Howdy, folks. I know all of you loyal, true-blue fans are busy analyzing and dissecting the draw, and I'm here to tell you not to fret or sweat. Novak Djokovic is going to kick buttski and take names, and there isn't a danged thing Uncle Toni, Ivan Lendl, Larry Stefanki, or Mirka and the twins can do about it. You want the truth? You can't handle the truth!
That is, unless Tatsuma Ito of Japan has something to say about it.
Ha. That's what you get for trying to see into the future. The whole point in tennis is to see who can get through what amounts to a bewildering game of chance to get to the second week of a major. Count me among those who think that punditry is absurd guesswork until the unpredictable elements of Week One are finished.
Some things, though, we do know. Given that top-seeded Djokovic, No. 2 Rafael Nadal, and No. 3 Roger Federer all have first-round matches with as yet undetermined qualifiers, the guy holding the short end of the stick clearly is No. 4 Andy Murray. He not only has a direct-entry opponent, but a hungry and brash young opponent in Ryan Harrison, who's probably still steamed about having lost in the second round at Auckland to Philipp Kohlschreiber. (Harrrison wouldn't be the first guy to feel cheated by life because he lost to Kohlschreiber, and he's still too young to understand why it was just part of the natural order of things.)
If Murray can quell Harrison, he could meet always dangerous, mercurial Xavier Malisse. And then, possibly, Michael Llodra or Ernests Gulbis. This is not a good draw.
But no draw is good or bad once the tournament actually starts. Should Murray survive a few rounds, he could meet Dudi Sela (among any number of other options) in the fourth round. Now we're talking good draw, right? But it's more likely that, should Murray survive long enough, he'll have to play Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (No. 6) in the quarterfinals. Unless Julien Benneteau has the tournament of his life and takes the spot reserved for Tsonga.
This is why I hate making predictions based on the pre-tournament draw. You have to be an idiot to look three, four rounds into the future with confidence, which is one thing the players have figured out and about which you can trust their default comment: "I'm not looking ahead, I just want to know who I have in my next match."
Still, Djokovic seems pretty well set up for a comfortable trip to the semis. He has his hipster buddy and wingman Janko Tipsarevic (No. 9) there in his quarter, along with a soft competitor in Richard Gasquet (No. 17), and two struggling veterans in Lleyton Hewitt and Andy Roddick (No. 13). But Djokovic must beware Milos Raonic (No. 23), the recent winner at Chennai and a bombardier capable of hitting anyone off the court.
I can't imagine that Federer is quaking in his boots, either, although his sore back is an inhibiting factor. Who's going to keep him from a fourth-round date with volatile Alexandr Dolgopolov—Jurgen Melzer? Fernando Verdasco? Ivo Karlovic? Not in this lifetime. The big obstacle for Federer could be Juan Martin del Potro in the quarters—should Delpo get past 30-year-old work-in-progress Mardy FIsh.
In the bottom quarter, No. 2 Rafael Nadal's path to the quarters may be blocked by a number of aggressive, hard-serving opponents who could make his life miserable. Ivan Ljubicic, Feliciano Lopez, John Isner, Kevin Anderson and Tomas Berdych are all in that section. Better practice that service return, Rafa!
First-round matches I'd like to see: Bernard Tomic v. Fernando Verdasco (No. 22); Marcos Baghdatis v. Benjamin Becker; Robin Haase v. Andy Roddick (No. 15); Janko Tipsarevic (No. 9) v. Dmitry Tursunov; Andy Murray (No. 4) v. Ryan Harrison; Viktor Troicki (No. 19) v. Juan Carlos Ferrero.
Mind-blowing upset of Round One: Haase d. Roddick
On the women's side, top-seeded Caroline Wozniacki could get hard-charging prodigy Ashleigh Barty of Australia in the second round. The world No. 1 needs that like she needs a hole in the head (or another folk singer). And given defending champ Kim Clijsters' fall from grace (she's seeded No. 11, due mainly to injury-related inactivity), it's slightly awkward that she may have to slug it out with Li in the fourth round and Wozniacki in the quarters (ed. note: corrected from original) . Also in that quarter: theoretically dangerous Jelena Jankovic (No. 13) and Daniela Hantuchova (No. 20). No matter how you cut it, that top quarter is loaded.
In the second quarter, Victoria Azarenka (No. 3) may have to meet Bojana Jovanovski in the second round, and promising Petra Cetkovska in the fourth round. But given Azarenka's proven ability to lord it over lesser players, she ought to own the quarter. Who's going to stop her, Sania Mirza? Flavia Pennetta? Yanina Wickmayer? It's hard to imagine that Azarenka won't end up meeting No. 8 Agniezska Radwanska in the quarters. I call it a gimme.
The third quarter is wide open. The two top seeds are No. 4 Maria Sharapova and no. 7 Vera Zvonareva, who's been sliding downward steadily since her great year in 2010. Kaia Kanepi recently—and surprisingly—won Brisbane (she slaughtered Hantuchova in the final); Dominka Cibulkova is coming off a good year; Svetlana Kuznetsova has won two majors and Sabine Lisicki is a dangerous power player. And guess who's right in the middle of it? Serena Williams, at No. 12. Go ahead, you figure it out. . .
Petra Kvitova blew it the other day in Sydney, when she was in a position to take over the No. 1 ranking from Wozniacki (Kvitova squandered a big lead and lost to Li). She could go all WTA on us and lose to Vera Dushevina in the first round, advancing the theory that that if the women's game were a play, it would be titled, "128 Players in Search of a Champion." If Kvitova gets through a few rounds, she may have to deal with Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Marion Bartoli (should Bartoli or someone like, oh, Sorana Cirstea handle No. 6 Samantha Stosur). But with a match or two under her belt, chances are Kvitova will settle in and play well.
First-round matches I'd like to see: Lucie Safarova (No. 24) v. Christina McHale; Kimiko Date-Krumm v. Eleni Daniilidou; Bethanie Mattek-Sands v. Agnieszka Radwanska; Vera Zvonareva v. Alexandra Dulgheru; Gisela Dulko v. Maria Sharapova (No. 4); Samantha Stosur (No. 6) v. Sorana Cirstea; Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (No. 15) v. Klara Zakopalova; Vera Dushevina v. Petra Kvitova (No. 2)
Mind-blowing upset of Round One: Cirstea d. Stosur.