Quarterfinals Preview: Henin v. Sharapova; Federer, Nadal Headline at Australian Open
We are down to just 16 players at the Australian Open, and since there’s no live Australian Open tennis on this morning (is it the holiday?) for the second straight day, let’s break down the quarterfinal match-ups starting with the men.
Roger Federer vs. James Blake
Given the way Federer nearly escaped Janko Tipsarevic and the way Tomas Berdych twice (or was it once?) choked on set points against the Swiss, it wouldn’t shock me to see James give Roger some problems here and there.
If you wanted to pick an upset in the quarterfinals this would be my pick. Do I think it will happen? No.
Roger matches up well with Blake, who’s not going to do anything much differently than he normally does, that is smash forehands and return of serves and try to overhit when he shouldn’t. Blake, however, is streaky, so a set could very well go the American’s way. But I’ll stick with Federer here in a close one.
Novak Djokovic vs. David Ferrer
Honestly, I don’t think Djokovic has been fully tested yet. Lleyton Hewitt is a tough customer, especially on his home soil, but the Lleyton Djoko played was gassed in my opinion. That won’t be the case against Ferrer, who’ll be more than happy to run all day and night, if needed, and make Djoko follow suit. That said, Ferrer hasn’t played anyone either except his good buddy Juan Carlos, so it’s somewhat of a draw in terms of preparation.
The court seems to be playing faster now, which will help Djoko, and the Spaniard has not played on Laver I don’t think. But Ferrer handled (a tired) Novak in Shanghai quite easily and since I picked Ferrer to reach the semis at the start, and I’ll keep leaning his way in this one.
Jo-Willy Tsonga vs. Mikhail Youhzny
Youhzny’s on the longest win streak of any remaining player – nine matches. Youzhny’s also been to the semifinals of a Slam before (06 US Open) and he’s got 13 straight wins over Frenchmen so I read.
JW is enjoying a hell of a run, and frankly I’m pissed about it because I picked his first round opponent, Andy Murray, to be in this very spot that’s he’s in now. But the run ens here of Ali Jr. I think Youzhny has a great return of serve, has solid groundies anchored by a terrific backhand, and enjoys the big edge in experience that should get the Russian through.
Rafael Nadal vs. Jarkko Nieminen
Nadal, like Djokovic, has yet to drop a set in four matches. In fact with the retirement from PH Mathieu Nadal’s played the least of any of the eight remaining quarterfinalists. That’s bad news for Jarkko who’s never beaten a Top 5 player, never beaten Nadal and is just 3-23 career against left handed players. All that spells trouble for the Finn so I look for Mr. Nadal to advance comfortably.
Now for the women:
Justine Henin vs. Maria Sharapova
In my mind this is the best and most intriguing matchup in the quarterfinals on either side. Both players come in super-hot. Justine as won her last 32 matches on the tennis circuit while Maria has been tearing up the opposition in Melbourne. Henin’s won six of eight meetings including their most recent, a WTA Championships thriller last November won by the Belgian in three tough sets.
This time around Maria’s playing a little bit better than Justine, who had slight issues closing out a few matches last week. But I’m still going with Justine here in a very close one.
Serena Williams vs. Jelena Jankovic
Jelena gets a ton of balls back that’s for sure. And she’ll annoy the heck out of Serena. But I think Serena will do here what Tamira Paszek failed to do in the first round: Close out Jelena. So I’ll take Serena in straight sets. She’s fitter than ever and she’s got too much firepower for the Serb.
Venus Williams vs. Ana Ivanovic
Venus has beaten Ana in all four previous meetings. Coming into this match, though, I think Ana is playing the better tennis of the two. But I’m still not convinced the Serb can pull out a huge win over a Williams sister on a big stage. Until she does it’s advantage Venus in this one.
Daniela Hantuchova vs. Agnieska Radwanska
Both these women are only alive because their round of 16 opponents choked. Hantuchova was getting hammered by Maria Kirilenko while Radwanska had packed her bags as she was down 61, 30 to Nadia Petrova. So both should be thankful to have reached this stage. Of the two, Hantuchova has the edge in experience, but in my mind it’s that very experience that’s her downfall. Daniela’s never reached a Slam semifinal in three prior quarterfinal attempts and at some point during the match she’ll come to the realization of that fact and self-destruct. To make things worse she knows she’s the favorite her.
On the other hand, Radwanska has chocked up some big wins in big matches beating Sharapova at the US Open and The Kuz Saturday in Melbourne, so I think she’ll enjoy the match more and play with less pressure. First Polish women in a Grand Slam semifinal? I don’t see why not.
So there’s my quarterfinals selections. Now walk, don’t run to the nearest betting parlor and place your wagers. Again, if you do the opposite of me – yes, I picked Andy Murray to reach the final – you’ll likely strike it rich. And if you do don’t be shy about returning the favor and sending a few bucks my way. It is the Happy Slam after all.
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