The slumming slam finalists
Eleven years ago, Frenchman Arnaud Clement came back from the dead to beat compatriot Sebastien Grosjean in five sets and reach his lone slam final. He was destroyed by Andre Agassi in straight sets but it remains the biggest result of his career.
Two years later, Rainer Schuettler upset Andy Roddick in the semi-finals to record what was also his only appearance in a major decider. He suffered a similar fate to Clement, getting blown away by an inspired Agassi.
The two veterans have put in a lot of miles since then but both deserve credit for sticking around this long to slum it out in the qualies.
Schuettler opens his qualifying bid against Chris Guccione in the stand-out tie of the first round while Clement starts against another veteran German, Bjorn Phau.
It’s a hell of a long road to the final.
New kids on the block
Jiri Vesely won the Boy’s Singles title in Melbourne last year and the Czech lefty makes his pro slam debut here.
The 18-year-old arrives in good form having won his first Futures title in China last week and looks capable of getting the better of Kamil Capkovic in the first round.
Another youngster to look out for is Guilherme Clezar of Brazil who just turned eighteen on New Year’s Eve.
He reached the quarter-finals of the Boy’s event last year and already has four Futures titles to his name. However, he faces a tough first round match against Alex Kuznetsov and is unlikely to progress further.
Conor Niland has been handed a tough draw as he bids to qualify for his third slam on the spin.
He opens his account against Stephane Bohli of Switzerland, who arrives in Melbourne match tough having won three matches to qualify for the main draw in Auckland over the weekend.
They met once before in 2010 with Bohli securing an easy 6-2, 6-1 win, but given it was played on clay it will have little relevance here.
The bookies make the Swiss a clear favourite but should Niland overturn the odds, he is likely to face tenth seed Malek Jaziri in round two.
While the Tunisian is one of the in-form players in the draw, Niland will fancy his chances having secured a straight sets win in their Davis Cup encounter last July.
Possible final round opponents include Uladzimir Ignatik of Belarus (head to head 1-1) and Jurgen Zopp of Estonia.
Niland will have to produce his best to complete his hattrick but can take a lot of confidence from his efforts in SW19 and Flushing Meadows last year.
Interestingly, Louk Sorensen’s protected ranking would have been enough to get him into the draw but he opted to play a Futures event in Germany this week instead.
Betting for insomniacs
What better way to spend a night than watching a tennis live stream as your money vanishes?
Some solid looking underdogs include Denis Kudla over gangly Serb Nikola Ciric (2.2), the aforementioned Vesely over Capkovic (2.05) and cult hero Jimmy Wang over Izak Van der Merwe (3.0).
A patriotic punt on Conor Niland would also be value at 3.05 if I didn’t fear jinxing him.
For those of you into short priced accumulators, Ricardas Berankis (1.14), Malek Jaziri (1.48), David Goffin (1.4), Jan Hernych (1.48), Dusan Lajovic (1.5), Michael Yani (1.75) and Alex Kuznetsov (1.33) look like names for consideration.
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