Photo: World Tennis Magazine
The first Grand Slam of the year kicks off from Melbourne on Monday, but what should we expect from the Croatians this time around at the Australian Open? Besides Croatia’s 2005 Davis Cup title, Marin Čilić’s 2010 Australian Open semifinal appearance and Ivan Ljubičić’s 2010 BNP Paribas Open championship, Croatian tennis has been dormant, to say the least, since Goran Ivanišević’s epic wild card win at Wimbledon in 2001.
Is it lack of talent or playing with the cream of the crop that contributes to this tennis famine? We can very well be witnessing the greatest past decade of tennis in the game’s history. We all know the legacies Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djoković have built for themselves, but before anyone can battle these legends in any given Grand Slam, top-notch players such as Andy Murray, Juan Martin del Potro and David Ferrer have to be dealt with first. So how long does Croatia have to wait to crown one of their own a Grand Slam champion?
Marin Čilić can play with the best of them. But he plays so many four and five set matches early in these Grand Slam tournaments that by the time he encounters one of the big boys later in the draw, he’s completely fatigued. The 24 year-old Čilić, from Međugorje, can hit a mean forehand and uses his 6′ 6″ frame to get plenty behind his serves. His best finish at a Grand Slam was losing to Andy Murray in four sets of the 2010 Australian Open semifinals. In his last go under the big lights, Čilić lost to eventual champion Andy Murray in four sets at the 2012 US Open quarterfinals. Čilić will open up against Australian-born Croatian Marinko Matosevic. He has a favorable draw with an encounter against Argentine Juan Martin del Potro looming in the fourth round.
Photo: @ivokarlovic Twitter
The doctor is in! But for how long? 6′ 10″ Ivo Karlović will open up against a qualifier who has yet to be determined. Should he win his opening round match, Karlović would most likely face tournament #4 David Ferrer in the second round. Karlović is a one-dimensional player and is pretty easy to figure out: he’s ALL serve. The man towers over his competition and sends missiles their way during play. But if you can return his serve, the rest of the point is usually a cakewalk. As Karlović usually wins games he serves in but loses almost everything else, most sets involving him end in a tiebreak. Don’t look for Dr. Ivo past the second round at this year’s Aussie Open.
Karlović threw the above picture on his Twitter feed earlier this week with the caption: “Jugoslavija on Rod Laver arena. uf al nas ima..”
We have seen glimmers of greatness from 28 year-old Ivan Dodig, but the man doesn’t have enough gas in the tank to take down a giant and make a run at a Grand Slam. Dodig will open up against Chinese wild card Wu Di, and should he win, would then play the winner of #19 Tommy Haas/Jarkko Nieminen in the second round. One of Dodig’s greatest achievements to date is his four-set loss to eventual Australian Open champion Novak Djoković in 2011. It was the only set Novak lost the entire tournament.
On the women’s side of the draw, three Croatians will take part in the Australian Open. 21 year-old Petra Martić will take on Japanese contender Misaki Doi, with the winner looking to face world #2 Maria Sharapova in the second round. 16 year-old Donna Vekić, from Osijek, will make her Grand Slam debut versus Czech Republic’s Andrea Hlaváčková. The winner could meet former world #1 Caroline Wozniacki in the second round.
After reaching the third round of Wimbledon in 2012 as a qualifier, Mirjana Lučić will test #17 Lucie Šafářová in the first round of this year’s Aussie. Lučić defeated #9 Marion Bartoli on the grass courts of Wimbledon last year.