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Posts Tagged ‘Australian Open’

PostHeaderIcon Rafa and Stan: My AO Men’s Semifinal Notes and Picks

Stan Wawrinka and Rafa Nadal (Tennis Australia)

Stan Wawrinka and Rafa Nadal
(Tennis Australia)

 (original pick *)

Rafa Nadal* v Roger Federer

H2H: Nadal leads 22-10

Though this rivalry is not quite played at the same level that it was in its heyday, I’m still expecting to see a great one for this semifinal match.

Rafa has won their last two matches on a hard court: at Cincinnati in three sets, and at the ATP World Tour finals in straight sets. I didn’t see the match in London, but was lucky enough to be there in Cincinnati. The distinguishing feature for the first set and a half of that match was that Roger was hitting his forehand better than Rafa was hitting his backhand.

This was important because if Roger can keep the shank count low and hit out with his forehand, he can better dictate play to keep the ball towards Rafa’s backhand. That crosscourt combination (Roger’s righty forehand to Rafa’s lefty backhand) gives Roger the best chance for keeping Rafa unsettled and unable to exploit the dreaded Rafa lefty forehand to Roger’s single-handed backhand.

Unfortunately for Roger, once Rafa started hitting out on his backhand wing, and taking it down the line to Roger’s backhand, he was able to get his forehand back into the equation. And with that, his lethal inside-out forehand started to hurt Roger, in addition to the high topspin forehands to Roger’s backhand. Roger’s mood began to sour, and the loss was inevitable.

This Roger, this one in Australia that is, is a different Roger than the one from 2013. He’s fit, pain-free, grooving on his new larger racquet, and finally confident in his ability to play his best tennis. That will translate to better court coverage, a better chance to get his forehand into the point, and more power off the forehand to keep Rafa on the defense. He’s serving well, which is also important, and looking for all practical purposes like the Roger of old. Honestly, this is probably the best he’s looked heading into a match with Rafa in a long time.

For his part, Rafa has not looked exceptionally strong in his matches. He’s obviously done well enough to make it deep in the tournament, but it’s come through opponent attrition more than through outstanding play. This was true in both of his matches against Kei Nishikori and Grigor Dimitrov. Rafa won because he made them play, point by point, at a level that was unsustainable for each in a best of five match. Against Roger, however, this could spell trouble because he has no problem in terms of sustaining his level of play.

There’s also the issue of the blister on the palm of his racquet hand. It doesn’t affect his ground strokes, but causes him pain when he serves. And if Rafa’s serve isn’t placed well with appropriate pace, Roger is going to make him pay: especially on forehand returns. In all honesty, this is the best opportunity that Roger has had to beat Rafa in a very long time!

That said, Rafa is still the favorite in this match-up. He isn’t 22-10 over Roger for nothing. The brilliance of Rafa is in his ability to endure long enough to turn his opponent’s torment into an advantage. No matter how good Roger is feeling these days, if Rafa can get into his head and get Roger’s mood to turn sour (“Not this again”) he can get through this match. It won’t be pretty, but a win is a win.

(Update: Forgot to mention the unspoken advantage for Rafa in this match-up. With a 22-10 series lead, and a wealth of accumulated knowledge, Rafa knows exactly what he needs to do in order to beat Roger. Because of his lefty topspin game, he will pretty much always own Roger. And that’s a helluva piece of knowledge to have every time you walk on the court to face someone.)

Tomas Berdych v Stan Wawrinka

H2H: Wawrinka leads 8-5

I don’t have as much to say about this match-up because, honestly, I haven’t seen these guys play before. But given their respective runs through the draw, I think it’s going to take a pretty great match from Tomas to beat Stan’s current form.

Let’s take a look at their respective strengths and weaknesses.

Movement: Stan has the clear edge. Tomas has improved his movement a lot from past years, but his court coverage isn’t nearly as good as Stan’s.

Ground Strokes: No clear edge for either player. Both have heavy ground strokes off of both sides.

Fitness: I give Stan the edge in fitness. He has a proven ability to go as long as it takes to fight for the win. Tomas might have the will to go deep in battle, but those tree-trunk legs start to tire after protracted rallies and running. And when the legs go, so goes the shot penetration.

Serve: Both have strong serves, but the edge goes to Stan for both consistency as well as an ability to serve well under pressure.

Mental: I give the edge to Stan because of his ability to stay on the positive side of the equation for longer periods of time. Tomas’s mood can go south in any number of ways, and promptly take his game with it. He did a good job of keeping that in check against Ferrer, but you never know with him. The mere fact that Stan could positively push Novak at last year’s US Open and then beat him late in the fifth in this year’s tournament says quite a bit after last year’s gut-wrenching loss.

So I give the overall edge goes to Stan. Also, it feels like his time. This guy has come so close and had such hard losses that it’s only fair to see him finally make a run at a final.

Men’s semifinal picks: Rafa Nadal and Stan Wawrinka

PostHeaderIcon Na and Aga: My AO Women’s Semifinal Notes and Picks

ao-womens-semis

Li Na and Aga Radwanska
(Tennis Australia)

(original semifinal pick *)

Li Na* v Genie Bouchard

H2H: Li Na leads 1-0

Li Na’s been playing with house money ever since her near defeat at the hands of Lucie Safarova. And having been given a second chance, she’s playing like a woman possessed, and ready to avenge the outcome of last year’s unfortunate final against Vika Azarenka.

She’s worked quite a bit with Carlos Rodriguez to add a dimension of topspin to her game for a greater margin of error on her shots, which she’s used to good effect. Her game hasn’t gone off the rails quite as badly as in past years, and it’s allowed her to keep a more positive mindset on court.

Moreover, she’s played incredible tennis over her last couple of matches (2 and 0 over Makarova, 2 and 2 over Pennetta), and is peaking as needed for another shot at the title. That is, of course, after she gets by her semifinal opponent, Genie Bouchard.

I originally picked Genie to reach the quarterfinals, but was wrong in not following that with a pick to reach the semifinals. I mistakenly thought that Ana Ivanovic, a former Aussie Open finalist and French Open champion, would have the big match experience to win out over the 19-year-old Canadian. Boy oh boy, was I wrong.

Ana’s nerves got the better of her…and her serve. On the other side of the net, Genie was the one who looked and played like the one with more experience. She kept a positive focus on what she needed to do, and didn’t allow her mid-match wobbles to derail her.

I expect the same type of composure from Genie in this match, but unfortunately also expect a different outcome. Li Na has a very different temperament from Ana, and won’t be prone to the same yips. She’s also a better mover and stronger off both sides. It will be harder for Genie to successfully attack her, while also defending her own weaknesses.

Genie and her army have had a great run, but it ends here.

Aga Radwanska v Dominika Cibulkova

H2H: Radwanska leads 5-1

It would be easy to look at the head-to-head record between these two players and think that Aga Radwanska is the clear favorite in this semifinal. This is especially true if you were to look at the double bagel she handed Dominika in the 2013 Sydney tournament final.

However, the tables were turned six months later at Stanford. I watched Dominika play full-on aggressive tennis for three full sets, and came out with the victory “on her terms”. So regardless of her subsequent loss to Aga later in Tokyo, Dominika has shown that this match can easily turn complicated (for Aga) if she successfully executes her game.

But given what we witnessed from Aga in her victory over Azarenka, including a third-set bagel, Dominika will need to be flawless in both strategy and execution. Aga’s performance against Vika was the stuff from which legends are made. No matter what shot Vika played, Aga was there, and ready, with the answer.

Many referred to it as “Ninja Tennis”. Personally, I think it was so other-worldly that she should make an appearance on American Horror Story: Coven! Either way you look at it, Dominika, whose game is a mini-me version of Vika’s game, will need to be perfect in keeping the ball away from Aga’s racquet. And even if she is perfect, I get the feeling that Aga would still somehow prevail.

Hopefully it will be a great match for both, but this will be Aga’s moment to shine.

Women’s semifinal picks: Li Na and Aga Radwanska

PostHeaderIcon Stan the Man Delivers Melbourne’s Most Monumental “Shock or Not”

Stan Wawrinka (Ben Solomon/Tennis Australia)

Stan Wawrinka
(Ben Solomon/Tennis Australia)

I was pretty sure that nothing would overtake Ana Ivanovic’s takedown of Serena Williams as “the shock of the tournament”: that is, until last night’s shock win by Stan Wawrinka over the four-time defending champion, Novak Djokovic. Let’s dive right in and discuss this match along with some of the other Tuesday quarterfinals from Melbourne.

Stan Wawrinka defeats Novak Djokovic: Shock or Not? HUGE Shock/HUGE Not

The one-sided head-to-head record, in favor of Novak, was a known quantity. Their epic 5-set encounters at two of the last four Grand Slams was also a known quantity.  Still, nothing truly prepared us for the battle we witnessed in RLA last night. After dropping the first set quite easily, Stan came back with confident serving, shockingly heavy groundstrokes, and a willingness (mostly) to stay in rallies without pulling the trigger on low-percentage shots.

This win was an unqualified shock because of the fact that Novak has been utterly unbeatable in Australia or, for that matter, the beginning of each season. His level was increasing with each round, and the Djokovic juggernaut seemed ripe for a four-peat! Add to that the mountain of “streaks” Novak had coming into this match (28 tour match wins, 25 Australian Open match wins, 14 Grand Slam semifinals, and 14 wins over Wawrinka to name a few) and the inevitable result was surely another victory on the road to greatness.

On the other hand, this win was a complete non-shock owing to those two encounters in 2013 at the Australian and US Open. Over the past year, this match-up has clearly been an even one with small margins making the difference. And with an increasing level of confidence gained from the knowledge that he ‘really’ could compete toe-to-toe with Novak on the big stages, this win was bound to happen.

Last year, Stan was up 2 sets to 1 against Novak before fading deep in the fifth. This time, there was no fade. Congrats Stan!

Eugenie Bouchard defeats Ana Ivanovic: Shock or Not? Reversal Shock

Ana Ivanovic, the more-experienced former French Open champion, was supposed to have an edge over Genie Bouchard, the 19-year-old Canadian upstart, in this quarterfinal match. But someone forgot to give that script to Genie, and she’s now on to her first Grand Slam semifinal.

Coming into this match, Ana had played some of her best tennis in years in Australia, winning in Brisbane, and knocking out Serena Williams in a first-ever win over the World #1 to reach the Aussie quarterfinals. But after winning a hard-fought first set 7-5, the wheels fell off! Her service toss left the building, and the fragility we’ve come to see over the past few years returned with a vengeance.

Genie, on the other hand, looked and played more like the veteran as she came out ready to do battle from the first point. She found herself immediately under fire in her service games as Ana continued the service attacks that helped her to defeat Serena, but remained undaunted. Even when made to sit on court for several moments during an off-court Ivanovic MTO, Eugenie used the time to collect herself for the work ahead.

I guess the real shock of this match was not necessarily the result, but the role reversal in terms of maturity displayed by each player. The newcomer outshone the veteran i.e. Genie stood strong while Ana crumbled. I won’t be underestimating Miss Bouchard again!

Tomas Berdych defeats David Ferrer: Shock or Not? Mostly Not

After stellar play and not dropping serve in any of his previous rounds, I picked Tomas to win this match in the belief that he was ready to step up and make his mark within the top in 2014. As the match progressed, however, I began to worry that the “old Tomas” would rear his head. In spite of some of the best strokes and power in the men’s game, Tomas has had a knack for “cracking” when he’s made to hit more than 5 winners in order to win a point.

As David Ferrer began to get his teeth into the match, Tomas’ frustration was obvious. But unlike his past matches, he hung tough mentally, and kept hammering the ball into the corners. In previous, I always picked against Tomas because of his late match mental breaks. Hopefully, that’s all behind us now. 😉

David Ferrer Pulls a “Jerk Move” in pushing an official: Shock or Not? Jerk Shock

David, known for a fiery temperament before his ascension to the top ranks of the game, is generally considered to be one of the nicer guys on tour. So it boggles the imagination why he would push an official to lay down a towel ON THE OFFICIAL’S CHAIR, give a look like “Get out of my way”, and then say afterward “It was a nervous moment, but nothing”. It was something, David. You know it, we know it, and I hope you receive a fine for it. That behavior (placing your hands on an official) can’t be allowed to become acceptable, even in the heat of battle. This is tennis, not American football.

PostHeaderIcon Australian Open Quarterfinal Notes and Picks

f_dimitrov_day8_07

Grigor Dmitrov
(Jason Lockett/Tennis Australia)

After some of the most outrageous playing conditions imaginable, we’ve finally reached the second week of this year’s Aussie Open. It’s time for quarterfinal action in Melbourne, with some rock solid favorites leading the way, along with a few surprises. Here are my picks for the quarterfinals.

(original pick *)

WTA

Ana Ivanovic v Genie Bouchard*

H2H: Bouchard leads 1-0

If Ana plays anything like she has in her past couple of matches, she’ll be back in the semifinals for the first time since her 2008 run to the finals. Even though I love Genie’s game and chutzpah, Ana has the crucial “x factor” in this quarterfinal: experience. And I have to think that’s going to account for something in this match. However, I expect to hear a lot more from Genie and her army in 2014.

Li Na* v Flavia Pennetta

H2H: Series tied at 2-all

Though their head-to-head record is tied, a great run by Flavia will likely end at the hands of the presumptive finalist. Now that Serena is on a plane back to see Chip, the only legitimate thing standing between her and her second Grand Slam is a rematch with Vika. Honestly, this quarterfinal is hers to lose…which is a dangerous thing to say about a player who can lose focus quickly in a match. I’m going to hope for the best from her, and look for a straight sets win en route to the semis.

Simona Halep v Dominika Cibulkova

H2H: Cibulkova leads 2-1

This is an intriguing match-up of two players who could both reach their first Slam semifinal. I give Dominika the edge in terms of “fight”. But execution will be the key to this win for either player, especially Dominika. A sloppy match from her could spell trouble for a player as opportunistic as Simona. Still, if you look at this match from the standpoint of “weapons”, Dominika has that edge as well. I’ll go with Dominika in three sets.

Aga Radwanska* v Vika Azarenka*

H2H: Azarenka leads 12-3

I would love to see Aga win this quarterfinal and knock Vika from her Aussie throne. But the 12-3 head-to-head isn’t promising, and it’s going to take a lot more than her usual guile to pull off this upset of a player who shows her best stuff in Melbourne. With her quick dismantling of Stephens, the defending champion looks unstoppable. Serena’s gone, and you have to believe that Vika knows a three-peat is possible. And, unfortunately, I can’t see Aga doing anything to stop her in that quest.

Women’s quarterfinal picks: Ana Ivanovic, Li Na, Dominika Cibulkova, Vika Azarenka

ATP

Rafa Nadal* v Grigor Dimitrov

H2H: Nadal leads 3-0

When I talked to Grigor after his loss to Nadal in Cincinnati, I got the impression that he was finally putting together the last pieces of the puzzle needed in order for him to be competitive with the Big 4. From that perspective, this match could spell trouble for the World #1, who looks like he’s heading in the opposite direction from where he needs to be in order to win this title. Still, if Rafa can grind down a player like Nishikori on a day when he’s not playing his best, he certainly has the wherewithal to do the same to Grigor. It’ll be, but Rafa should come through in 4 or 5.

Andy Murray v Roger Federer

H2H: Murray leads 11-9

I was wrong with both of these quarterfinal picks, but for different reasons. I had no idea that Andy would come back so quickly after surgery, and no idea that Tsonga would so badly ‘not’ rise to the occasion. That being said, this could be one of the most unexpectedly awesome matches in this year’s draw. Andy leads the series, but something feels different for Roger this year. It could be the new racquet, the new coach, or maybe just the fact that he’s determined to show everyone that he’s still relevant and not on his way out the door.

Tomas Berdych* v David Ferrer*

H2H: Ferrer leads 7-4

Ferrer leads the head-to-head, but this feels like Tomas’ moment to shine on the big stage. He hasn’t dropped serve the whole tournament, and is playing some monster tennis. Even better for Tomas is that his head seems to be in a better place during his matches. The big guy is prone to negativity that often gets in the way of his execution, but so far so good in 2014. The signs look good for a spot in the semis.

Stan Wawrinka* v Novak Djokovic*

H2H: Djokovic leads 15-2

I expect another barnburner between these two guys, but nothing that’s going to stop the Djokovic express to the finals. Though he lost a brutal battle, Stan’s match with Novak last year set the tone for a great year from the Swiss #2. They locked horns again at the US Open, and again Stan took Novak to the brink before going down to defeat. Unfortunately for Stan, this quarterfinal will probably go the same route. No matter what happens, I can assuredly say that all of the other guys left in the draw are hoping for (another) protracted battle that might hopefully help their chances to break his Australian Open domination.

Men’s quarterfinal picks: Rafa Nadal, Roger Federer, Tomas Berdych, Novak Djokovic

PostHeaderIcon An Australian Open “Shock or Not” Weekend Edition Feat. A Serena Stunner

Serena Williams (Ben Solomon/Tennis Australia)

Serena Williams (Ben Solomon/Tennis Australia)

With the ouster of Serena Williams, the women’s top seed and prohibitive favorite for the 2014 Australian Open title, I felt compelled to write a quick “Shock or Not” celebrating the defeat of the current #1 by a former #1…along with a couple of other nuggets from the past two days. As always, let me know what you think about these matches, or some of your own that you think qualify in the “Shock or Not” category.

WTA

Ana Ivanovic defeats Serena Williams: Shock or Not? ALL CAPS SHOCK

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Ana Ivanovic (Ben Solomon/Tennis Australia)

Ana pulled off the stunner of the tournament by coming back from the loss of the first set to beat Serena in three sets for a spot in the quarterfinals. As fragile as her tennis has been at times during the past few years is as solid as she was against Serena. Her serve was solid, her service return was impeccable, and her forehand hurt Serena from start to finish. I was bothered by Patrick Mouratoglou’s immediate dismissal of Serena’s loss due to injury via “blocked back”, because it took the focus off of Ana’s brilliant execution in beating Serena for the first time in her career. Serena was gracious in her interview, and did her best to downplay Patrick’s injury revelations. She’s been burned enough times in the past for not giving credit where credit was due that she took great pains to compliment Ana. No matter though. The Serena Haters, however, will still find a way to hate…

Flavia Pennetta defeats Angelique Kerber: Shock or Not? Shock

Maybe it’s not so much the shock of this particular victory more than it’s the shock that Flavia has made it so far in this tournament. What looked to be a bad wrist injury at the Hopman Cup, the same wrist she’d had surgically repaired in 2012, turned out to be simple inflammation. With the inflammation gone, she’s quietly worked her way through to her first Aussie quarters; and maybe further.

Garbine Muguruza defeats Caroline Wozniacki: Shock or Not? Shock…kinda

Caroline started this year’s tournament on fire with the loss of only two games, but faltered badly in the last round; beating Christina McHale in three shaky sets. That’s not the kind of thing you want to do against a player who came into Melbourne on a roll after winning the title in Hobart. Garbine might not be a household name, but the World #38 has started the season strongly in 2014. Bye bye Caroline.

ATP

Grigor Dimitrov (Reuters)

Grigor Dimitrov defeats Milos Raonic: Shock or Not? Not

I’m not shocked by this result because these are two of the brightest prospects on the ATP horizon. The perpetual hype of “Future Grand Slam winners” is annoying, but that’s not their fault. Nonetheless, both guys “got game” (Milos has 5 career titles, Grigor has 1). And it was a great match of power serving and ground strokes versus excellent defense and all-court prowess. What’s really shocking is the fact that this is Grigor’s first-ever R16 showing i.e. making it past the third round at a Grand Slam.

Roberto Bautista Agut defeats Benoit Paire: Shock or Not? Not

Hate to put it so bluntly, but Paire is French, prone to temperament issues, and lost to Bautista Agut in Auckland a couple of weeks ago. Not the best combo for him heading into this match.

Easy Peasy

Rafael Nadal defeats Gael Monfils: Shock or Not? Not

It’s not a shock that Rafa beat Gael, but it is a shock that he beat him in straight sets 1, 2, and 3 after such a tight encounter in Doha. Gael has tons of talent, tons of flash, and (unfortunately) no substantial Slam results to back it up.

Dominika Cibulkova defeats Carla Suarez Navarro: Shock or Not? Not, but…

It’s not a shock that Dominika won this match, because we all know how well she can play. It’s extremely shocking, however, that she only gave up one game in giving Carla a bagel and a breadstick. She did the same thing to her second round opponent too. Can she make it a carbohydrate “hat trick”?

Men’s Dubs

No shocking matches in particular; just a general note that, besides the Bryan brothers, the men’s top seeds in doubles are dropping like flies.

Women’s Dubs

Alize Cornet/Caroline Garcia defeats Svetlana Kuznetsova/Samantha Stosur: Shock or Not? Not

This one should be a shock, but sadly it’s not. <shaking my head at Sveta and Sam>

Women’s Legends’ Doubles

Nicole Bradtke/Rennae Stubbs defeats Martina Hingis/Martina Navratilova: Shock or Not? Shock

Can someone please tell me how these two legendary Martinas got beat??? My mind just can’t comprehend that scenario. 🙂

PostHeaderIcon The 2014 AO Women’s Draw, or Can Serena Stop Vika’s AO Hat Trick?

Serena Williams (Darrian Traynor)

Serena Williams (Darrian Traynor)

That may sound like an odd question to ask about the greatest player of her generation. But such is the case with respect to Serena Williams and her primary rival, Victoria Azarenka. Serena, the World #1, has won five Australian Open titles; but none since 2010. Vika, on the other hand, has lifted the Aussie Open trophy the past two years; in spite of a perpetual runner-up status to Serena in the Slams. Go figure!

If Serena can make it through without injury, the stage looks set for her to win a sixth Aussie title after a dominating run in Brisbane. The draw looks favorable for Serena. Then again, it also looks favorable for Vika. Let’s take a deeper look and see if there’s anyone who can stop the Serena-Vika juggernaut.

ao14-vika

Victoria Azarenka (Ben Solomon)

Top Half – Top Quarter

Serena Williams – Ana Ivanovic R16

Roberta Vinci/Madison Keys/Kirsten Flipkens – Eugenie Bouchard R16

I was listening to some commentators on the Tennis Channel as they discussed Serena’s draw and heard them say that it actually looks harder than it may seem. I couldn’t disagree more! The only person who should have a shot at derailing Serena, Sam Stosur, has sadly been MIA for some time.

Tsvetana Pironkova did well to win Sydney, but there’s a huge difference between beating Angelique Kerber and “surviving Serena”! Ana Ivanovic? Not enough belief or firepower. And the level of opposition isn’t any better on the other side of the quarter though it would be great to see a “Young Guns” R16 match between Madison Keys and Eugenie Bouchard.

Throwing down the gauntlet, I’ll be shocked if Serena even drops a set on her way to the semifinals.

Top Half – Bottom Quarter

Li Na – Sabine Lisicki R16

Angelique Kerber – Petra Kvitova R16

Though it’s sometimes hard to know what to expect from Li Na on a match-by-match basis, the odds look good for her to make it to the quarterfinals. Coincidentally, the same can be said about Petra Kvitova, the other likely quarterfinalist in this section of the draw. Both women are Grand Slam champions with huge ground games that they can impose on their opponents. Both are also prone to prolonged patches of equally head-scratching tennis.

Luckily for them, their likely challengers in the R16 are Sabine Lisicki and Angelique Kerber; so I expect both to make it through. Venus Williams is in the section of the quarter with Li Na, but I don’t expect her to make an impact… Still, it’s great to see her healthy enough to compete.

In a choice between Li and Kvitova, I’ll give Li Na the nod.

ao14-maria

Maria Sharapova (Fiona Hamilton)

Bottom Half – Top Quarter

Jelena Jankovic – Simona Halep R16

Carla Suarez Navarro/Dominika Cibulkova – Alize Cornet/Maria Sharapova R16

In terms of potential for interesting matches/outcomes, this quarter takes my top honors. Most would expect to see a Jelena Jankovic-Maria Sharapova quarterfinal, but I see at least 3 other players who could do some damage in this quarter.

Jankovic could face some real trouble with Simona Halep, the “Tier 2” Serena of 2013. Sharapova could also have her hands full: first with surprise Hopman Cup champion Alize Cornet, then with either Carla Suarez Navarro or Dominika Cibulkova. Cornet didn’t fare well in Sydney, but an upset is always possible.

All things being equal, I’ll go with Jelena over Simona (1-2 H2H but won only meeting on hard court), and Maria over Carla before besting Jelena to make the semifinals.

Bottom Half – Bottom Quarter

Aga Radwanska – Caroline Wozniacki R16

Sloane Stephens/Yaroslava Shvedova/Svetlana Kuznetsova – Victoria Azarenka R16

As interesting as the “Maria” quarter is for potential match-ups, this quarter doesn’t seem to possess the same level of intrigue. At least on paper, Radwanska’s likely R16 looks to be Caroline Wozniacki. But Wozniacki, the future Mrs. McIlroy, could flame out in her opening match, or just as easily live up to her seeding. I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt for the latter, but no more than that.

Azarenka’s path to the quarterfinals will need to go through some pretty big hitters in Stephens, Shvedova, Kuznetsova, and Jamie Hampton (3rd round). But none of them have made an impact so far in the 2014 season. In fact, there has been talk that Stephens, last year’s surprise semifinalist, was injured coming into Melbourne and was iffy for her AO start. Odds are it’s Vika through to a quarterfinal meeting against Aga. And we know how that is likely to end. (Hint: Vika)

(UPDATE: Jamie Hampton has withdrawn from the Australian Open due to a hip injury.)

Notable First Round Matches

Casey Dellacqua v Vera Zvonareva (welcome back Vera!)

Ekaterina Makarova v Venus Williams

Bethanie Mattek-Sands v Maria Sharapova

Sloane Stephens v Yaroslava Shvedova

Tournament Picks

As always, take with several grains of salt…

Quarterfinals

Serena Williams v Eugenie Bouchard

Li Na v Petra Kvitova

Jelena Jankovic v Maria Sharapova

Aga Radwanska v Victoria Azarenka

Semifinals

Serena Williams v Li Na

Maria Sharapova v Victoria Azarenka

Final

Serena Williams v Victoria Azarenka

Champion: Serena Williams

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