Na Li v Agnieszka Radwanska
This is a rematch from Sydney and has the potential to steal the show. Two wonderfully talented players, albeit with different styles, they could potentially combine to produce a classic. They played four times last year with Li Na winning three of them, although they all came during Radwanska’s slump after Wimbledon.
Li Na has crept under the radar, but has been putting in some excellent performances. Her serve was working particularly well in the last match against Julia Goerges and she is certainly capable of hitting plenty of winners – her major problem is limiting the unforced errors.
Radwanska came through in straight sets against Ana Ivanovic. She had to fight hard for period when Ivanovic found her range, but as expected, the Serb was too hot and cold to seriously trouble her. The most impressive stat from that match was the four unforced errors from Radwanska, an extraordinarily low number, as well as the seven aces that she hit. She does not have great power in her serve, but her accuracy is stunning.
Li Na will have to play good, consistent attacking tennis to beat Radwanska. However, the key is going to be whether she can protect her own serve. She will have chances on the Radwanska serve – her opponents always do. However, the Pole’s real strength is on the return, and she broke Li Na five times in ten service games in Sydney. If she can achieve this again, it seems likely the fourth seed will progress to the semi-final.
Prediction: Radwanska in three high quality sets
David Ferrer v Nicolas Almagro
Looking at the H2H record between these two, there is only one winner. It reads 12-0 to David Ferrer. A remarkable record, given Almagro is a solid top 20 player, and has been for a number of years now. While the majority of these have come on clay, it is still a big mental boost for Ferrer.
David Ferrer has been quietly impressive thus far, although he has played down his chances of winning his maiden Grand Slam. He did not need to do a great deal against Kei Nishikori in the last round, who fired 65 unforced errors on his way to a straight sets defeat, but Ferrer was solid and did well to give the Japanese the opportunity to self-destruct. He will be looking to protect his second serve slightly more though, having won just 48% of points behind it in the last round.
Nicolas Almagro was the beneficiary of a retirement from Janko Tipsarevic, but had been playing solid tennis until that point. He dropped just three points behind his first serve, and his winners-unforced errors ratio stood at an impressive 24-17. Prior to that, he had beaten the Paris surprise finalist, Jerzy Janowicz, where he won 86% behind his first serve and again posted a positive winners-UEs ratio.
The key for Almagro will be his serve. He has served brilliantly so far in the tournament, and if he can replicate this against his compatriot, it will give him the chance to put pressure on the Ferrer serve, particularly the weaker second serve. However, Ferrer will be looking to get the Almagro serve back in play and look to outlast him in the rallies. It should be an intriguing match.
Prediction: Ferrer to win in four closely contested sets
Ekaterina Makarova v Maria Sharapova
Ekaterina Makarova is the next player to try and derail the Sharapova express. The world number two has dropped just five games in her first four matches and is looking ominously good. The forehand is working beautifully, although the serve looked a little problematic against Flipkens.
The statistics from Sharapova’s matches tell their own story in this tournament. Seventeen winners against Venus Williams and five breaks of serve barely do justice to the dominance that the Russian showed, while she hammered 25 winners in just 13 games against Kirsten Flipkens. She has never lost against her compatriot, indeed it is over two years since she last lost to another Russian.
Makarova loves playing in Melbourne it would appear. She beat Serena Williams here last year and will be looking to spring another big upset this time. She was impressive in beating Angelique Kerber, hitting 32 winners and just 29 unforced errors. However, the key was arguably the points she was winning behind her first serve, winning an impressive 76%. The worry will be that she was only winning 46% behind her second serve.
It will be very difficult for Makarova in this match. In the previous four meetings, she has been broken 19 times, which suggests that Sharapova will get plenty of chances on her serve. She will have to get plenty of big first serves in and try and find some free points. The key will be to try and get something off the Sharapova serve. There were signs that it still wasn’t quite right against Flipkens, and Makarova will have to take advantage of even the slightest opening.
Prediction: Sharapova to win in straight sets
Novak Djokovic v Tomas Berdych
The Djokovic Wawrinka match was one of the best matches seen on the Rod Laver Arena in many years. The world number one could only stand and admire the shot-making of the Swiss number two in the opening set and a half and the big question is how much that match took out of him.
Djokovic looked slightly fatigued late on in the match, and although people will point to the back-to-back epic matches that he won last year, there is a slight difference in that this match was far more intense, with far shorter breaks between points thanks to the new enforcement of the time rules. There were a few uncharacteristic errors sandwiched amongst the extraordinary points, which will be a concern to the Serb, and he needs to sort out his footwear, which cost him several points against Wawrinka.
Tomas Berdych is yet to drop a set and was impressive against the in-form Kevin Anderson in the last round. He broke the big-serving South African five times and will be pleased with his 39-28 winners-UEs ratio. On his day, he is a dangerous player, although the H2H is firmly in the Serb’s favour at 11-1. The worry will be that he has been broken in three of his four matches so far against far inferior players to Djokovic.
Berdych will have watched Wawrinka’s performance and will have been given heart by the fact that Djokovic looked beatable. The Czech is capable of hitting the big winners, but he will have to serve well if he is to give himself a chance to attack the Djokovic serve. The big question for the Serb will be how much that Wawrinka match took out of him. He will be desperate to avoid another long battle at this stage.
Prediction: Djokovic in four sets