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Fun and games Down Under

These six young players will make noise at the Aussie

Posted: Monday January 16, 2006 11:29AM; Updated: Monday January 16, 2006 11:29AM
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French teen Gael Monfils is a rising talent who could become a top-tier player.
French teen Gael Monfils is a rising talent who could become a top-tier player.
Ryan Pierse/Getty Images

MELBOURNE, Australia -- Each Grand Slam has its own unique identity and characteristics. But the Australian Open really has a life of its own -- it's built around the sporting summer Down Under, where games and competitions of all types are supported and exalted. Australians hold their sports and sportsmen (and sportswomen) in high regard and they love cheering them on.

When playing against an Aussie, you are as likely to hear the chant, "Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, Oi, Oi, Oi" as you are to hear "deuce" or "30-love." The Australian mentality is best depicted by their ability to combine work and play. The feeling around the grounds is more like a fraternity party than what many would come to expect at a big-time professional tennis tournament. And the Aussies aren't the only ones participating in the party.

European tennis enthusiasts come in packs, happily shaking off their frigid winters in exchange for their two favorite guilty pleasures: tennis and beer. All players are well-prepared for the challenge of competing against a Dutch or Swedish player Down Under. Besides a tough opponent, you can expect partisan crowds packing flags, banners and homemade cheers that will be ringing in your ears hours after your match is over.

But make no mistake, it isn't all fun and games here. There are many challenges. The heat can be brutal. It's so hot that you feel the heat rising off the rubbery rebound-ace surface and right through your sneakers, burning your feet.

Amazingly, the temperature can be the least of a player's concerns if the wind kicks up. A swirling Aussie Open wind can make some players wish they took longer offseasons and skipped the first Grand Slam of the year altogether. It's probably comparable to trying to hit a Tim Wakefield knuckleball -- not a fun proposition.

Predicting Roger Federer will rise above it all and win the Australian Open, thereby kicking off another dominating year, isn't going to gain me immediate admission into the writers branch of the Tennis Hall of Fame. But that is what's going to happen. However, many young stars will emerge this year to challenge the Swiss master's dominance. That, combined with the improvement of some already-established top-tier players, will make this Federer's most challenging year at the top.

Here are some of the men's players I'm looking at to make a big impact at the Aussie Open: