Lock up your gardens, Melburnians! Today’s the first day the seeds are on the prowl in Melbourne Park (on the men’s side, anyway). Let’s have a close look at your Wednesday wildcard playoff matchups, shall we? (hint: we shall.)
Jared Easton vs. James Lemke  – After a 7-5 6-4 victory over Mark Verryth yesterday, 20 year-old Jared Easton is back at it bright and early today, this time against the newly-christened 9th-seed (due to Bernard Tomic’s withdrawal) James Lemke. The Gold Coaster, who once made the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open boys doubles with Devin Britton and achieved a junior combined world ranking of #15, will have his work cut out for him against the born-and-raised Melburnian Lemke, who is ranked 412 spots higher at #318 in the ATP rankings and sports a staggering – from a sheer matches played perspective – 59/37 win/loss record on the year. Easton, who sports a comparatively paltry 9/20 record in 2010, can take some measure of hope from the fact that Lemke has only won 6 of his matches on a hard court. But I’d still expect the 9th seed to come through in this one.
Peter Luczak  vs. Luke Saville – This should be a fun one – the top seed against the rising hope. On paper, it would appear that the #2-ranked Aussie won’t have to reach deep into his ‘zac of Luc (work with me here, people) to pull out a victory over his plucky 16 y/o opponent, who is 15 years his junior. But the matches aren’t played on paper, of course; they’re played on Plexicushion, which really sucks to write on. And though the South Australian from Adelaide can boast a higher current ranking at #115 than the #137 held by his self-professed “idol”, sadly for Luke that’s just his junior ranking, which won’t carry too much clout on the big boys tour. Still, he’s improving in leaps and bounds, and his 6-1 7-6(3) win over Joel Lindner in the first round shows that he’s come ready to play. An enormous ask for Saville, though, and the fun in this match will be in seeing how many games he’s able to get against his top-seeded, more-seasoned opponent.
Matthew Ebden  vs. Benjamin Mitchell – I love this matchup. Kinda sad it’s not on a streamed court, but hey, you can’t have everything (where would you put it?). Anyway, even though the the 4th seed from Perth is five years senior and 413 ATP ranking places higher than his 18 year-old opponent, Ben Mitchell – much like Luke Saville – is quickly on the rise. The #2 Aussie junior finished the year 9-3 on the pro tour, including his 6-4 6-3 first round victory over Maverick Banes. Most notably, the Gold Coaster reached the finals of the Australia F13 event in Bendigo, losing a tight match to Sam Groth, and his ranking has shot up almost 200 places in the last month alone. Will all this improvement spell a victory against Ebden? Possibly. Though Ebden won their only previous meeting 6-1 6-3 last year, the 4th seed did suffer an injury scare while training over the weekend; and though MRI readings indicated no fractures in his right hand, there is some bruising that might impede Ebden’s play. The man from Perth also hasn’t played a competitive match in over a month, while young Mitchell comes in firing on all cylinders. I’d give Ebden the edge in this one, but wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if Mitchell gets the upset either.
Dane Propoggia vs. Sam Groth  – Mr. Samuel Groth comes into this year’s WC Playoff as the hottest player in the event, having finished his year at a torrid 30/5 W/L clip, with three Futures titles under his belt, including the most recent pro event in Bendigo. Propoggia’s had a less-stellar 2010 campaign, going 19/22 for the year and only 9/15 since June. The 20 year old, ranked #616 in the world, can take heart from the fact that, while he lost both his previous meetings with Grothy, they both went the distance, so he’s played the big man close before on two occasions. Still, with the way Sam’s been hitting the ball of late, it’s very hard to imagine Proppogia managing a win here.
Greg Jones  vs. Sean Berman – Remember that thing I said about the paper and the plexicushion? Me neither, but the important thing to note here is that while Greg Jones is the seed and Berman the junior, I actually feel it’s 17 year old Melburnnesburgerican* who has the advantage here. Or, at the very least, it’s deuce. I mean, even. Let’s take a look at the evidence: Berman, the 38th ranked junior who’s still listed as “USA” in the ITF records (I admit, his nationality is a bit hard to keep up with), won the Optus 18′s last week defeating James Duckworth in the final, and entered the event with a head of stream. He did not slow down in the first round, barreling through poor Joey Swaysland 6-4 6-2. Jones, meanwhile, hasn’t played in 3 weeks, and went 12-22 to finish his season. Perhaps the gregarious, big-serving Sydney man has had enough rest to recover from an injury-riddled season and will come in refreshed and renewed. I hope he will. But I’m not confident about it.
Michael Look vs. Marinko Matosevic  – Look out, Mike! The boisterous-but-mellowing ((no) thanks to Teddy Woodbridge)) Matosevic has had a good season to date; the 25 year-old actually spent a portion of this year as the #2-ranked Australian, thanks to a 37/24 year that saw him win two Challenger titles, including the recent Calabasas tournament in late-October. But this is another one of them paper/plexicushion deals: the main reason Look finds himself 435 world ranking spots below his opponent is due to his being out from May until December of this year. Since coming back, the 23 year-old Queenslander from Redcliffe has gone 17/8, including his 1-6 6-4 6-3 win over the higher-ranked Matt Reid in the first round here. And Marinko hasn’t played in over a month. So I’d say Mike’s in it with a chance, despite the disparity on that pesky ol’ paper. Look out, Marinko?
Are you lookin’ at me? Mike Look after his 1st round victory.
John Millman  vs. James Duckworth – Here’s another I wish were on a streamed court; hopefully we’ll get plenty of more-than-30-second look-ins on this one today. The scrappy and affable 21 year-old “Mailman” has delivered a super 40/22 season that’s seen him break into the Top 200 for the first time. The Queenslander had a torrid month-long span from mid-September to mid-October, during which we went 14-1 in winning the Australia F6 Futures as well as the Sacramento Challenger before petering out in his last two matches in the States in October. The Mailman hasn’t played in a couple of months, but has been training hard with the NA-Brisbane team and should hit the court raring to go, despite the lack of recent match play. Duckworth, meanwhile, came into the tournament with a hot hand, having had match points before going down to Sean Berman in the Optus 18′s final. In addition to being the top-ranked Aussie junior, Duckworth’s also gone 22-15 in first semi-full year on the pro tour, achieving an ATP ranking of 755. He struggled a bit in his 2-6 6-2 6-3 win over Matthew Barton in the first round, and he can’t afford such hiccups against Millman. I’ll say the fifth seed gets the win here, but it’ll be a dogfight. Luckily for John, he’s at least one mailman who doesn’t mind fighting dogs.
Adam Feeney vs. Carsten Ball  – Once again, before you get caught up in that “seeded, much-higher ranked player has the advantage” trap, it pays to look at the devilish details: the 25 year-old Feeney has actually won both of his matches against the “American Australian” Carsten Ball. Like Greg Jones, Ball too has limped to the finish line this season, ending the year 6/11. The big-serving lefty, like Matosevic, also hasn’t played in a month. The 23 year-old Feeney, meanwhile, has had an OK 22/19 year but he has done his share of finish line limping as well, ending his season at an 8/10 clip. With the laid-back third seed, you never know what he’s going to bring to the court from day to day. One match he looks like a world beater, the next like a beaten man. I suspect that when all is said and done, Carsten will win here. But I wouldn’t trust my suspicions.
*Born: Johannesburg, Nationality: USA (per his ITF profile page), Residence: Melbourne
Edited to bring you this late-breaking news: Or just maybe, no play will happen at all, as we’ve been stuck for over an hour in a rain delay.
I feel how this kid looks.
BLAME IT ON THE RAAAAAAIIIIN!!!