The competition gets serious in Melbourne as the Australian Open quarterfinals get underway on Day 9. I preview each of the four singles matches scheduled for Tuesday.
Na Li (4) vs. Flavia Pennetta (28)
It’s quite incredible that these two veterans played their first official match against each other nearly 14 years ago. Both players have come a long way since that encounter in Civitanova, with Li winning a French Open and twice finishing runner-up at the Australian Open, while Pennetta became the first woman from Italy to crack the top ten. Li played her best match of the tournament so far in a ruthless demolition of Ekaterina Makarova in the 4th round. Meanwhile, Pennetta had to slog it out in a tough three-setter against Angelique Kerber. Pennetta can always be counted on to give a good fight, but she is committing far too many errors on her forehand, and with Li possessing both the heavier as well as the cleaner game, the fourth seed should make it to the semis on her favourite tennis court at Rod Laver Arena.
Ana Ivanovic (14) vs. Eugenie Bouchard (30)
Ivanovic put in one of the best performances of her career in the fourth round when she beat Serena Williams with a supreme display of baseline tennis. The former world no.1 hit 15 forehand winners from the back of the court including some remarkable returns on her way to winning 59% of Serena’s second serve points. One would expect a break after beating two of the biggest servers in the women’s game in consecutive matches, but Ivanovic’s next opponent is Eugenie Bouchard. Despite her tender years, the Canadian already possesses one of the best serves on the WTA tour. Bouchard has come of age at the Australian Open this year, finally allying consistency and accuracy with the power that she so naturally generates from the baseline. Eugenie first came to prominence when she beat Ivanovic in the second round of Wimbledon last year, and certainly doesn’t lack confidence or self-belief. Her Serbian opponent won’t be lacking in confidence either, and if Ivanovic attacks Bouchard’s second serve like she did against Samatha Stosur and Serena, she will be in pole position to make the semis. However, if there is a drop in Ivanovic’s standards after a momentous win, Bouchard will be ready to pounce in a match that has all the requirements needed to be a close contest.
Tomas Berdych (7) vs. David Ferrer (3)
Berdych has looked extremely impressive en route to the quarterfinals, having yet to be extended to a tie-break in any of his four matches so far. Meanwhile the world no. 3 has had some tricky phases including a couple of four-setters, but Ferrer is second only to his compatriot Rafael Nadal when it comes to keeping calm in rough waters. If the match was decided on raw power, Berdych would be the clear favourite, however there is a reason that Ferrer leads the head-to-head 7-4. With the cooler conditions now slowing the courts, Ferrer has a clear advantage as he will be able to extend rallies and unless Berdych can consistently finish points early with big shots, the Spaniard should make it through to the semis.
Stanislas Wawrinka (8) vs. Novak Djokovic (2)
Last year’s fourth round encounter between these two in Melbourne was considered by many to be the best match of 2013. The duo followed it up with another good five-setter in the semis of the US Open, resulting in this matchup being one of the most eagerly awaited since the draw was made. When Wawrinka plays inspired tennis, there are very few on the ATP tour who can live with him, including the best in the world. Nonetheless, even when Wawrinka was at his inspired best last year, Djokovic beat him four times. The three-time defending champion is in simply imperious form, and is only getting better with each passing match. The second best Swiss in the men’s game will rely on consistently going for winners off both wings, but whether he can sustain such tactics against Djokovic’s brilliant defence is open to debate. I think Wawrinka will manage to take a set, but another five-setter is unlikely as Djokovic is currently playing at a level even higher than last year. Djokovic to book his place in the semi’s on the back of what is bound to be an entertaining win.