Aussie Open finals promise excitement

By SAMMY BHATIA | January 28, 2016

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diliff/cc-by-sa-3.0 Milos Raonic has emerged as an unlikely semifinalist in this tourney.

While those of us trapped in America’s Eastern seaboard spent the past week hiding from the cold and snow, those in Melbourne have been enjoying temperate weather and astounding tennis.

The first 11 days of the Australian Open wrapped up in generally predictable fashion. The top three seeded players, Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Andy Murray, respectively, are still in the draw and are set to play their semifinal matches today and tomorrow.

The fourth man is not the fourth or fifth seeds (2014 champion Stan Wawrinka and 2009 champion Rafael Nadal) but instead 25-year-old Milos Raonic.

Raonic has unfortunately remained at the cusp of real greatness. Though he’s clinched eight ATP Titles, this is only the second semifinal he’s been in.

Right off the bat, the defending champion and World No. 1 Novak Djokovic is the clear favorite to win the tournament. The man just came off of an incredible season, winning three of four majors last year and the ATP Tour Finals.

By the end of the season, he had won 11 of the 17 tournaments he competed in and maintained a win-loss record of 82-6. With 16,790 ATP points, he has twice as many as Murray, the second-highest ranked player in the world.

He has beat every player in the tournament in straight sets, save for a fourth-round match against Gilles Simon that went to five.

Though another Djokovic victory would be expected and boring, it’s impossible to hate the player after you watch him.

His playing style is impeccable, and each shot he hits showcases his raw athleticism on court. Oftentimes he performs full splits to reach a ball. He does not have the largest fan base (several times he has been booed at the U.S. Open) for a myriad of reasons.

In the off-chance that Djokovic falls short, Federer is the most likely candidate to emerge victorious. Since he recovered from a shoddy season in 2013 that was plagued by a chronic back injury, the GOAT (greatest of all time) has remained at either the second or third-place ranking in the world by falling short to Djokovic in every Grand Slam final they competed in.

He has defeated Djokovic in several best-of-three matches but the 34-year-old has a clear disadvantage in Grand Slams, which is best-of-five. It would be the Swiss star’s record 18th major title and his first since Wimbledon, 2012.

Murray’s last season was similar to Federer’s 2013 season in that he fell drastically in performance, hampered by injuries, and did not even manage to qualify for the Barclay’s World Tour Finals.

He’s matched up against the 13th seed, Raonic, and it seems relatively likely that the Brit, who has won their last three meetings, will prevail again.

A final against Djokovic would be tough but definitely doable. His odds of claiming his maiden Australian Open title are exponentially higher against Federer, with whom he has had a close, neck-to-neck rivalry for the past several years.

Finally we have the underdog: Raonic. The young Canadian’s decent track record seems unimpressive when stacked against the other three, who have absolutely dominated the sport for the past decade.

If Raonic wants to topple Murray, he has to utilize his big serve and forehand to force Murray out of his usual push-back style of play.

Short, quick points is how he could make it to the finals, although Djokovic would most likely ruin him if he made it there. He also has a fleeting chance against Federer, that is if the Swiss chokes and falls, which he is known to do in high-pressure situations. It would be foolhardy to bet against the man many consider the greatest ever to step between the lines.

All in all the only hopes Murray or Raonic seem to have is if Federer knocks Djokovic out of contention, in which case the two of them will still have to play incredible matches to win.

In that sense the Federer-Djokovic semifinal is really going to feel like the final itself. Whatever happens, we know that the world’s greatest tennis players are absolutely at the top of their game right now, and it will be a great show.

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