Angelique Kerber v Madison Keys
The first match in the Rod Laver Arena is an intriguing match between one of last year’s most consistent players and one of the brightest up-and-coming youngsters in the game. Angelique Kerber has struggled to impress thus far in 2013, losing in the quarterfinals in Brisbane to Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and the semi-final of Sydney to Dominika Cibulkova, in both of which she was simply overpowered.
Madison Keys has been a revelation this year. She reached the quarterfinal in Sydney, crushing Lucie Safarova and Jie Zheng, before taking a set off Li Na. In Melbourne, she has cruised past Casey Dellacqua and Tamira Paszek without dropping a set.
Kerber has struggled through a couple of matches this year already and it should be an intriguing test of where exactly Madison Keys’ level is right now. I can certain see the young American winning a set, but I am not convinced she will be able to go all the way to the win.
Prediction: Kerber in three sets
Na Li v Sorana Cirstea
The former Australian Open finalist has been tipped up in many quarters to be a dark horse in the tournament. She already has one title under her belt from Shenzhen this year and was only stopped by the in-form Radwanska in Sydney. She has been hitting the ball well so far, and if she can find some consistency and cut out the errors, she will be a real threat.
Cirstea looked down and out after collapsing to a 6-1 defeat in the opening set in the second round, but she fought back well to come through in three sets. These two players met twice in Slams last year with Li winning at Roland Garros and Cirstea gaining her revenge at Wimbledon.
While the previous meetings have been relatively close, I don’t think Cirstea has really found her form yet in 2013. For me, it would be a big surprise if the former finalist does not come through this test with relative ease.
Prediction: Li Na comfortably in straight sets
Novak Djokovic v Radek Stepanek
What more can be said about the three-time Australian Open champion? He is the overwhelming favourite for this match, just as he is the favourite to win his third straight title. His previous two matches have barely caused him to break sweat, and it would be a brave man to bet against him here.
Radek Stepanek led his team to glory in the Hopman Cup late last year, but the early part of 2013 has been interrupted by injury. However, he showed no sign of problems as he battled back from 2-0 down against Viktor Troicki in the first round before cruising past Feliciano Lopez in the second round.
It is over six years since Stepanek beat Djokovic, although he did win the first set in their meeting at Wimbledon last year. Despite this, it would be a shock if he gets even a set here, although I could see him keeping it close in at least one or two of the sets.
Prediction: Djokovic in three sets
Venus Williams v Maria Sharapova
One of the most interesting matches of the tournament so far. Venus has started in impressive form, showing little sign of the illness problems that plagued her over the past couple of years. She has crushed Voskoboeva and Cornet so far, but this will be the biggest test that she has faced for a long time.
Despite not playing before this tournament, Sharapova has shown no signs of rust. In fact, she is currently 24-0 in terms of games played after a double double-bagel against Puchkova and Doi. She is a real contender for this title and will be relishing the test that Venus will provide.
If Venus has any chance here, she will have to serve as she did back in her prime. Sharapova is serving well and dominating rallies, so Venus will need to find plenty of cheap points on her on serve.
Prediction: Sharapova in two competitive sets
David Ferrer v Marcos Baghdatis
This match has the potential to last a long time. David Ferrer has proven himself to be the best of the rest outside the big four and will fancy his chances of at least a semi-final in Melbourne. He cruised past a tricky opponent in Rochus, and was impressive against Tim Smyczek, despite the American hitting a purple patch during the third set.
Marcos Baghdatis does not like to make things easy for himself. He played a long five-set match against Albert Ramos in the first round, before going four sets against Tatsuma Ito in round two. However, he relishes these big occasions and will love the night session atmosphere on Rod Laver.
I would be surprised if David Ferrer does not win this match, but he will have to battle for it. Baghdatis will have the crowd support and will love the occasion, but after nine sets already, he may struggle physically to keep up with the ultra-fit David Ferrer.
Prediction: Ferrer in four close sets
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