The Brisbane Caucuses: Early returns

(Last Updated On: January 14, 2012)

Serena's troublesome ankle is acting up again.

How much is to be made of the first four days of the new season, when some of top players are still resting (i.e. Novak Djokovic and Victoroa Azarenka) and others are playing an exhibition (the oh-so-fun Hopman Cup.) Perhaps not that much, but given how many excellent players are competing, it’s worth taking a quick look at the what has befallen some in the first week of 2012 season.

BRISBANE

Serena Williams wrenched her left ankle in a win over Bojana Jovanowski and is now questionable for the Australian Open. Given how fit she looked coming into the year, that’s awful news for Serena, who has been the most dominant player at the Australian Open over the past decade and who really needed matches after not having played since the US Open. It’s too early to tell whether she’ll heal quickly and be able to make a strong charge Down Under, but the video of her re-injuring that chronically problematic ankle did not look good

Ana Ivanovic has been a fixture Down Under since the off-season, which she spent with boyfriend and golfer Adam Scott. She won her first match, and then let go of a 3-0 lead in the third set against Kim Clijsters. Ivanovic’s three-set record since 2008 has been nearly miserable and whether its fitness or confidence ,she must turn that around because there is no way in creation that she going to run thorough the field in Melbourne without dropping a set.

Sam Stosur isn’t making too much of her loss to Iveta Benasova, and I wouldn’t either, because the Czech is very tricky and streaky player who is capable of bothering the top women. But Stosur better turn on the jets next week in Sydney, because she needs positive momentum going into her home Slams, where she’s never played her best.

Vets Jelena Jankovic and Francesca Schiavone will face off in the Brisbane quarters, which will be a good indication of where their levels are.

It’s hard to tell whether Andy Murray‘s knee is really bothering him, or whether he just needed to shake the rust off in two long victories. If his knee is bothering him, his Aussie Open chances will obviously be dimmed. If it’s OK, then once again he’ll enter the tournament as a top 5 favorite.

The question on everyone’s mind is whether his new coach Ivan Lendl can help him win a major. Lendl seems to think so and with a certain amount of star power, will certainly deflect some attention from Murray himself, but really, is it Lendl’s legendary work ethic, conditioning and dedication that Murray needs, or some technical and strategic help. To me, he has almost all the necessary tools to win a Slam except a big enough forehand and decent enough second serve. Then off course, there is his willingness to cut loose on the bog points against the Big 3. Lendl, who has never coached a pro, can certainly help him with the latter, but with the former, I’m just not sure. A swing and positioning coach might do a better job.

Murray’s former coach, Miles Maclagan, who likes to work his students hard, is coaching Marcos Baghdatis and the early returns are good after the Cypriot bested Kei Nishikori. He’ll play Murray in the quarters, which should be a fascinating match up.

Aussie Bernard Tomic has caught fire and is actually capable of winning the tournament. Imagine the attention he’ll get if he pulls off the feat. The tricky Radek Stepanek will test Alex Dolgopolov’s fitness and brain.

AUCKLAND

It’s been a grey windy and sometimes-windy week in New Zealand so it’s really hard to gage how well anyone is playing. Julia Georges is sick, Peng Shuai was said to look super rustym while Sabine Lisicki and Flavia Pennetta march on. Built the biggest surprise of this week was Svetlana Kuznetsova smoking Christina McHale 6-1, 6-1, after the young Amercian had beaten her twice last year. Kuznetsova appears motivated again which could make her very dangerous. Also watch out for Jie Zheng, who has one more good season left in her if healthy.

DOHA

Rafa Nadal says his problematic shoulder is feeling better after he warms-up, which is good news for the Spaniard’s fans. He has added a bit of weight to his Babolat AeroDrive Pure racket, presumably to amp up his serve and presumably his groundies a bit. He is strong enough to handle the extra weight and retain his remarkably quick swing speed. Whether it will affect his play in the short term remain to be seen, but at the very least he was willing to make a change and if he gets in a groove, it may give him confidence that he has a secret new weapon to face off against Novak Djokovic.

Roger Federer and Jo Tsonga could face off in the semis, which I believe would be the fifth time they clashed in the past seven months. Jo needs a win this time around. Gael Monfils, who played a ton of exos in the off-season, is also still alive.

CHENNAI

This is the weakest event of the three ATP 250s, but Milos Raonic is in the draw, which makes it super interesting as he’s now had enough months to recover from his elbow injury and could put himself in prime position for the Aussie Open assault with a good week. Young Indian Yuki Bhambri won a match and will face top seed Janko Tipsarevic, while Spain’s Nicolas Almagro is the second seed and is looking to establish his Davis Cup chops. Sam Querrey fell in the first round, but something tells me he’ll be heard from in the next three weeks.