Monday, 30 January 2012

Australian Open predictions - how did I do?

Victoria Azarenka
Two weeks ago, I published my predictions for the first Grand Slam of the year in Australia - so, how did I do? I had a pretty good week in predicting the womens tournament as I successfully tipped Victoria Azarenka to win from the start (see original predictions here).  I was also correct in predicting that Serena Williams would exit in the 4th round and that Kim Clijsters would fall in the semi-finals.  However I completely got caught up on the Kaia Kanepi bandwagon who I predicted to reach the semi-finals.  Kanepi was knocked out in the second round to Serena's eventual conqueror, Ekaterina Makarova.  I was also adamant that Maria Sharapova would not be a threat at all having played no competitive matches in 2012... after reaching the Australian Open final, I will not underestimate her again.

In the mens draw, I got most things wrong in the first week (see my original predictions here). I did manage to correctly predict Novak Djokovic to win from the start, but it was slightly tainted when I went for Rafael Nadal to beat Djokovic in the final! Like in the womens with Sharapova, I did not think Nadal would have a great week, but he proved me wrong with a stunning run to the final.  I did manage to correctly predict that Andy Murray would reach the semi-finals.  This was my biggest struggle in deciding whether Murray or Jo-Wilfried Tsonga would reach the semi-finals; however Murray's job was left easier following Tsonga's 4th round exit to Kei Nishikori.

I have really enjoyed blogging for the past two weeks and to anyone who has read it, I hope you have liked it too :-) I will be taking a week off from my blog as I start my new job this week and let the dust settle from an exciting Australian Open.  I hope to be back next weekend with some previews as the women head to Paris and Pattaya City...

Sunday, 29 January 2012

Novak Djokovic wins the Australian Open

Novak Djokovic
The Australian Open finished off with a truly extraordinary mens final as Novak Djokovic outlasted Rafael Nadal in 5 sets, 5-7 6-4 6-2 6-7 7-5.  The final, which lasted a staggering five hours and 53 minutes broke several records; not only was it the longest ever match at the Australian Open, but it was also the longest Grand Slam final ever finishing at 1.37am local time.  The two players received a well deserved standing ovation from an excited crowd with the majority staying in the early hours to catch the late night/early morning drama.

Rafael Nadal started the brighter of the two players as Djokovic took some time to get into the match.  The Serb made a number of unforced errors with Nadal adopting a slightly more aggressive gameplan.  This came through in the numbers as Nadal hit more winners than Djokovic in the opening set. (15 to 14).  After squandering an early break, Nadal broke once more at 5-5 to take the first set, 7-5.  In the second set, Nadal regressed slightly and Djokovic started to find his range taking an early lead.  He held 2 set points at 5-3 up, but stalled serving out the set.  However Nadal couldn't do that in the next game as Djokovic broke right back and claimed the second set after a double fault from the Spaniard.

Djokovic was well on top in the third set and was hitting the ball beautifully and with terrific accuracy as he sped through the third set to win by 6 games to 2.  A crucial factor in the whole match was that Djokovic was much more successful on his 2nd serve than Nadal.  In the third set, Djokovic made 100% of second serve points compared to just 49% for Nadal.  The fourth set was the longest at an incredible 88 minutes and was where the match really exploded into life.  The set went with serve until Djokovic played three inspired points to march into a 0-40 lead on Nadal's serve at 3-4; however Nadal displayed his incredible tenacity to recover each of the virtual match points and saved his best till last with a sensational shot to outfox Djokovic on the final break point.  Nadal went onto hold his serve before the rain started to fall causing a brief delay to proceedings.

The players came out once more and before you knew it, we were into a tiebreak.  Djokovic was two points from the match at 5-3 in the tiebreak, but he lost 4 points in a row as Nadal clawed his way back and celebrated as if he had just won the title.  Nadal carried this momentum into the final set booming forehands past the Serb.  Nadal won the first break of the match at 4-2, but a weary Djokovic somehow recovered it in the next game.  The two players put on a remarkable show with some sensational ralies, but it was Nadal who blinked first with an unforced error to hand Djokovic the almighty break at 5-5.  Djokovic served out the match to claim the title in what was his most sensational win to date.

Djokovic really proved he is a machine out there having taken nearly five hours on Friday to defeat Andy Murray in the semi-finals.  His fitness and determination to fight for the match was truly incredible at times...  And do not take anything away from Nadal who did a remarkable job to save the three crucial break points in the fourth set and prolong this match as long he did.  He will be kicking the opportunities he had in this match and the fact he could not beat Djokovic when he was physically exhausted, but he was part of a truly memorable match and is getting closer and closer to breaking the losing streak he has to Djokovic.  It was a fabulous ending to what had been a very exciting start to the season in the first Grand Slam in 2012... I am now in tennis mourning :-(

Saturday, 28 January 2012

Australian Open final preview

Rafael Nadal
The final match of the Australian Open will see Novak Djokovic take on Rafael Nadal in Sunday's mens final.  Both players have had terrific tournaments so far; Djokovic strolled through the opening rounds before being tested by Lleyton Hewitt and David Ferrer in the 4th round and quarter-finals respectively, and then surviving a physical marathon against Andy Murray in the semi-finals.  Nadal also came through the opening rounds in comfortable fashion before passing tough 4 set matches against Tomas Berdych and Roger Federer in the quarter-finals and semi-finals respectively.

Djokovic and Nadal have played each other 29 times but most significantly is that Djokovic has won their last six encounters.  These all occurred in finals in 2011 and took place on the hard courts, grass and clay.  The encounters were all very close including their epic match in the US Open final, but Djokovic always had a mental edge over the Spaniard.  I am really on the fence with this match; Nadal will have the early advantage because he will be much fresher going into the final having had an extra day off to prepare, but on the hand it will take something special from Nadal to overturn Djokovic in this match-up.  I am actually going to against my pre-tournament prediction and say that Nadal will win the title.  I do not normally do this, but I just cannot see how physically, Djokovic can challenge Nadal who is playing some great tennis at the moment.  It is a new year so i'm sensing that Nadal will break the run of losses in this intriguing head-to-head...

Prediction - Rafael Nadal to win in 4 sets

Victoria Azarenka wins the Australian Open

Victoria Azarenka
Victoria Azarenka was crowned as the winner of the Australian Open and the new world number one as she produced a terrific performance in the final to defeat Maria Sharapova, 6-3 6-0.  This is the fourth time in a row that a new female Grand Slam champion has been crowned as Azarenka finally delivered on the big stage.  Azarenka did not start the match well and after two shaky double faults in the opening game, she quickly fell 2-0 down.  At 0-30 in the next game, Azarenka managed to hold serve and get that all important foothold in the match with a gorgeous backhand down-the-line to settle the nerves.  

Azarenka started to find her range midway through the first set and displayed superb variety to take a 4-3 lead with the best point of the first set as she beautifully executed the slice, drop shot and lob all in one point.  The momentum was well and truly with Azarenka who broke Sharapova in the next game and then confidently served out the 46 minute first set.  It was a high quality set of tennis with some pounding rallies from the baseline.  Azarenka was the more consistent player with 8 winners to 9 unforced errors compared to Sharapova's 9 winners and 15 unforced errors.  Azarenka's ability to finish points off at the net was particularly impressive as she was 5/5 on net approaches.

The second set was not as good as the first as Azarenka totally ran away with the match.  She dealt with Sharapova's immense power from the back of the court and was able to get her on the run and expose her weaker movement.  Azarenka also seemed to be guessing Sharapova's every move and she did that on the first game of the second set to break.  The games kept coming for Azarenka as Sharapova just could not break down the Belarusian from the baseline and was always the first to make the unforced error.  Sharapova committed another unforced error to hand Azarenka her first opportunity to serve out for the Championships.  There was a brief resistance from Sharapova as she found winners on both the forehand and backhand, and then had a break point with a slice of luck from the net; however Azarenka was not to be undone as she saw off the break point and served out on her first match point.

Maria Sharapova
Azarenka was positively beaming afterwards and rightfully so! She has finally delivered on the big stage and looks like the real deal.  Unlike the past three Grand Slam champions who all had dips in form following their Grand Slam triumph, I do not see that happening with Azarenka.  She has a consistency to her game that means that her game rarely breaks down and a belief too that she belongs at the top of the rankings.  I have always felt that Azarenka has almost lived in the shadows of Caroline Wozniacki; they are similar in age but Wozniacki made the ascent to the upper echelons of the game that bit quicker than Azarenka and seemed to receive all the attention on the tennis court.  I always thought Azarenka was the more talented player and am delighted to see her finally reached her potential in the game to snatch the number one spot from the Dane, who will now fall to number 4 in the world rankings.

It has been a fabulous tournament for Sharapova but a disappointing performance in the final.  I must say that she gave one of the most classy speeches I have heard in quite a while and was so complimentary of Azarenka, which really brought a smile to my face.  Although the final was one-sided which I never like to see, the fact we saw such a courageous performance from a new Grand Slam champion made it a worthy and memorable final.  I finally feel the WTA tour has turned a corner and is on the way upwards after several disappointing years.  We finally have players who can perform on the big stage in Victoria Azarenka and Petra Kvitova who are ready to take the reins from the likes of Kim Clijsters, Serena Williams and Venus Williams.  I really cannot wait to see what the rest of 2012 has in store for the WTA...

Friday, 27 January 2012

Australian Open women's final preview

Victoria Azarenka
The Australian Open final will be contested between the number three seed, Victoria Azarenka and the number four seed, Maria Sharapova.  Azarenka has had a fantastic tournament so far losing just two sets along the way.  The two lost sets came in her last two matches against Agnieszka Radwanska in the quarter-finals and Kim Clijsters in the semi-finals.  Her tennis has been extremely solid and she has carried through with her more positive attitude on court, which was particularly evident in her last match with Clijsters.  Azarenka is still yet to lose a match in 2012 having won the tournament in Sydney; however her opponent in Sharapova is also unbeaten in 2012 following a magical run to the finals for the loss of two sets.  Sharapova has got to this stage with some dominant performances in the first three rounds and then showing her gritty determination in three set victories over Sabine Lisicki in the 4th round and Petra Kvitova in the semi-finals.  I do not think she has been playing her best tennis and her serve still looks a little shaky under pressure, but the way she has come into this tournament without any matches under her belt and reached her third Australian Open final has been mightily impressive from the Russian.

Maria Sharapova
Sharapova and Azarenka have played each other six times with the head-to-head split at three wins each.  Sharapova won their previous encounter last year in Rome through a retirement, but Azarenka won the two matches before that in straight sets in the 2010 Stanford final and the 2011 Miami final.  Normally, I am on the fence as to who I think is going to win, but I can categorically say that I think Azarenka will win her first Grand Slam title.  I predicted Azarenka from the start of the competition and feel that this is her time to make that breakthrough on the big stage.  She lacks the experience that Sharapova will have off Grand Slam finals, but she has the dogged determination and improved mental strength to deal with these situations.  Azarenka also has a surprisingly good record over Sharapova and can deal with her powerful game.

When I looked at the four potential finals when the semi-finalists were set, this was the match I least wanted as the final. This is because the grunting and shrieking is very likely to detract attention from the actual quality of the match.  Hopefully Sharapova and Azarenka can put on a good match and this final will be remembered for the tennis and not as the loudest Grand Slam final in history! It is also important to note that the winner will take the world number one spot from Caroline Wozniacki who is likely to fall to number 4 in the new rankings next week.  I hope its a competitive final as I always do, but I both think and want Azarenka to win :-)

Prediction - Victoria Azarenka to win in 2 sets

Please feel free to leave your predictions for the women's final :-) 

Djokovic beats Murray in 5 set thriller

Novak Djokovic
I didn't think it was possible that the first semi-final in which Rafael Nadal beat Roger Federer in 4 sets could be topped; however Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray served up a quite astonishing match on Friday night with Djokovic pulling off the tightest of victories with a 6-3 3-6 6-7 6-1 7-5 victory in 4 hours and 50 minutes.  Djokovic started the match well and was outplaying the Brit throughout the first set using his terrific cross-court forehand to manoeuvre Murray outside of the court.  It was intriguing tennis but many of the points were being lost rather than won with 9 winners (5 from Djokovic/4 from Murray) and 35 unforced errors (15 from Djokovic/20 from Murray).

In the second set, I got the sinking feeling that this semi-final would be a repeat of last year's one-sided final in which Djokovic eased past Murray in straight sets.  However things would turn out differently as a crucial hold from Murray at 2-0 including 3 break points daved turned the match on its head.  In the next game, Murray started to find his range and hit several thumping winners to win an epic 11-minute game.  The quality of the match was rising and rising, and the rallies became longer and more intense; there was even a 41 stroke rally that had me on the edge of my seat! Towards the end of the second set, Murray made an incredible get and Djokovic's response was to literally walk across the court to hit it back.  The gruelling nature of the match seemed to be getting to Djokovic and Murray converted to level the match at one set all.

The third set lasted 88 minutes and started with a marathon 14-minute game as a tiring Djokovic fought off five break points to hold.  Murray looked to have the advantage in this set, but his level dipped ever so slightly from his terrific performance in the second.  The end of the third set saw the momentum fluctuate on more than one occasion;  Djokovic had three set points at 5-4 to take the third set and then Murray served for the set at 6-5, but neither could take the advantage.  The tiebreak was a tense affair, but incredibly entertaining.  The big point came at 5-3 when Murray produced a tremendous forehand winner after another jawdroppingly good rally and he took the tiebreak 7 points to 4.

Andy Murray
The fourth set saw a massive comedown, which was almost to be expected from Murray after such a gruelling third set.  Djokovic took full advantage of the situation and looked completely calm as he finished the 6-1 set off with 3 stunning return winners.  The standard of the play dipped at the start of the fifth set as Murray first held off break points at 2-1, but was then broken at 3-2 by the Serb.  Djokovic moved to 5-3 and a whisker away from the final.  However, a physically and mentally exhausted Murray threw the kitchen sink at Djokovic and broke to love as the quality of the match reached new heights.  Murray showed real character to draw the third set back into his favour and had 2 break points at 5-5, 15-40, which would have given him a chance to serve for the match.

One poor backhand into the net and an inspired backhand down-the-line from Djokovic after a breathtaking 29-shot rally saw those break points disappear.  He had one more chance, but Djokovic closed the door with such ferocity and a mental strength that has taken him to world number one.  Djokovic held and then immediately put the pressure back on Murray who could not hold his serve as Djokovic completed the epic victory.

Murray gave his everything to this match and could easily have wilted like 12 months ago, but he really dug deep and put in a commendable performance.  There was just a point here and there that decided this match and although he is likely to be heartbroken by the loss, he should take massive positives from this semi-final.  I will be really disappointed if the papers are negative of his performance because he does not deserve it in the slightest.  Djokovic is likely to be knackered after this epic match, but nothing seems impossible with the world number one who will face off with Rafael Nadal in the final in what will be another physical tussle... I can't wait!!!

A problem with the videos

I have noticed many of my previous videos were not loading as they all had a copyright claim from Tennis Australia! I have managed to replace some of them with better videos now... back to Djokovic vs. Murray :-)

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Nadal downs Federer in 4 sets

Rafael Nadal
Rafael Nadal recovered from the loss of the first set to defeat Roger Federer in a fantastic semi-final match, 6-7 6-2 7-6 6-4.  At the beginning of the match, you would have been hard pressed to predict the actual outcome of this match as Federer came out on fire displaying incredible variety with his shots.  I gasped twice within the first five games at some of Federer's shotmaking and remember a sensational backhand that he produced at 4-1, 15-15 on a shot that 99 times out of 100 you would see end up as hitting the net... I have searched for it on YouTube but I have not found it yet! Federer seemed to be cruising to the first set, but Nadal stood tall and recovered the break to force a first set tiebreak.  You could really feel the tension on show in the tiebreak, but it was still high quality and fascinating tennis as Federer's early mini-break was enough to win the first set on a surprising Nadal unforced error.

YouTube video to be added if I can find the Federer winner I am after!

The tide seemed to be turning at the end of the first set and after consecutive breaks of serve, Nadal took the initative and waltzed his way through the second set.  There was an array of incredible Nadal winners, but the pick of the day has to be the one I have prepared below! After the 10 minute break for fireworks to celebrate Australia Day, Federer's play became more irratic and his unforced error count (63 in total) went through the roof.  After such a convincing start, Nadal really seemed to get into his head and Federer seemed unsettled on court. 

An incredible Nadal winner!

The tennis still continued to entertain and delight as Nadal won the third set on a tiebreak.  Federer managed to save 4 set points before finally succumbing to the Spaniard.  In the 4th set, Federer had his chances to break the Nadal serve midway through but he was unable to make his advantage pay.  Nadal finished off the match in a lengthy, stunning finale as Federer went long on one of his groundstrokes.  Much like Sharapova, Nadal has really surprised me at these Championships with his level of play and I completely underestimated him because of his injury problems. Federer once again will go home empty handed and definitely showed today that his mental strength is not quite what it was and the likes of Nadal and Djokovic have a significant mental edge over him at the Grand Slams.

Azarenka & Sharapova set up grunting grand finale

Victoria Azarenka claimed her biggest ever scalp in a Grand Slam as she beat Kim Clijsters, 6-4 1-6 6-3 to advance to her first ever Grand Slam final.  Azarenka started the match in fine form as she needed just one break to take the first set.  Clijsters came roaring back in the second set and assumed control of the match as she punished Azarenka for a lapse in concentration and a breakdown on serve.  However Azarenka showed terrific determination to regain the momentum in the third set against the heavily favoured crowd favourite in Clijsters. The Belgian had her chances as she recovered from a 1-4 third set deficit to 3-4, but all her hard work was undone as her inconsistencies surfaced once more and the Belarusian was able to serve out the match to end a nervy, yet exciting third set.  This is the kind of win we have been waiting for from Azarenka and she proved her credentials on the big stage.  I particularly liked her post-match interview, which was very endearing and she seemed to connect with the crowd for the first time.

 I always enjoy the post-match interviews at the Australian Open and this was one of my favourites from the tournament as Victoria Azarenka spoke to Todd Woodbridge

Azarenka will play Maria Sharapova in the final after she produced a fighting third set performance to topple Petra Kvitova, 6-2 3-6 6-4 and end the Czech's chances of claiming the world number one spot.  Sharapova was dominant in the first set with Kvitova lacking intensity throughout her whole game, but she managed to claw it back in the second set firing 14 winners.  The third set was an intriguing affair although never hit the heights of being a classic.  Kvitova had many chances on the Sharapova serve, but missed 4 break points and a 0-30 advantage at 4-4.  This all seemed to take its toll on a weary and frustrated Kvitova who had what can only be described as a complete brain freeze in the final game as she gifted Sharapova a place in the final with a woeful service game.  Kvitova has had a good tournament, but on this occasion she lacked the killer instinct of taking her chances and she paid the ultimate price against a fighter in Sharapova.  The Russian has had a terrific week and I must reiterate how I did not expect this at all!  

Kvitova's brain freeze in the final game of the match

I was extremely glad to see that both semi-finals were very competitive and went to three sets.  In fact, it was the first time since the 2006 US Open that both semi-finals went the distance.  Although neither matches were classics, I think it is good that the WTA season has started with some really competitive clashes and with so many players closely bunched together at the top in ranking points, I really feel the WTA is ready to flourish in 2012.  The final between Victoria Azarenka and Maria Sharapova is likely to be a shrieking and grunting masterpiece with the added bonus for the winner of scooping the world number one spot.  In truth, this was probably my least favourite of the 4 four potential final match-ups because I believe the whole issue of grunting is going to detract attention away from the actual tennis match.  I will publish my preview of Saturday's final tomorrow but in the meantime you can watch highlights from today's semi-finals here!

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Australian Open semi-final preview

The Australian Open has failed to deliver any truly memorable matches so far but this could all change with a sensational semi-final line-up for both the men and women.  The mens is rather predictable, but incredibly exciting at the same time with Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Andy Murray ready to do battle for the first time in 2012.  The womens is surprisingly strong; I say surprisingly because there it is rare that the majority of the top seeds make it this far because the womens tournament is often littered with shock exits and new breakthrough stars such as Sabine Lisicki at Wimbledon and Angelique Kerber at the US Open.  There is the added spice with the Australian Open 2012 line-up that Petra Kvitova, Victoria Azarenka and Maria Sharapova are all fighting for the number one spot... and don't forget about the reigning champion Kim Clijsters who will be just as hungry as the other three women to win this Grand Slam.  Here are my predictions :-)


Kim Clijsters vs. Victoria Azarenka 
Clijsters produced a clean performance to beat Wozniacki in the last round and showed no ill effects with the worrying ankle injury that she picked up in her epic 4th round match against Li Na.  Azarenka has reached her second Grand Slam semi-final and was pushed hard in the first set of her quarter-final encounter with Agnieszka Radwanska, before racing through the gears to win in style.  Clijsters and Azarenka have played each other six times with the Belgian winning four of them.  I felt that the two matches that Azarenka won (Eastbourne 2010 and Miami 2011) were against a below-par Clijsters.  When the two have both been playing well, it has been Clijsters who has come out on top in their previous clashes.  This will be their first ever encounter in a Grand Slam and i'm going against the general consensus of the form book and sticking by my original pick for the title in Victoria Azarenka.  Azarenka will need to serve well, stay aggressive and display a positive mental attitude on court.  Whatever fitness that Clijsters brings into this match, you can take it for granted she will fight for her life in what she has declared has her last ever Australian Open.  This will no doubt be Azarenka's biggest test but she is much stronger both physically and mentally since her last match with Clijsters.  I believe this is Azarenka's time to shine...
Prediction - Azarenka to win in 3 sets

Maria Sharapova vs. Petra Kvitova 
Sharapova and Kvitova have both lost just one set on their way to this semi-final clash. Sharapova has been particularly impressive having come into the Australian Open with no matches under her belt in 2012.  She stormed through her first three rounds before battling past Sabine Lisicki in a tough 4th round match and easing past Ekaterina Makarova in the quarter-finals.  Kvitova has been up and down throughout her Australian Open campaign having to really fight hard in her second round match against Carla Suarez Navarro.  However she has looked like a seasoned pro and showed real confidence in her game to progress to this stage.  Sharapova and Kvitova have played each other three times but the match that sticks in the memory is Kvitova winning the Wimbledon final in straight sets.  I think that Kvitova will progress to her first ever Australian Open final... the Wimbledon final showed that she is not afraid of the big clashes and she can bring her A game in the most testing of situations.  I also believe that Kvitova's lefty serve will cause Sharapova some problems tomorrow.  Sharapova appears to have made improvements on her own serve, but I still question whether it can hold strong under the immense power of Kvitova's returns.  I always find it difficult to write off Sharapova... but I am ;-)
Prediction - Kvitova in 2 sets


Novak Djokovic vs. Andy Murray 
This will be Murrays fifth consecutive Grand Slam semi-final, but the first time he will face Djokovic at this stage of a Grand Slam.  Djokovic beat Murray in a one-sided Australian Open final in 2011 but I would not read too much into that encounter for when they face off on Friday night.  Murray has had a serene progress dropping just one set and cruising past his opponents with the number 24 seed, Kei Nishikori being his highest ranked opponent so far.  Djokovic has had a much tougher route, particularly in the last two rounds against Lleyton Hewitt and David Ferrer but has passed them with relative ease.  I am feeling in two minds about Murray; he has had the most straightforward progression to the semi-finals that any player could ask for so it almost makes me feel this is his time. On the other hand, he has not been tested at all and that is dangerous going into a match with the world number one because I believe tough matches along the way can actually be positive and play you into form.  I am going to stick by my original prediction of Djokovic to win.  There have been so many times that I have gone for Murray and he has failed to deliver the goods so surely if I go against him then he will do it? We shall have to wait and see...
Prediction - Djokovic to win in 4 sets

Roger Federer vs. Rafael Nadal
We have been well and truly spoilt with this semi-final line-up and most will be salivating at the prospect of a semi-final match-up between two greats.  Both Federer and Nadal have been in terrific form; Federer has waltzed his way through the tournament with a most impressive victory over the huge-hitting Juan Martin Del Potro in the quarter-finals.  Nadal was pushed hard in his his last match against Tomas Berdych, but passed the challenge with flying colours and was playing his best tennis in quite some months at the end of the match.  Their last encounter was at the World Tour Finals where Federer produced one of his greatest ever performances to destroy Nadal, 6-3 6-0.  I am certain this one will be tighter, but I am going for the same winner.  I think it will be an excellent match that will stretch both players to their limits.  I normally go against Federer, but he has the distinct edge for me on the hard courts over Nadal and he will especially hungry for his first Grand Slam in three years... please be epic :-)
Prediction - Federer to win in 5 sets

I won't be able to watch any of the womens semi-finals live :-(  I hope to catch the highlights and get my first review out by tomorrow night!

Sharapova too strong for Makarova, Kvitova next

Maria Sharapova
Maria Sharapova beat Ekaterina Makarova, 6-2 6-3 on day 10 of the Australian Open to progress to the semi-finals.  It was a relatively routine victory for Sharapova who hit 26 winners through the course of the match and was more solid on serve than her previous match with Lisicki losing just one service game.  Makarova has had a terrific tournament but seemed to run out of steam today.  She has shown what a dangerous player she can be when in form but I cannot see her progressing into the top 25 of the ranking unless she can smooth out the inconsistencies in her game.

Sharapova will play Petra Kvitova in the semi-finals, which will be a rematch of last year's Wimbledon final.  Kvitova fought off an admirable challenge by Sara Errani in a 6-4 6-4 victory.  The match looked to be heading to a third set as Errani played some of her best tennis to take a 4-1 second set lead; however Kvitova found her game to reel off five games in a row and reach her first Grand Slam semi-final away from the grass courts of Wimbledon.  Kvitova did not play great against Errani as she had a -8 differential of winners to unforced errors and was broken on 4 occasions.  She has however improved her ability to grind out victories when she is below her best, which she could not do this time last year.

In the mens quarter-finals, Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic both won in straight sets to set up a show-stopping semi-final.  Murray was first to win with a comfortable 6-3 6-3 6-1 victory over Kei Nishikori.  Djokovic fought off a leg injury to defeat David Ferrer, 6-4 7-6 6-1.  The first two sets were dominated by some pulsating rallies as Ferrer went toe-to-toe with the Serb.  However his level dropped in a one-sided third set.  Djokovic admitted afterwards that he had suffered from breathing problems, but is confident of being fully fit for the semi-final with Murray.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Nadal defeats Berdych in stunning quarter-final

Rafael Nadal
Rafael Nadal beat Tomas Berdych in one of the best matches of the tournament so far with a 6-7 7-6 6-4 6-3 victory.  The first set went with serve, but Nadal did manage to play some of his best tennis to get out of a hole at 5-6, 0-40.  The second set point had to be one of the points of the tournament as Berdych destroyed the ball with his penetrating groundstrokes, but somehow Nadal managed to find an answer to each devastating strike.  Berdych fought valiantly to claim the first set in the tiebreak on his fifth match point, but it was not without drama.  The match highlighted several inconsistencies in the umpiring and the first of those occurred in the tiebreak as a furious Nadal was refused the opportunity to challenge a ball on the baseline.  However later on in the match, Berdych was allowed to challenge a ball on the baseline when he realised his shot in a rally was going out.

The second set was just as intense as the first as Nadal got the early break, but Berdych fought well to recover it and force another tiebreak.  It was another closely fought tiebreak, but Berdych will be left thinking about what could have been after he missed a volley on set point, which would have given him a two sets to love lead.  Nadal subsequently converted on his set point in the tiebreak and then really turned on the style in the third and fourth sets as he hit some sensational forehand shots.  Berdych appeared to run out of steam and ideas too as he could not contend with Nadal's incredible fighting spirit. 

Roger Federer produced a commanding performance to beat Juan Martin Del Potro, 6-4 6-3 6-2.  Federer was never really threatened by the Argentine who tailed off in a disappointing third set.  A quarter-final appearance at the Australian Open is a solid start to the season for Del Potro, but he still has some way to go to be able to contend with the top 4.  Federer looks in excellent form and his match with Nadal has all the makings for a terrific match...

Azarenka and Clijsters to meet in semi-finals

Kim Clijsters
Victoria Azarenka and Kim Clijsters will meet in a semi-final showdown after both players won their quarter-finals on day 9 of the Australian Open.  Kim Clijsters stopped a late fightback from Caroline Wozniacki to win, 6-3 7-6.  Clijsters was dominant for a set and a half as she raced out into a 6-3 5-2 lead.  Wozniacki failed to show any real intent early on as she was bullied from the back of the court and made too many unforced errors.  However the tide started to turn as Clijsters went off her game and started to miss strokes she was hitting for fun in the first set.  The set went to a tiebreak, which saw the best quality tennis of the match.  Wozniacki finally stepped up her game a little more and Clijsters found her form again... however when the two are playing well, it is always Clijsters that will come out on top and she won the last three points producing three fine winners to take the match.

There did not seem to be any ill effects from the ankle injury that Clijsters picked up in her previous match with Li Na.  She played a good match and will be delighted to have finished this off in 2 sets.  Wozniacki was rather disappointing in the first set, but at least showed some fight in the second set.  Her defensive game is good enough to get past most players on the WTA tour, but if she is to have more success against the likes of Clijsters then she will have to take more risks and improve her offensive game.  I think this was a pretty good tournament for the Dane considering she came into the tournament with a worrying wrist injury.  She has now lost her number one ranking, but I think this will take a big weight of Wozniacki's shoulders and she can concentrate on improving her game...

 Azarenka was first into the semi-finals as she came from a set down to beat Agnieszka Radwanska, 6-7 6-0 6-2.  This was the first test that Azarenka faced at this year's Australian Open and she came through it with flying colours.  There was not much to call between Azarenka and Radwanska in the first set although neither player could assume authority on serve with eight breaks throughout the first set.  In the tiebreak, Azarenka folded and produced a string of unforced errors against her more consistent opponent to lose the tiebreak 7 points to 0.

Azarenka responded admirably in the second and third sets as she sorted her serve out and started to dictate rallies with her backhand.  Radwanska gave a good fight in an entertaining final set, but she was powerless to stop Azarenka from reaching her first semi-final at the Australian Open.  Azarenka was poor in the first set, but the way she came back to dominate this match was even more impressive and showed her much improved mental game.  Radwanska has had a good tournament, but she still lacks the power to go all the way at a Grand Slam.  She has picked up where she left off from in 2011 and it will onwards and upwards for the Pole.

Monday, 23 January 2012

Australian Open quarter-final preview

Time seems to have flown by since the Australian Open began last Sunday and we now have just eight women and eight men left to do battle for the first Grand Slam title of the season.  Here are my predictions for the quarter-final matches...

Caroline Wozniacki
Caroline Wozniacki vs. Kim Clijsters - There has been no news as to how Kim Clijster's ankle is following her epic victory over Li Na in which she saved 4 match points to advance to the quarter-finals.  I am not sure if this is good or bad news. Meanwhile, Wozniacki produced a good performance to beat Jelena Jankovic in the 4th round, but showed that when it gets tight, she is likely to return her defensive grinding game.  Clijsters leads the head-to-head 2-0, but the Dane has never been completely outclassed in their two previous encounters, which both took place in finals. I would predict a fully fit Clijsters to win in 2 sets, but with the injury to Clijsters I have to give the edge to Wozniacki.  The Dane will never have a better chance to claim a big scalp, but she will need to show some attacking intent and be mentally solid because it is likely that Clijsters will not go down without a fight.
Prediction - Wozniacki to win in 3 sets

Victoria Azarenka vs. Agnieszka Radwanska - The two seeds in Azarenka and Radwanska have progressed to the quarter-finals without few problems.  Radwanska lost the opening set of her Australian Open campaign, but has since strolled through the tournament.  Their last three encounters have all gone to three sets so I expect this to be another close match. I am going for Azarenka to reach her first Australian Open semi-final with a tough victory in two sets.  I expect both sets to be tight and hard fought, but Azarenka has the power, consistency, and the confidence of beating the Pole in Sydney two weeks ago to claim the win.
Prediction - Azarenka to win in 2 sets

Ekaterina Makarova vs. Maria Sharapova - This is an unlikely quarter-final for me as I expected neither Russian to reach the quarters! Sharapova has played very well up till now, but showed in her 4th round match with Sabine Lisicki that her serve can still break down under pressure.  Makarova has had a sensational tournament so far knocking out the likes of Kaia Kanepi, Vera Zvonareva and Serena Williams.  Sharapova and Makarova have played each other twice before in the clay court tournaments of Rome and Madrid last year with Sharapova winning both encounters.  I have to go for Sharapova to win as I cannot see Makarova reproducing the goods once more against such as an awesome competitior in Sharapova.
Prediction - Sharapova to win in 2 sets

Sara Errani vs. Petra Kvitova - The tenacious Errani has had a fantastic week so far reaching her first ever Grand Slam quarter-final.  She has shown she can deal with the big servers as she knocked out Nadia Petrova in the second round.  However Kvitova is a whole different kettle of fish and will have the experience of playing at this stage of a Grand Slam before.  To be honest, I do not give Errani much of a chance in this match.  I think she will be overrawed by Kvitova who has looked assured in her last two matches and is showing the consistency that could make her the world number one on the WTA tour.
Prediction - Kvitova to win in 3 sets

Novak Djokovic vs. David Ferrer - Djokovic has looked in impressive form so far at the Australian Open, but struggled to close out his last match against Lleyton Hewitt.  He will face a similar type of match against the consistent Ferrer who will no doubt fight for every ball.  In their last encounter, Ferrer won handily 6-1 6-3 at the World Tour Finals, but Djokovic is much fresher this time round.  I cannot see Ferrer stopping Djokovic...
Prediction - Djokovic to win in 4 sets

Kei Nishikori vs. Andy Murray - Murray has waltzed into the quarter-finals having lost just one set, which was in fact his first set of the Championships against Ryan Harrison.  Nishikori has had a much more difficult progression through the tournament but produced the win of his career to take out Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the last round.  Murray and Nishikori played each other in Shanghai at the end of 2011 where Murray ran out a convincing 6-3 6-0 winner.  Nishikori has absolutely nothing to lose so I hope he goes out there and gives it his best shot.
Prediction -  Murray to win in 3 sets

Juan Martin Del Potro vs. Roger Federer - Del Potro and Federer have both had very straightforward passages to the 4th round where they meet in this potentially explosive quarter-final match.  Federer won their last match in Cincinnati in straight sets, but in their last Grand Slam encounter, Del Potro produced that terrific performance to claim the US Open title.  It has all the makings for a classic match, but could also disappoint if Federer brings out his A game.  I think Del Potro will test Federer and get at least a set, but I feel that Del Potro is still a slightly short of producing his best tennis.
Prediction - Federer to win in 4 sets

Tomas Berdych vs. Rafael Nadal - The match i'm most on the fence about is this quarter-final between Berdych and Nadal.  I was particularly sceptical of Nadal's chance before the tournament began after he stated he will need to take a rest from a shoulder injury in February; however he has looked very assured on court so far and produced some fine performances to reach the 4th round.  Berdych has been impressive too, losing two sets in the first four rounds.  Berdych is likely to have the crowd against him after the extraordinary ending to his 4th round match where he would not shake Almagro's hand.  I originally went for a Berdych win in this match before the tournament and i'm going to stick by my original predictions.  A little risky, but why not?! Berdych has the game to threaten Nadal, the only issue would be does he believe that he can beat Nadal?
Prediction - Berdych to win in 5 sets 

Nishikori stuns Tsonga in Australia

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga suffered a surprising 4th round loss to the rising Japanese talent, Kei Nishikori, 2-6 6-2 6-1 3-6 6-3.  Nishikori demonstrated his fighting spirit to come back from a convincing first set loss and his fitness as he battled through another five set match and in the soaring heat.  I have only seen glimpses of Tsonga so far this week and all the times I have seen him, I felt he looked comfortable in his matches without really playing that well. The last two games can be watched in the video below.  Nishikori will go through to play Andy Murray, who had a cakewalk out on Rod Laver Arena as Mikhail Kukushkin retired at 6-1 6-1 1-0 down.  Murray still has not faced a seeded player as his draw has opened up rather delightfully; the big test though will come in the semi-finals...

Novak Djokovic lost his first set of the championships to a truly dogged performance by Lleyton Hewitt in a 6-1 6-3 4-6 6-3 victory.  Hewitt worked his socks off and did extremely well to come back from 3-0 down in the third set to win it, but did not have anything left in the tank in the fourth set.  Djokovic will play David Ferrer in the quarter-finals after he had a surprisingly easy match over Richard Gasquet, 6-4 6-4 6-1.  We have a star-studded quarter-final line-up so hopefully the excitement in the mens tournament will really start to crank up now...

Sharapova tested, Makarova stuns Serena

Maria Sharapova
Maria Sharapova recovered from the loss of the first set to beat Sabine Lisicki, 3-6 6-2 6-3 and advance into the quarter-finals.  It was a very good match, which had some ferocious hitting.  When you compare the power on show to the match between Wozniacki and Jankovic last night, the difference is really astonishing! Sharapova started the match in fine form allowing Lisicki just two points in the first three games.  However Lisicki started to step into the court on the fourth game and hit some magnificent returns.  It was a smart move, which put Sharapova under pressure; her serving then fell off as did the rest of her game.  Lisicki won six straight games to take a marvellous opening set for the German.

Sharapova fought hard to take the second set and took advantage of 79% of first serves in to push the match into the third set.  At 1-1 in the decider, Sharapova saved five break points in what turned out to be the decisive game of the match.  Lisicki went a little defensive and although she was managing to keep her unforced error count low, she lost that attacking edge, which is what won her the first set.  Sharapova got the crucial break at 3-2 and although Lisicki had her chances to get back into the match, Sharapova stood her ground on serve to win.  I didn't fancy Lisicki to hold much of a chance against Sharapova, but she fought hard in this match.  Once again, she didn't take all her chances against Sharapova in that third set.  Overall, it was a strange third set from Lisicki, who definitely could have taken a few more risks with her shot-making.  There are not many players who could mentally stay so strong after wasting a 0-3 first set lead and losing 6 straight games, but Sharapova is a cut above the rest in terms of her mental toughness.

Sharapova will play the world number 56 Ekaterina Makarova in the quarter-finals after she produced the biggest shock of the tournament so far to take out Serena Williams in straight sets, 6-2 6-3.  It was the lowest seeded player Serena had lost to at a Grand Slam since 2005 when she lost to the world number 85, Jill Craybas in the third round of Wimbledon.   Makarova played a blinder of a match, but Serena was well short of her best, particularly on serve.  She hit 7 double faults during the match and won just 31% of points on her second serve.  She admitted afterwards that her lefty serve would have been better than todays serving performance.  She also said in her post-match conference that had it not been a Grand Slam, she probably would not have risked the ankle injury she picked up in Brisbane.  I thought Serena would win today against Makarova, but I did originally have her out in the 4th round to Kaia Kanepi... I just picked the wrong player to beat her! 

Petra Kvitova reached the Australian Open quarter-finals for the second year in a row with a straight-set victory over Ana Ivanovic, 6-2 7-6.  It was the first time she had beaten Ivanovic and despite a wobble serving for the match at 5-4, she recovered to take the second set tiebreak.  Kvitova did manage to hit a hilarious airshot, which is one for the bloopers reel.  Ivanovic failed to get going in this match as Kvitova was good value for the win.  Kvitova served well throughout the match and hit 30 winners to 23 unforced errors.  Kvitova will play Sara Errani, who is the second player at these Championships to reach their first ever Grand Slam quarter-final.  Errani was clinical in dispatching Zheng Jie, 6-2 6-1.  Zheng had a horror show today as she failed to deal with Errani's top spin shots committing an astonishing 47 unforced errors.  Errani has played very well to reach this stage, but I don't hold much hope for her in the next round against Kvitova...

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Australian Open 4th round preview part 2

Here are my predictions for tomorrows 4th round matches...

Serena Williams
Ekaterina Makarova vs. Serena Williams - Makarova has reached the 4th round of the Australian Open for the second consecutive year and has had a terrific run taking out the heavily fancied, Kaia Kanepi and number 7 seed, Vera Zvonareva both in straight sets.  Last year she faced Kim Clijsters at this stage and this time it is Serena Williams who has been barely worked by her three opponents so far.  Makarova is an inconsistent player, but when her swinging lefty serve is on the mark, she is a dangerous player.  I fancy a tight first set, but a stroll in the park after that for Serena.
Prediction - Serena to win in 2 sets

Sabine Lisicki vs. Maria Sharapova - This will be a rematch of the Wimbledon semi-final from last year, which will take place in the night schedule on the Rod Laver Arena.  Sharapova has been fantastic so far losing just five games in her first three matches.  Lisicki has struggled her way through with two three-setters, but showed some real fight and determination to get past Svetlana Kuznetsova in her last match.  Lisicki will have to serve well, which is something she failed to do in their last encounter.  She was also given a lot of oppoortunities in that match with Sharapova misfiring on serve and failed to even get a set.  This is not a good match-up for Lisicki so I cannot see any fight being enough against Sharapova.
Prediction - Sharapova to win in 2 sets

Sara Errani vs. Zheng Jie - There is always one section of the draw that sees the decimation of the seeds and its this section where the unseeded Errani and Zheng will meet.  Zheng has strolled into the fourth round, beating two seeded players in Roberta Vinci and Marion Bartoli.  Errani has had some tougher matches, but has been equally impressive.  Zheng is the clear favourite going into this match, but I fancy this to be very tight.  Errani won their previous encounter, but I would still stick by Zheng, who has yet to lose a match in 2012 to advance to the quarter-finals.
Prediction - Zheng to win in 3 sets

Ana Ivanovic vs. Petra Kvitova - Kvitova has managed to keep under the radar this week and had one scare in the second round against Suarez Navarro, but still looks to be in good form.  Ivanovic has played well, but it is always difficult to tell what Ivanovic is going to bring to the court.  There have been so many occasions in the past year (most notably in Beijing) where commentators were remarking that she is back to top form, but she never seems to consolidate her good performances.  Ivanovic has won their three previous encounters, but that was before Kvitova really became good.  I am going to go with an in-form Kvitova to sweep past Ivanovic in surprisingly straightforward fashion.
Prediction - Kvitova to win in 2 sets

Novak Djokovic vs. Lleyton Hewitt - Hewitt has had a difficult route to this stage, but as to be expected, he has shown real tenacity to pass by each challenge with flying colours.  Djokovic has looked simply awesome so far and has brushed aside his disappointing end to the 2011 season at the World Tour Finals.  I cannot see any other result than a Djokovic win, but i'm sure that Hewitt will run a marathon out there to try and keep up with the Serb.
Prediction - Djokovic to win in 3 sets

Richard Gasquet vs. David Ferrer - Both players have sneaked through the draw without making any headlines.  Gasquet has been most impressive as he took apart Tipsarevic in straight sets in the last round.  Their previous encounters have all been one-sided and Ferrer leads the head-to-head 5-1.  Gasquet is looking in good form so I expect him to give this a good fight but you should never underestimate the consistency of David Ferrer...
Prediction - Ferrer to win in 4 sets

Andy Murray vs. Mikhail Kukushkin - Murray is yet to face a seeded player in what has been a favourable draw up to now.  Kukushkin shocked Gael Monfils in the last round with some great ball striking, but I cannot see him threatening Murray who looked in immense form against Michael Llodra in the last round.  Murray did lose the opening set to Kukushkin when they played in Brisbane earlier this season, but that was Murray's first match of the season and he has progressed significantly since then.
Prediction - Murray to win in 3 sets

Kei Nishikori vs. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga - Nishikori has done extremely well to reach the second week of Grand Slam for the first time in his career.  Tsonga has moved effortlessly through the draw, but has yet to really hit top form.  This will be a testing encounter for the Frenchman and I think it will be an entertaining clash, but the winner is not in question for me.
Prediction - Tsonga to win in 4 sets 

Berdych booed, Federer eases past Tomic

Tomas Berdych was booed off Hisense Arena in an extraordinary ending to his 4th round match with Nicolas Almagro.  Berdych managed to win a tight match, 4-6 7-6 7-6 7-6 but towards the end of the match, he took offence when Almagro launched a ball at him.  Almagro was quick to apologise and you could see that he did not mean to hurt the Czech player, but Berdych did not see it like that and refused to shake Almagro's hand at the end of the match.  It was a real lack of judgement from Berdych who was then deservedly booed from the crowd during his post-match interview and as he walked off court.

Berdych booed by the Hisense Arena crowd

Berdych is likely to have the crowd against him on Tuesday when he will face off against the in-form Rafael Nadal in the quarter finals.  Nadal eased past his fellow Spaniard, Feliciano Lopez, 6-4 6-4 6-2.  Roger Federer was in terrific form as he displayed his variety against Bernard Tomic.  Federer came through a tight first set against the Australian before strolling to a 6-4 6-2 6-2 victory.  Federer will now play Juan Martin Del Potro in the quarter-finals after he produced a commanding performance to beat Philipp Kohlschreiber, 6-4 6-2 6-1.  Del Potro has been improving through each stage of the tournament, but he will face the almighty test of Federer in the next round...

Comeback Clijsters saves 4 match points to stun Li

Kim Clijsters produced an incredibly gutsy performance to fight off a worrying ankle injury and 4 match points to topple Li Na in a 4-6 7-6  6-4 victory.  It will be difficult for any match in 2012  to top the drama and tension that this 4th round match provided.  It looked to be all over for Clijsters, who declared that this will be her last Australian Open when she rolled her ankle at 3-3 in the first set.  It was a strange coincidence as this was the second match in a row for Li where her opponent suffered an ankle injury.  Clijsters bravely battled on and found herself down 6-2 in the second set tiebreak.  Li was unable to convert on any of the 4 match points with two unforced errors and two winners from Clijsters.  The highlights of the second set tiebreak can be found below although apologies for the quality as these are the only videos I could find!

Clijsters saving 4 match points in the second set tiebreak

It was an alarming choke from the Chinese player who must have felt the pressure playing against an injured opponent.  Clijsters went onto to take the second set tiebreak, 8 points to 6.  She hit just 5 winners to 23 unforced errors in the second set but her grit and determination made up for her lack of winners.  As to be expected, Li capitulated in the third set and fell 5-1 down; however there was still more drama to come as Clijsters let a 5-1 lead slip to 5-4 before eventually wrapping off a terrific victory.  You can only admire the fighting spirit of Kim Clijsters in this match.  I wonder how her ankle will be for the next round, but i'm sure we will hear more on that tomorrow...

Kim Clijsters

Clijsters will play Caroline Wozniacki in the quarter-finals after she beat Jelena Jankovic in a 6-0 7-5 victory.  Wozniacki was superb in the first set, but had to fight hard to come through a nail-biting second set.  In the first set, Wozniacki produced one of the most impressive sets of tennis I have ever seen her play.  She was attacking the ball, playing the forehand with real convinction and winning all the mini-battles with Jankovic.  In the second set, it was more of the same from Wozniacki although a flattened Jankovic started to make more errors and double faults.  Jankovic is known as a fighter and she dug deep and started to come into the net where she was very impressive throughout the match winning 15 out of 21 net approaches.  Wozniacki's game dipped and she sinked back into defensive mode as she began to dollop the second serve over the net. 

Caroline Wozniacki

Jankovic fought back from 4-1 down in the second set to 5-5 saving a match point on a tight forehand error from Wozniacki.  However Jankovic's game fell apart in the final two games as both players pushed from the back of the court.  It was a match of two halves from Wozniacki, but you cannot deny she is the ultimate competitor.  It was vintage 2011 tennis from Jankovic as she showed what she is capable of in terms of her shots, but mentally she cannot cut it at this level.  I think she has always struggled mentally, but when she was number one she was a much more consistent player so was able to get past a lot of her opponents.  Jankovic has lost that consistency in her strokes as she demonstrated today with a whopping 50 unforced errors, which has made her so much more vulnerable.  

Jelena Jankovic
Victoria Azarenka and Agnieszka Radwanska will meet in the second quarter-final from the top half of the draw after enjoying straightforward victories.  Azarenka beat Iveta Benesova, 6-2 6-2 with another accomplished performance on Rod Laver Arena.  The only struggle she had was serving out the match as it took five match points to finish off Benesova. The final game of the match can be found in the video below... Radwanska meanwhile had a cakewalk against a terrible Julia Goerges as she thrashed the German, 6-1 6-1.  Radwanska played very well hitting 10 winners to just 3 unforced errors, but Goerges failed to hit anything in the court amassing 27 unforced errors throughout the match.  I am happy to say that I had a successful day of predicting... I got all 4 winners today :-)

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Australian Open 4th round preview

The 4th round of the Australian Open will kick off tomorrow and we have some excellent matches to look forward to over the next two days.  Here are my predictions for tomorrow's matches...

Caroline Wozniacki
Caroline Wozniacki vs. Jelena Jankovic - This is the match i'm most looking forward too on Sunday and i'm thankful to the schedulers for putting it as the late night match on the Rod Laver Arena so I can watch it! Wozniacki has won their last three encounters and used her excellent defensive skills to grind down Jankovic in those matches. I fancy this to be a closely fought match but I have to give Wozniacki the edge purely for her superior mental toughness.  Jankovic has been playing much better in 2012, but i'm just not convinced that if she got into a winning position, she could get across the finish line.
Prediction - Wozniacki to win in 3 sets

Li Na vs. Kim Clijsters - The third match on the Rod Laver Arena will be a rematch of last year's final, which was the last time these two players faced off against each other.   Clijsters and Li have both advanced to this stage without any problems and they look to be in good form.  I think it could be a scrappy match with quite a few errors because they have similar games, but it should be a competitive contest.  I give the edge to Clijsters...
Prediction - Clijsters to win in 3 sets

Victoria Azarenka vs. Iveta Benesova - Azarenka and Benesova have both played some good tennis to reach the 4th round, which is where they both lost in last year's tournament.  This year, one of them will go at least one step further and you cannot look past it being Azarenka.  The Belarusian has won their last three matches in straight sets and although Benesova is playing with a great deal of confidence at the moment, I think Azarenka will be too powerful and consistent for the Czech player.
 Prediction - Azarenka to win in 2 sets

Agniezska Radwanska vs. Julia Goerges - Goerges is through to the second week of a Grand Slam for the first time in her career and will play her first seeded player in Radwanska.  In her previous matches, Radwanska has been outpowered at times, but her consistency and low error count has got her through.  The match bascially lies on Goerges' racquet; if she stays aggressive, serves well and keep her errors to a minimum then she has a shot here.  I fancy two tight sets, but Radwanska will be too consistent in the end.
Prediction - Radwanska to win in 2 sets

Juan Martin Del Potro
Philipp Kohlschreiber vs. Juan Martin Del Potro - Kohlschreiber and Del Potro both struggled in their first round matches but had no such problems in their last two rounds as they eased into this 4th round meeting.  They have played on four occasions with Del Potro winning all four including a three-set victory in Miami last year.  Kohlschreiber is an extremely talented player, but has struggled with his focus and consistency in recent years.  I fancy Del Potro to be tested but to still have enough in the tank to progress.
Prediction - Del Potro to win in 4 sets

Bernard Tomic vs. Roger Federer - Federer and Tomic have had completely different passages through to the 4th round.  Federer has had two straight set wins and a withdrawal, meanwhile Tomic has had 2 tough five setters; in fact Tomic has spent nearly 7 hours longer than Federer on court during these championships.  I think this could be a significant factor in this match and I cannot see the Australian causing any more upsets this week.
            Prediction - Federer to win in 3 sets

Tomas Berdych vs. Nicolas Almagro - Almagro continues to surprise me with some impressive results on the hard courts so far this year.  He has had a difficult draw beating Grigor Dimitrov and Stanislas Wawrinka on his way to the 4th round; however this is where I see his run ending.  Berdych has lost just one set in the tournament so far and has been slowing improving through each match.  I predict he will be too powerful for the Spaniard.
Prediction - Berdych to win in 4 sets

Feliciano Lopez vs. Rafael Nadal - Nadal has had a smooth passage to the 4th round with some excellent performances, particularly in the third round against Lukas Lacko.  Lopez played a good match to finally take out John Isner in the last round but I see no contest here.  Nadal has a significant 8-2 lead in their head-to-head record and Lopez never seems to turn up on the big stage.
Prediction - Nadal to win in 3 sets

Murray wins, Kukushkin shocks Monfils in Australia

Andy Murray produced a terrific performance to defeat the lively Michael Llodra, 6-4 6-2 6-0.  It was a very entertaining match with Llodra giving it his all with his delightful net skills.  Murray served very well once more and was excellent on the key points as he saved all five break points he faced in the first set.  There were a host of memorable points many of which took place at the end of the second set... enjoy the best of them below ;-)

Murray will play Mikhail Kukushkin in the 4th round, who defeated Gael Monfils, 6-2 7-5 5-7 1-6 6-4 in a truly crazy match.  It is hard to summarise this match because there were so many things that happened.  Monfils was hampered from the start with a back injury and fell two sets behind.  However Kukushkin lost his head completely at the end of the third set and in the fourth set.  He also took a medical timeout, which appeared to be an act of gamesmanship because the only thing that appeared wrong with him was his brain! In the final set, Kukushkin seemed to take a dislike to the calls of "allez" from Monfils when he hit errors and seemed to think that this was something that the referee could enforce.  However credit to the Russian, he hit some spanking winners in the last few games and Monfils wilted at the end and produced a disastrous double fault on match point.  There was also a crazy moment near the end when an inflatable tennis ball ended up on the court during a rally!

The bouncing balls on the Margaret Court Arena

Lleyton Hewitt produced a typically plucky performance to fight off Milos Raonic, 4-6 6-3 7-6 6-3.  I really thought Raonic would win this one, but he didn't have what it takes to fend off Hewitt and the support of the Rod Laver crowd.  Hewitt will now play Novak Djokovic, who has looked in devastating form so far; he allowed Nicolas Mahut just two games in a total annihilation, 6-0 6-1 6-1.  Jo-Wilfried Tsonga had no problems beating Frederico Gil in a straightforward 6-2 6-2 6-2 victory.  He will now play Kei Nishikori who fought extremely hard to beat the dangerous, Julien Benneteau in 4 sets.

Lleyton Hewitt

The final fourth round match from the top half will be between Richard Gasquet and David Ferrer.  Gasquet was in sensational form as he destroyed Janko Tipsarevic, 6-3 6-3 6-1.  I thought this would be a very close match, but Gasquet lay down his credentials, hitting 33 winners to just 8 unforced errors.  David Ferrer is sneaking his way through the draw without making any headlines and just as he likes it.  He beat Juan Ignacio Chela, 7-5 6-2 6-1 and will have to be at his best to take out the in-form Gasquet on Monday.

Janko Tipsarevic

Zheng Jie keeps winning in Australia

Zheng Jie
The round of 16 was officially complete on Saturday with two more top ten seeds heading out of the competition.  Zheng Jie made a stunning start to 2012 by winning the title in Auckland and she has maintained her unbeaten start to the season in Melbourne as she knocked out the number 9 seed, Marion Bartoli, 6-3 6-3.  Zheng started to show signs of recapturing the form that took her to two Grand Slam semi-finals at the end of 2011, but I felt her big weakness was the serve, particularly in the 2nd serve.  Zheng had no such problems with it today winning 71% of first serves and 50% of second serves.  Jie's movement has also been terrific so far this and she allowed Bartoli just 7 winners compared to the 28 she produced.  Zheng will play Sara Errani in the next round, who came back from the loss of a tight first set to ease past a struggling Sorana Cirstea, 6-7 6-0 6-2.

The other seeded upset on day 6 was the defeat of number 7 seed, Vera Zvonareva who was in tears at the end of her 7-6 6-1 loss to Ekaterina Makarova.  Zvonareva showed once more her mental frailties as she held set point in the first set tiebreak, but failed to convert and then subsequently her game collapsed in the second set.  She committed far too many unforced errors throughout this match allowing Makarova to reach the 4th round of the Australian Open for the second consecutive year in a tournament she seems to thrive in.  I discussed in my preview to 2012 that I thought Zvonareva would suffer a significant rankings slide this year and I have seen nothing this year so far to suggest otherwise.  Makarova will have a much tougher test in the 4th round against Serena Williams who eased past a disappointing Greta Arn, 6-1 6-1.  Arn expressed how she was honoured to play Serena, but she gave too much respect to the American in a lifeless encounter.  It must be said that Serena has had a total cakewalk of a draw so far.  Makarova can be a great player on her day, but it would have to be a really amazing day to challenge Serena.

Maria Sharapova
My predictions have been especially poor this week and the dominance of Maria Sharapova is something I did not see coming.  Sharapova has probably been the most impressive of all the women so far as she produced a devastating performance to beat Angelique Kerber, 6-1 6-2.  I fancied Kerber to take out Sharapova in my original predictions, but she was completely outpowered by the Russian who hit 34 winners throughout the 1 hour 27 minute contest.  Sharapova will play Sabine Lisicki in the 4th round, which will be a rematch of the 2011 Wimbledon semi-final.  Once again, I called this one wrong as Lisicki came back from a set and a break down to defeat Svetlana Kuznetsova, 2-6 6-4 6-2.  Lisicki looked to be falling to a limp defeat, but showed an incredible amount of fight to turn the match around against the mentally unstable Russian.  Kuznetsova is without doubt, the most frustrating player on the WTA tour in her ability to lose concentration and focus at key moments and turn into a mental wreck!

The final 4th round match from the bottom half of the draw will be between Petra Kvitova and Ana Ivanovic.  Kvitova advanced into the 4th round following the retirement of Maria Kirilenko at 6-0 1-0.  Kvitova still managed to hit 20 winners to just 2 unforced errors in the 38 minutes of play.  Ana Ivanovic faced her biggest test yet but toughed out a 6-3 6-4 victory over the ever improving, Vania King.  By all accounts, Ivanovic's fist pumping was at a new level today and it is the one thing that I really dislike about her game.  However I don't think we will see much fist pumping in the next round against the powerful world number 2...