With the continued absence of Rafael Nadal due to his perpetually aching knees, this Golden Age in the sport is slightly less luminous without the Man from Mallorca in the mix. That being said, the unveiling of a draw at a Slam is always a highly-anticipated occasion, even if there is really only one major question – which of the Big Three (Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Andy Murray) will have the more perilous path to preeminence?
For this year’s Australian Open, which starts on Monday (Sunday evening American time), the draw turned out to be extremely kind to two-time defending champion Djokovic, but downright cruel to Federer and, to a lesser extent, Murray.
In fact, Federer’s draw is that much more difficult than his top rivals that it would be a superb accomplishment for the 17-time Slam champion to even make the final – which he likely won’t. Things are relatively dicey starting in the second round for Federer and it stays difficult for the duration of the fortnight. Though he’d likely dispose former top-5 member Nikolay Davydenko in his second match and should subdue the already-underachieving Australian, 19 year-old Bernard Tomic, in the third round, it is the possible round-of-16 encounter against Canadian Milos Raonic that may spell the end of Federer’s hopes in Melbourne.
Like many tennis observers, I have been touting Raonic since he first burst on the scene three years ago. With his Pete Sampras-like ease of a service motion, potent groundstrokes, and nimble net play despite being so tall, Raonic seemed destined to have already reached a Slam final by this point (he just turned 22 in December). And while it’s too soon to say he isn’t reaching his full potential, now is definitely the time to take that extra step; consider that 22 is when Federer and Andre Agassi both won their first Slams and it was also the age at which Sampras started his run of brilliance (though he won the U.S. Open at the age of 19 in 1990, Sampras laid low for a couple of years until winning Wimbledon in 1993).