January 10, 2009

Rollin' in Doha

It was the battle of the Andy's in Qatar this week as the newly-branded 2009 ATP World Tour kicked off with the ExxonMobil Open in Doha.

Former #1 and fourth-seeded Andy Roddick breezed through his first four rounds, dropping only one set to Gael Monfils, who had earlier shocked Rafael Nadal with a straight set win. On the bottom half of the draw, Andy Murray scored an impressive sixth win over Roger Federer, making him one of very few players -- I count two three -- that have winning records over the Swiss giant.

It's no surprise who I was rooting for -- a win for Roddick would not only have been his first over Murray since 2007 but it would have helped him regain the momentum he's truly been lacking since early last year. Even though he remains solidly in the top ten -- for now -- he suffered some disappointing losses in the back half of 2008: Robin Soderling, Thomas Berdych and then-#93 Viktor Troiki all notched upsets.

On the other hand it seems Murray is on a roll. He won a career-high five titles last year and made his first appearance at a Grand Slam final in Flushing Meadows. In the past twelve months he's beaten every other player in the top ten, except for Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. And at last week's exhibition match in Abu Dhabi he drew victories over Federer and Nadal in consecutive matches.

In the end, unfortunately for me, the game played out as the statistics predicted -- Murray successfully defended his title and took the match 6-4, 6-2. And with just one week left before the world's top players head to Melbourne, I fear, the victory could presage a pretty strong performance for him Down Under -- and maybe throughout the year.

Sure there are plenty of others ready to argue their own cases -- Novak Djokovic, for example, needs to redeem himself after a first round exit in Brisbane, and you can bet neither Nadal nor Federer are going to take their recent losses lightly. And I'm still not willing to count out even Roddick -- it's time for the U.S. men to re-exert their skills on the court.

The results in Australia will really set the tone for the year. As I've noted before there's not a lot of distance between the world's topmost players, and a win at the Open could signal yet another changing of the guard.

So get ready for what's sure to be an exciting year!

And as always, serve well and play hard!

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