Round 1: Christophe Rochus. Rafa has never played this Rochus brother. However, I have a very hard time imagining that he will have any trouble at all with Rochus, who is 30 years old and ranked 75 in the world.
Round 2: Serra or Karanusic. Rafa has played Serra three times, all on hard courts in 2008, and never even come close to losing. Karanusic has never played him but his playing activity doesn’t give me much to be afraid of. I predict a fairly easy match here.
Round 3: Haas, Schwank, Tursunov or a qualifier. Neither Haas nor Turusnov have ever beaten Rafa on any surface. Both could probably trouble him for a little while, maybe, but Haas isn’t likely to suddenly figure out how to beat Rafa, and Tursunov will never be able to outlast him. He doesn’t have the patience or the mental strength that Rafa has. He’s never played Schwank and at the moment I don’t know who the qualifier is. I again predict a relatively easy match.
Round 4: Gasquet, Junqueira, Spadea (snort), Istomin, Canas, Kiefer, Hewitt or Gonzalez. This is the spot where it looks like it MIGHT get sticky. The most likely threats here are Gasquet, Hewitt or Gonzalez, IMO. Gasquet is laughable unless he suddenly discovers a spine, which isn’t likely. Gonzalez hasn’t been up to snuff in awhile and I don’t see him beating Rafa if Rafa gets in ANY kind of form. Hewitt is always tough at the AO but…where has he even been lately? I have no idea what’s going on with him but, as with Gonzo, if Rafa is in decent form, I don’t see it happening. There was that marathon last year, sure, but Rafa is not Marcos Baghdatis.
Quarters: Simon seems most likely out of this bunch, though it’s really a collection of “hmm, good but I can’t imagine him in a slam quarterfinal!” type players. I don’t see anyone here other than Simon or maybe Youzhny that should trouble him over five sets. And we’ve yet to see if Simon continues the play that he had last year…we don’t know if he can yet. And Youzhny’s been pretty MIA lately.
Which brings us to the semis, and my bets would be on Murray or Gulbis. Anything goes here. Murray is obviously capable of beating Rafa. I’m not sure if Gulbis is, just yet. I think it’ll be Murray, and I really don’t know what to predict. I think it all depends on how Rafa is playing, honestly. If he’s at his best, I think he’ll win.
The good thing about having a lot of good players in one section is that they all tend to beat the crap out of each other by the time they get to Rafa. Anything can happen in a slam.
I’ll be predictable and say Djokovic or Federer in the final.
I will go out on a limb and say, if Rafa makes the final, I think he’ll win.
My quick predictions:
Quarters: Nadal, Simon, Murray, Gulbis, Nalbandian, Djokovic, Del Potro (or Lopez), Federer
Semis: Nadal, Murray, Nalbandian, Federer
Finals: Nadal, Federer
Too hopeful? Maybe. :) But I feel okay about my picks for the quarters.