Tuesday, February 3, 2015

What We Learned from the Australian Open- "Next Three" Edition

Big things were expected from the emerging trifecta of Kei Nishikori, Milos Raonic and Grigor Dimitrov heading into 2015.  They all made great strides in 2014, and seemed poised to take the next step this year.  While they all had decent Australian Opens, it looks like 2015 might be more of the same for this threesome, as opposed to another big step forward.

Kei Nishikori:  There's nothing wrong per se with Nishikori merely making the quarterfinals of a grand slam.  It's certainly a big step back from making the finals (as he did during the US Open) but it's not realistic to expect him to reach the finals of every grand slam he plays with such a deep field.  More concerning is how easily Wawrinka took him out in the quarters.  Nishikori simply got outclassed by Wawrinka, who consistently hit a harder and heavier ball than Nishikori.  After a straight set win over Ferrer it appeared Nishikori was finding his form in time for the latter stages of the tournament.  Instead, there are now some doubts as to whether Nishikori can consistently compete with the best few players in the world. 

Milos Raonic:  Raonic did what he was supposed to do, and it's hard to knock someone for losing to Djokovic at the Australian Open.  It would have been nice if he gave Djokovic a more competitive match, but he wasn't able to put up much of a fight in the quarterfinals.  Raonic is well positioned to have a big 2015, but "big" will likely be a spot between 5-10 in the rankings as opposed to the top four.  Raonic is at the point where he consistently beats players below him in the rankings, but rarely beats players ranked above him.  Some thought this might change in 2015, but it looks like we can expect a lot of quarterfinal (and a few semifinal) performances from Raonic at the big events throughout the rest of the year.

Grigor Dimitrov:  Dimitrov never seemed at his best at this Australian Open, but the loss to Murray now seems better than it did at the time.  Regardless, if Dimitrov is ever going to live up to the hype he'll have to start beating the Murrays and Federers of the world at some point.  He is several years younger, but the Big Four isn't going away anytime soon.  Dimitrov does appear to be closing the gap, but it's clear there is still a gap between him and the very best players in the world.  Dimitrov's start to 2015 hasn't been a disaster by any means, but it has been fairly mediocre.  He's too talented (and now a hard enough worker) not to post plenty of big results during the rest of the season, but still doesn't seem ready to win the biggest matches when it matters most.

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