We are down to the business end in the first grand slam of the year, as the round of 16 kicks off at the 2014 Australian Open. Here are the matches I am that looking forward to on day 7.
Angelique Kerber (9) vs. Flavia Pennetta (28)
The German ninth seed has looked back to her best in Melbourne after an under par second half of the season in 2013. It almost seems like Kerber needed the embarrassment of losing a set 6-0 in the first round to spur her on. A crucial component in her return to form is Kerber’s first serve points winning percentage, which stands at an impressive 69% through the tournament so far. Like Kerber, Pennetta has a brilliant ratio when it comes to winning first serve points of 83%, however the Italian has managed to get her first serve in only 40% of the time. With the two evenly matched from the baseline, I think Kerber’s reliability on serve will swing a tight contest in her favour.
Serena Williams (1) vs. Ana Ivanovic (14)
Ivanovic has never beaten Serena, and has not even managed to take a set off the world no.1 in four meetings. It’s hard to see a different result this time around. Serena did have an off-day on serve during her third round victory against Daniela Hantuchova, but even from the baseline, it's really hard to see Ivanovic coming out on top of the rallies. Nonetheless, except the Serb to show a lot of fight and run down many balls in a match that should see Serena come through against her toughest opponent so far.
Casey Dellacqua vs. Eugenie Bouchard (30)
Eugenie Bouchard is the rising star of women’s tennis and the Canadian has marked her arrival in the big time with a commanding performance in Melbourne so far. With a smooth serve and a strong baseline game off both wings, the Canadian has all the makings of a top five player. Bouchard has been well supported so far, however this will be the first time that the crowd will be cheering her opponent on. Dellacqua is the last remaining Australian in the competition, and the southpaw has been playing some wonderful attacking tennis en route to the round of 16. Bouchard’s big game gives her the slight edge, but if the match goes to a third set, Dellacqua’s experience coupled with the home support could see the Aussie causing an upset.
Na Li (4) vs. Ekaterina Makarova (22)
Li can consider herself lucky to be in the fourth round after a sluggish performance against Lucie Safarova almost proved costly in the previous round. Like Maria Sharapova the day before, Li might actually benefit from the experience, and the odds are the fourth seed will be switched on from the moment she steps on court. If not, Makarova certainly has the game to cause an upset. Makarova has never beaten Li in four meetings, but the duo had an extremely tough three-setter in the US Open quarterfinals, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they went the distance in this match as well. I give Li the slight edge, but I wouldn’t bet on the outcome of this contest.
Stanislas Wawrinka (8) vs. Tommy Robredo (17)
A match between two players with single-handed backhands who both had fantastic years in 2013. It seems that Wawrinka and Robredo have both started 2014 in the same vein, suggesting this should be a feisty encounter featuring many good baseline rallies. Wawrinka has the edge on the backhand and serve, while Robredo shades the defensive aspects of the game. I think Robredo has played really well to come through some tough four-setters, and to add to the Spanish veteran’s confidence, he has a 6-1 record in his favour against Wawrinka, including two tight three-set victories last year. However, I think conditions in Australia are more to Wawrinka’s liking, and one also has to consider the fact that the Swiss had a third round walkover which should result in him being in better physical shape. I think Wawrinka’s shot-making ability will take him over the line in a tough match and onto the quarterfinals.