Thursday, January 16, 2014

Who The Heck Are These Guys?: The Unseeded Players Left in Australia (Part One)

On the surface, the first four days of the Australian Open have given us little in the way of upsets. Only the loss of "Mr. Handsome" (not my name, but the name the woman who was my waitress tonight at Roosters gave him when he popped on the television screen) Juan Martin Del Potro was a bit of a shock, and even that doesn't qualify as a "Breaking Bad" type surprise (think more like the surprise you have after a good episode of "Justified").  Still, even if the top players are moving forward, we do have some names that you might not be familiar with that have crashed the Third Round party. All in all, of the 32 seeded players, 22 moved to their expected round, leaving 10 unranked warriors trying to crash the party and potentially make a Round of 16 move. In the interest of putting faces to these names, the next two posts will be a short introduction to all ten, ranked in the likelihood of each making the Fourth Round:


We know for certain that at least one of these "unknowns" will make it into the Round of 16, because two of the players are matched up in the Third Round. Klizan seems the most likely winner, as he has reached a height that none of his other compatriots in this group have seen. At one point in 2013, Klizan was ranked 26th in the world before losing to Rafa Nadal in last year's French Open (even taking the first set and scaring Nadal in the second). But soon after, his career collapsed and he proceeded to have a brutal end to the season, culminating in an embarrassing loss to Donald Young (also on this list) at the US Open, in which he only won two games. Klizan does seem to be rounding back into form however, and at his peak, he is probably the best of these players. Klizan got here in part due to John Isner's inability to handle the Australian heat, but his initial entry into the field was via the bizarre "Lucky Loser" system that we have spoken about previously. Lucky losing and heat exhaustion got him here, but can his talent get him farther?

Fun Fact about Klizan: Klizan can speak 6 languages fluently and often likes to surprise fellow tennis players and journalists by breaking out their language unexpectedly when conversing.


Want a feel-good story left in this field?  How about our French friend, Mr. Robert?  Stephane is 33 years old and if one were to look up the phrase "tennis journeyman" in a dictionary, Robert's picture would almost certainly be there (please don't test me on this). Robert has been on tour for 13 years and this is the farthest he has ever gone in a Grand Slam Tournament. Like his opponent Klizan, he made this year's field via a "Lucky Loser" entry after seeded Phillip Kolschreiber was forced to withdraw. This opened the field up for Robert and he has made the most of his opportunity. Stephane's career is best known for his upset over Tomas Berdych as an unranked qualifier at Wimbledon in 2011. But with a win tonight over Robert, he can find himself in the Round of 16, with a chance to make history against (most likely) Andy Murray.

Fun Fact about Robert:  In his spare time, he says he likes to read Fyodor Dostoyevsky novels. As a fellow Fyodor devotee, this has immediately made the Frenchman my favorite for the rest of the event. Very few (if any) athletes could even name "Crime and Punishment" except as a description of much of their off the field activities. Bravo Stephane!


Besides the two "Lucky Losers" paired against each other, if you were to place a bet on one of the ten remaining unseeded players, you would probably be best to go with Edouard Roger-Vasselin. Roger-Vasselin came into the tournament ranked #40 in the world.  Edouard is playing the best tennis of his career, at the ripe old age of 30 and this tournament is the culmination of a rise that really began during the latter part of the 2013 season. Then, he reached his first ever ATP tour Final and made his way to the Semifinals at a 500 level event in Basel. His section of the draw opened up after the retirement of Tommy Haas due to heat in his first round match, and Roger-Vasselin now takes the court against a beatable Kevin Anderson to reach his best Grand Slam result of his career.

Fun Fact about Roger-Vasselin:  Edouard seems like the type of guy that you would introduce to your friends by describing, "well he's nice."  He lists "watching movies with his girlfriend" as his favorite hobby. His favorite movie is "Pursuit of Happiness" (no comment) and he lists his favorite meal as "Chicken and rice."  Don't count on Edouard to be the life of any party, unless that party is a retirement community.


The most familiar name on this list to hardcore tennis fans is Florian Mayer, who has bounced around the 20-50 stage of the ATP rankings his entire career. He came into Australia just outside the seeded area, ranked 37 and he arrived in the Round of 32 after upsetting Mikhail Youzhny in Round 2. Mayer is one of my favorite players to watch primarily because he plays old man tennis. He hits the ball with crazy amounts of spin, long high flowing swings and ridiculous slices that can frustrate players who aren't prepared for his game. Because of the way he plays, he is susceptible to the "beat anyone or be beaten by anyone" mentality, as Mayer has defeated Rafael Nadal in a Masters event and lost to countless qualifiers in results that leave you scratching your head. Going against Jerzy Janowicz (the type of player often frustrated by Mayer's style), I like his chances of pulling an upset here and making his way to an interesting match versus David Ferrer.

Fun Fact About Mayer:  When asked in an interview to name the most interesting thing about him, Florian said it is the fact that he is nicknamed "Flo."  Now no offense to Mayer, but if that is the most interesting fact about you, I might choose to party with Edouard Roger-Vesselin over you. Come on folks, let's spice it up a bit!


We all are waiting for Sam Querrey's big moment. Maybe this is it. Possessed with one of the biggest serves on tour (he still holds the record for most consecutive aces in a match with ten), Querrey always seems on the verge of a breakthrough that never quite arrives. He is 26 years old and in the prime of his career, and has hinted that he thinks 2014 could be his best season yet. He has risen to 17th in the rankings and has more titles than any player on this list (five). However waiting on Sam to fulfill the American promise has seemed to be a continual game for US Tennis fans, who want to see the big fella get the one match that puts him in the category of an elite player. He upset Ernests Gulbis in round two (a good draw for Querry considering the stifling heat) and now plays another hotheaded player in Fabio Fognini. The two players couldn't have more contrasting styles, but if Querry jumps out early in the heat, a second upset in a row could take place. A win puts him in a career-making match in the Round of 16 versus Novak Djokovic. Could this be Querry's time?  He must beat Fabio first to find out.

Fun Fact about Querry:  Sam is also a tremendous baseball player, once hitting two home runs while taking batting practice with the Florida Marlins. He is also very tall.