by Chris, the Impaler - 01/27/2006
After two weeks of punishing temperatures, blistering tennis, and upsets galore, the Australian Open wraps up another exciting 'Slam' down under with two exciting finals this weekend at Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne as Roger Federer attempts to win his seventh and Justine Henin-Hardenne her fifth consecutive "Grand Slam."
Justine Henin-Hardenne's (No.8) five Slam streak is on the line as she takes an unlikely opponent Amelie Mauresmo (No.3) in the Women's Final on Saturday, Jan. 28 at 1:30 pm at Rod Laver Arena. Henin-Hardenne's run through the brackets has been impressive as she beat a frequently out of breath Sharapova (No. 4) in their semi-final match. Mauresmo made it to the finals when Kim Clijsters (No.2) pulled out of their semi-finals match with an injury that will side line the Belgian for at least two months.
Roger Federer (No.1) has never lost in a Grand Slam final and as a result will have his seventh if he can get by the Cypriot Counter puncher Marcos Baghdatis (unseeded) in the Men's Final on Sunday, Jan. 29 at 1:30 pm at Rod Laver Arena. Federer played his best tennis of the tournament in the last two sets of his four set win against petulant Nicolas Kiefer in his semi-final while Baghdatis beat three top ten players (all five sets) to get to the finals. The mandated two days rest that the Australian Open has between the semi-final and final round should give Baghdatis time to recuperate before he takes on Federer.
While these are exciting milestones in Federer's and Henin-Hardenne's careers, the focus has been elsewhere. There is the much-discussed coupling of Andy Roddick and Maria Sharapova at the Australian Open. Some have said that you could see the toll this perhaps played in both of their play. Sharapova was not in "Open" shape and that clearly showed in her semi-final loss to Henin-Hardenne. Not taking anything away from Baghdatis' dominating performance against Roddick, but Roddick played poorly and appeared to lack the intensity we've seen from him in the past losing in four sets and contributing to the Baghdatis history.
The thrill ride that is Baghdatis has certainly roused the crowd at Rod Laver. If perception is reality then Baghdatis is the Man not only in Nicosia but in Melbourne as well. There is a huge Greek population in Melbourne and the raucous three rows at the Roddick match have become an arena and the supporters are growing en masse for what could be one of the noisiest Slam finals in recent memory. His fans think he is crazy because he wears a white T-shirt rather than blue, but they love him dearly. The love affair with Baghdatis and the crowds will certainly figure prominently in the final between the Cypriot and the Swiss.
Amelie Mauresmo, No.3 v. Justine Henin-Hardenne, No.8
Amelie Mauresmo is considered the best woman's tennis player to never have won a 'Slam' takes on Belgium tennis machine Justine Henin-Hardenne. The last time Mauresmo made it to the Australian Open she got tooled by Martina Hingis in two sets in 1999. That same year Mauresmo met Henin-Hardenne in the first round of the U.S. Open and won in straight sets. Mauresmo's bracket has been relatively easy when you consider with two of her opponents had to withdraw because of heat stress - Michaella Krajicek in the third round - and injury - Kim Clijsters in the semi-final on Thursday. Which means Mauresmo is well rested for Henin-Hardenne, who has managed to chew through her competition with relative ease. H-Squared is also playing fabulous tennis since coming off the DL. She's won four of her last six tournaments as well as a three set victory over Mauresmo at Toronto last year. Henin-Hardenne is playing too well to lose against Mauresmo who back doored into the finals. Quite simply Henin-Hardenne is a closer.
Pick! Justine Henin-Hardenne -2.50
Roger Federer v Marcos Baghdatis
Before the tournament Marcos Baghdatis was +12500 on the money line to win. He was also part of the field that paid 75/1. Our future play on Roger Federer is still live and should cash if Federer can ignore the chants, screams (I imagine at least one supporter will flash her breasts) and avoid Baghdatis' huge counter-punching brand of tennis. If Baghdatis manages to beat the Swiss cannon, Cyprus will no doubt be richer for the experience in more ways than one. Baghdatis has been the feel good story of the Open. His meteoric rise will put him somewhere in the top 50 players in the world after the tournament whether he wins or loses. But is there a better day to be a Greek-Cypriot than on Sunday?
Baghdatis supporters will pounce on Federer given the slightest opportunity. And since everyone likes a good upset and Hollywood ending, I expect the crowd to be 98 percent behind Baghdatis. Whether a fault on a first serve, an unforced error or just a point to bring a game to 15-0, Baghdatis' run is one conceived in Hollywood. Is Baghdatis tennis' version of Rocky? Is Roger Federer Apollo Creed - Getting' strong now. How many grueling five setters does Baghdatis have left in him? He needs one more because if he hopes to beat Federer he'll need to continue his gutsy brand of tennis.
A ruthless and seemingly tireless opponent, Baghdatis has frustrated No. 2 seed Roddick, overpowered No.7 seeded Ljubicic and outsmarted No. 4 seeded Nalbandian to get to the finals. If Hollywood wrote this story we know that Baghdatis would overcome numerous setbacks and bad calls to come back from two sets down on Rebound Ace to somehow breaking a serve here, scraping a crosscourt there and then impossibly running down a backhand volley to seal the victory winning his first Grand Slam and bringing down tennis' wunderkind simultaneously. But IRL isn't Hollywood is it?
Since we already have money riding on Federer, we'll hedge and go with Baghdatis and that much closer to the fun in Melbourne.
PICK! Marcos Baghdatis +500
Australian Open Women's Final
Talk about your backdoor entrances into a final! If it sounds like I am pissed, I am.
Pick! Justine Henin-Hardenne -2.50
Let me know what you think at firstname.lastname@example.org.