The 2010 tennis season is now getting in to full swing with the first Slam of the year, the Australian Open, underway in Melbourne this week.
The usual names are being touted for Grand Slam glory this year but question marks are being placed over the head of Spanish giant Rafael Nadal after his injury ravaged 2009 ended with some pretty poor displays by his own high standards.
The man is one of the few things keeping tennis competitive as his rivalry with Roger Federer has meant R-Fed hasn’t led a Pete Sampras-like domination over the sport this past decade.
Nadal’s native Spain has been in fine form during the “noughties,” lifting the Davis Cup on four occasions in 2000, 2004, 2008 and 2009. They had never won the prestigious tournament before.
So is Nadal Spain’s only chance of Grand Slam glory this year? Many would say no.
Juan Carlos Ferrero is a former world No.1 with the French Open title (2003) and a U.S. Open final (also 2003) under his belt. However, 2009 started badly for him with early exits, including the Australian Open, seeing him drop outside the world’s Top 100 for the first time in ten years.
However the grass courts saw a mighty resurgence and only the aggression of Andy Murray halted his progress at the semifinals of the AEGON Championships and the quarterfinals at Wimbledon. His ranking climbed from 90 to 37 in a month.
From there he kicked on and looked to be getting back to his best tennis. Age is against him now and this could be his last major push to add to that solitary Slam.
Then there’s Tommy Robredo. The 2009 season was a good one for the Girona boy with career-best-equaling performances at the French, Wimbledon and US Open.
Another clay-court specialist, it is often his performances against the top ten players which let him down. In 2009, it was Andy Roddick who knocked him out in Australia, then Juan Martin del Potro in Paris before Roger Federer ousted Robredo on his way to the US Open final.
But at the Hopman Cup a couple of week’s ago he led Spain to victory with partner Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez. It was his dominating play against Britain’s Andy Murray in both their singles and mixed doubles rubbers which got tongues wagging and if he can keep that sort of performance up against the top seeds then the latter rounds of the Slams won’t be far out of reach.
The Spanish youngsters look promising too. The success of eight-time Grand Slam champion Nadal has seen tennis flourish again in the Mediterranean and there are some big hitting youngsters to look out for too.
Nicolas Almagro is looking to build on his quarterfinal appearance at the French in 2008 while Marcel Granollers and Daniel Gimeno-Traver both posted career-best results at three of the four Slams in 2009.
Add David Ferrer, Guillermo Garcia-Lopez, Feliciano Lopez and Fernando Verdasco to that mix and Spanish fans are rightfully licking their lips at the bevy of talent they have to cheer on throughout the season.
But there is one name in particular that will get the imagination racing and will pull on the heartstrings as they chase one final hurrah.
Along with Roddick, Federer and Lleyton Hewitt he is one of only four stars currently playing to have wracked up over 500 ATP level wins. He graced the final of the Australian Open in 1997 and went on to lift the French in 1998, his only Grand Slam thus far. Ravaging injuries and a loss of form mean he has not reached a quarter final since the 2007 French and US Opens but after taking a hiatus to recover from injured tendons and ischium in his hip Carlos Moya has returned to the tennis circuit.
A hit with fans in all countries his style of play is loved by the male fans while his style and rugged good looks keep the females in tow too.
A first round exit to Janko Tipsarevic at the Chennai Open last week may not have been the return he would have been dreaming of but it takes time to regain that match practice.
How is it looking for the Spaniards in the Australian Open draw (seedings in brackets)?
Ferrer (17) faces a first-round encounter with Federico Gil of Portugal while Verdasco (9) faces home-boy Carsten Ball. Ferrero (23) has to overcome Croatia’s Ivan Dodig while Moya faces Illya Marchenko of Ukraine.
Gimeno-Traver will have to overcome third seed Novak Djokovic if he wants to see the second round while Robredo (16) faces Columbia’s Santiago Giraldo. Almagro (26) and Granollers face Xavier Malisse and Robin Soderling respectively.
In the bottom half of the draw Feliciano Lopez faces Uruguay’s Pablo Cuevas while Switzerland’s Stanislas Wawrinka awaits Garcia-Lopez. Second seed Rafael Nadal yesterday (Monday) was the first Spaniard to play and he quickly overcame local boy Peter Luczak 7-6(0), 6-1, 6-4, a good omen?
With thirteen Spaniards overall in the draw there is a high chance of a competitor in the final. And how many betting men are brave enough to go against Nadal? It’s now up to the players to live up to the hype. Watch this space!