seeded #2 with Max Mirnyi, will hope to replicate their recent successes apart. But one also wonders whether this is a desperation move on their parts. Unable to maintain consistent success playing together, they mutually decided to dissolve the partnership in hopes of rekindling his own spark. Here’s hoping one or both new teams can pull off some magic.
- How will Serena’s absence affect the women’s doubles? — We already discussed in our women’s preview how the inability of Serena Williams to compete in Melbourne completely changes the dynamic of the brackets. Everyone feels a little more confident about her chances to rise up and conquer the draw for the championship. And just as it goes in women’s singles, so too does it go in women’s doubles. Without her sister there, Venus lacks the other half of the two-time defending champion partnership. And because of it, we see partnerships like Kveta Peschke and Katarina Srebotnik rated #2 in the draw. Without the Huber/Black partnership to fill the void, any one of these teams could snag a winning run. Even several unseeded teams could make some noise with the right luck.
- Can Dulko and Pennetta fill that void? — On the strength of their doubles victory in the 2010 WTA year-end championships, Gisela Dulko and Flavia Pennetta arrive in Melbourne as the top seed in the women’s draw. But in their best shot at claiming a first Grand Slam doubles title together, they were ousted by Elena Vesnina and Vera Zvonareva in the semifinals at Wimbledon, where they would have entered the championship match as favorites over Vania King and Yaroslava Shvedova. Neither has ever reached the final of a Grand Slam doubles draw before… could their top seed propel them to an inaugural title together?
- PREDICTIONS — So who wins the two gendered draws in doubles? Until someone rises up and makes noise in the manner Qureshi and Bopanna were able to in Flushing Meadows last summer, the Bryans have to be the overwhelming favorite on the men’s side. And for the women, as much as I like the Dulko-Pennetta partnership I have to go with my gut and say that Vesnina and Zvonareva advancing again, as #13 seeds this time, to the final where they will defeat #3 Liezel Huber and Nadia Petrova. Stay tuned later this week for more news and notes from the Australian Open!
Previewing the 2010 Australian Open: Doubles Edition is a post originally from: SportsNickel.com - In Sports We Trust