As published on Back Page Lead
Australians love barracking for the underdog but the awful draw for our local hopes took that to the extreme. Luke Costin takes a look at five dark horses who have a real chance of causing some upsets.
First round: v Tang Hao-Chen (CHN)
Take notice of this Canadian teen. Eugenie Bouchard will be top 15 by year’s end. Delivering flat groundstrokes and a solid defence, Bouchard troubles many players with her strong all-round game. Sam Stosur, Jelana Janokic and Sloane Stephens were three of the highly ranked opponents she defeated during her breakout season. Her potential to unleash a quick and accurate forehand whip from anywhere in the court will worry her opponents. A very good chance to make it to Week 2.
The Croat is capable of big scalps when it matters, having previously beaten Jo-Wilfred Tsonga and Jeremy Chardy in Grand Slams. A wrist injury last year destroyed the significant gains made in 2012 and saw his ranking plummet from 26 to 114. The experience has not been erased though and a fit Klizan could produce results trivialising his lowly rank.
This clay-courter has already spent her fair share of court time at Melbourne Park this tournament, clocking up six and half hours in her laborious method of qualification. While it may have tired the former world no. 38, it should mean the right shoulder injury that marred her 2013 will not impact her Australian Open. Begu’s first round opponent is a fellow-journeywoman and is beatable.
Jack Sock’s 2014 got off to a flier in Auckland last week, knocking out the experienced world no. 12 Tommy Hass in straight sets. Sock is yet to set the world on fire but two third-round departures in his home grand slam show he has the ability to shake up things. A rising doubles player too (he won his first title with James Blake at Delray Beach in March), Sock will be as dangerous at the net as he will be on the baseline.
The Spaniard was 5-9 against top 30 players in 2013 and could have been 2-0 in 2014 had he served out his semi-final against John Isner last week. Nerves have got the better of Baustista Agut before but if he can remain composed, he can reap the benefits of his dangerous flat groundstrokes and will set up a second round match with world no. 5 Juan Martin Del Potro.
and if you really want an Aussie to cheer for:
The 2013 Australian Open Boys’ Champion has made the step up to the men’s game with impressive commitment. A French Open win against veteran Radek Stepanek and successful qualification into the US Open main draw were part of a successful debut year garnering two ITF Futures titles. A first round win will bring, at worst, a match-up against 27th seed Benoit Paire. A third-round match up with Del Potro is not impossible.