Caroline Wozniacki v Svetlana Kuznetsova
An intriguing rematch from Sydney, where a returning Svetlana Kuznetsova beat the Dane in three tough sets in the blazing heat. As with the majority of Wozniacki matches, the match will be on the racket of her opponent. If Kuznetsova can hit with power, and more importantly, consistency, then the Russian has every chance of causing the upset.
Wozniacki has come through a couple of potential banana-skins, beating Sabine Lisicki, the 16-year Donna Vekic, and the in-form Lesia Tsurenko. Everyone knows how her game is designed around the defence, but there are a few signs that she is trying to introduce some aggression into her game. Unfortunately for her, her forehand has been looking poor this week, and this is an area that she will have to improve on for this match.
Svetlana Kuznetsova enjoyed an excellent run in Sydney, a boost after missing the second-half of last year through injury. After several tough matches in the Australian heatwave last week, there are clearly no real concerns about her fitness after such a long absence, and as a multiple-time Grand Slam champion, there are no real concerns about her talent.
As I said, this match will be on the racket of the Russian. She is prone to having mental walkabouts during matches, but if she can stay focussed, she has a great chance at the upset.
Prediction: Kuznetsova in three sets
Victoria Azarenka v Elena Vesnina
The defending champion was largely unconvincing against the in-form Jamie Hampton in the last round. She dropped her first set of the tournament and struggled to put away the clearly injured American, who deserves a lot of credit for the way she fought through the pain. She will be hoping that was just a blip, although she is yet to find her best tennis in the tournament, despite easy wins in the first two rounds. She has had a couple of mental blocks so far, where she has made some stupid errors, and she needs to stay alert against the dangerous Russian.
Vesnina is enjoying an excellent start to the season, having won her first title in Hobart last week. She overcame a tough Roberta Vinci in the last round, showing good mental strength to battle her way through the final set. She is serving well so far this tournament, and will have to continue this trend if she hopes to trouble the world number one.
If Azarenka is on-form and playing close to her best, she will win this match. However, Vesnina is certainly good enough to keep things close, and if there are any drops in the intensity from Azarenka, she will take the opportunities.
Prediction: Azarenka in two close sets
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga v Richard Gasquet
The battle between the two Frenchman sees a contrast in styles. Tsonga has the big serve and big powerful groundstrokes, while Richard Gasquet is arguably one of the most gifted shotmakers in the game. Surprisingly they haven’t met for almost four years, but they will know each other well.
Tsonga has yet to drop a set and had an easy win against the exhausted Blaz Kavcic in the last round. Indeed, he is still unbeaten this season, having won all of his matches at the Hopman Cup. When he is confident, he is a very dangerous opponent for any player, and he will be hoping for a chance to face Roger Federer, whom he has beaten on several occasions.
Richard Gasquet is also unbeaten this season, having lifted the title in Doha. Although he dropped the first set in his third round encounter with Ivan Dodig, he put the Croatian away with ease once the shots started flowing. He continues his excellent record of having reached the second week of seven of the last eight Grand Slams, although he will be hoping to go one stage further for the first time in that sequence.
Tsonga will look to use his power to limit the time and opportunities for Gasquet to use his full repertoire of shots. If he can achieve this, he should win. However, if he starts to allow Gasquet’s confidence to build, the ninth seed is capable of putting him away in a shower of winners.
Prediction: Tsonga to win in four sets
Serena Williams v Maria Kirilenko
It is somewhat repetitive in previewing Serena Williams matches. If she plays well, she wins. Simple as that. She was actually fairly poor in her last match against Ayumi Morita, even going 3-0 down in the second set. However, she had several more gears to move into and she came through without too many problems.
Maria Kirilenko has beaten a couple of tough opponents in Shuai Peng and Yanina Wickmayer without dropping a set. Naturally though, Serena is a completely different kettle of fish and the 5-0 H2H suggests that she struggles against the American. She actually took a set of her last time they played in 2011, but Williams is playing far better now than she was then.
Serena Williams wins this. The only question is how many games she loses. Kirilenko is the best opponent that she has faced so far, but given she has still only dropped one set since last June, the result is hardly in doubt.
Prediction: Serena in straight sets
Milos Raonic v Roger Federer
A match that arguably promises more on paper than it is likely to on the court. As in the last round, Roger Federer faces one of the up-and-comers on tour in Milos Raonic. As in the last round, I fancy him to come through it easily.
Milos Raonic’s big strength is obviously his serve. He has only been broken three times so far, and did not face a break point in his last match. However, his return game has been abysmal at times this season and he will struggle to win many points against Federer once the point turns into a rally. He will have to serve magnificently if he is to stand a chance.
Federer was excellent against Bernard Tomic, particularly in defence. He is also creating a bucketful of break points – 41 in his first three matches – although he has been slightly wasteful on them so far. On the flip side, he is protecting his serve very well, having faced only four break points all tournament, and is still to drop his serve.
Despite the hype, I see this going very much the same way as the Raonic Murray match at the US Open did. Once Federer gets a read on the Raonic serve, he will get the ball back into play and force Raonic to rally with him. If this happens, there is only one player that will win the match.
Prediction: Federer in three comfortable sets