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Aussie party starts next week

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Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The 2005 edition of the Australian Open will get underway on Monday (Sunday in the U.S.), with most of the world's top players on hand (minus one of last year's champs).

Roger Federer will return as the reigning king, having throttled big Russian star Marat Safin in last year's finale, while neither one of the women's finalists from 2004 will be in Melbourne. Reigning champion Justine Henin- Hardenne will skip the year's first Grand Slam event because of a knee injury, while last year's runner-up, Henin-Hardenne's fellow Belgian Kim Clijsters, remains sidelined with a potentially career-threatening left wrist injury.

The incredible Federer is the main attraction, having won four of the last six majors, including three quarters of 'em last season when he became the first man to accomplish that feat in 16 years. Federer's also won his last 21 ATP matches overall and is an Open Era-record 14-0 in his last 14 finals.

If you want to get to Federer you better get to him early in the draw. From the semifinals on, you can probably forget it.

Roger Federer
Roger Federer showing off his 2004 Aussie Open hardware.
What else can you say? Federer's flat out winning everything in sight. It would take a weak effort from the sublime Swiss for someone to knock him out.

The mighty "Fed," of course, opened his '05 campaign by titling in Doha last week.

Obviously Federer has designs on sweeping the majors this year, with his biggest obstacle coming at the French Open with all those clay-court specialists hovering about.

Federer can expect challenges from a handful of guys in Melbourne , most notably former world No. 1s Andy Roddick, Lleyton Hewitt, Safin and Andre Agassi. Other possible contenders are Carlos Moya, Tim Henman and huge-serving Swede Joachim Johansson. Safin has reached two of the last three finals in Melbourne (somehow he lost to Swede Thomas Johansson in the '02 finale), while Moya, fresh off his season-opening title in Chennai, has also reached the Aussie Open final, losing to the great Pete Sampras back in 1997.

The big-hitting Roddick still poses a threat to Federer, despite the fact that Roger's won eight of their nine career matchups, including four straight. The elegant Swiss went 3-0 against the brash American last season.

The Adelaide native Hewitt, fresh off a resurgent '04 campaign, would love to win his home Slam, but he has yet to advance beyond the fourth round at Melbourne Park. Could this be the year?

The legendary Agassi is seeking a fifth Aussie Open crown, which would be quite an achievement at the age of 34. He's won this event three of the last five years. His first Aussie Open title came 10 years ago (or 1995).

We'll find out soon enough if the ageless Andre has another Grand Slam in him.

Don't forget the capable Henman. "Our Tim" was a "tough out" in the last three majors in '04, reaching semifinals at both the French and U.S. Opens and the quarters at Wimby.

And don't be surprised when the towering Joachim Johansson makes some noise over the next few weeks, as the 6-foot-6 Swede titled in Adelaide last week and soared all the way to the U.S. Open semifinals last summer. He possesses major weapons with a massive serve and lethal forehand. A favorable draw could see him advance deep into the second week. We may want to keep an eye on Johansson's health, however, as he pulled out of this week's tourney in Sydney after suffering a hamstring injury.

Lindsay Davenport
Lindsay Davenport is seeking her first Grand Slam title in five years.
With no Henin-Hardenne or Clijsters on hand, approximately eight women figure into the title equation in Melbourne, with the top favorites being former champion Lindsay Davenport, former runner-up Amelie Mauresmo, Wimbledon winner Maria Sharapova and former Aussie champ Serena Williams. The other contenders, in my opinion, are Russians Anastasia Myskina, Svetlana Kuznetsova and Elena Dementieva and another former finalist, Venus Williams. Ever-improving Aussie crowd favorite Alicia Molik -- last year's surprise Olympic bronze medalist -- could be a Down Under darkhorse.

Two-time Melbourne champion Jennifer Capriati pulled out of the '05 Aussie extravaganza this week, citing a shoulder injury which she suffered at Philadelphia's Advanta Championships back in November. Capriati missed last year's Aussie Open with a back injury.

The world No. 1 Davenport is seeking her first major title since winning the 2000 Aussie Open, which also marks her last trip to a Grand Slam final. The 28-year-old's fitness will be tested in Melbourne's January heat.

Mauresmo has only ever appeared in one major final, but that final came in Melbourne, back in 1999, when she lost to the "Swiss Miss," Martina Hingis.

Serena has been predicting a comeback year in 2005, and what better way to get it started than with an Aussie Open title. She captured the event in 2003, but missed it due to injury in 2002 and 2004. Serena bested her big sister Venus in the '03 final.

Watch out for the soon-to-be-24-year-old Molik. She'll have the home crowd support and can blow people off the court with her big service game.

Russian women won three of the four majors last year, with only the Aussie Open eluding them. They also accounted for five of the eight Grand Slam finalists in 2004, with Melbourne marking the only major where they failed to "represent." Four Russians will be among the favorites Down Under, but I'm goin' with Serena to reign supreme.

Do I even have to make my men's pick? Let's just say it rhymes with Bederer.

Enjoy the Open!

Ace or double fault? Send your comments to Scott Riley at sriley@sportsnetwork.com.
Scott Riley


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