Day 9 at the Australian Open brings the first set of quarterfinals in both singles draws. Here’s a look at Tuesday’s four marquee matches (click here for the order of play).
• No. 1 Novak Djokovic vs. No. 5 Tomas Berdych (first night match, Rod Laver Arena): Can Djokovic’s regenerative abilities really be questioned? With just about any other player, I’d be preoccupied with wondering how he’d recover from a five-hour fourth-round match that stretched well into the early-morning hours. Djokovic reportedly didn’t get to bed until 5 a.m. on Monday after outlasting Stanislas Wawrinka, but this is the guy who bounced back from a physically grueling five-hour match against Andy Murray in last year’s Australian Open semifinals to beat Rafael Nadal in their six-hour final 48 hours later. He even had enough energy the other night to rip his shirt in half and flex for the world to see. I’d be surprised if the two-time defending champion is too compromised against Berdych.
The Serb has won 11 of 12 matches against Berdych, whose only victory came in the Wimbledon semifinals in 2010. Djokovic’s defense and ability to get the ball deep on the return have spelled doom for the big-hitting Czech. But as Wawrinka showed, the best bet against Djokovic is to grip and rip with impunity and Berdych — who hasn’t lost a set in four matches — does have the ability to do that. Whether he can do it over the course of a best-of-five match in Melbourne is a different story.
PREDICTION: Djokovic in three sets.
• No. 4 David Ferrer vs. No. 10 Nicolas Almagro (second match, Rod Laver Arena): Can anyone beat Nicolas Almagro 13 times in a row? We’ll find out as Ferrer puts his 12-0 record against his countryman on the line. Ferrer was clinical in eliminating Kei Nishikori in the fourth round and Marcos Baghdatis in the third round, giving no indication that his ownership of this rivalry is going to change.
That said, Almagro is serving and hitting the ball well and he’s fresh after playing fewer than two full sets in the fourth round because of Janko Tipsarevic’s retirement. With more firepower than a typical Spaniard (he’s second in the tournament with 68 aces), Almagro could make this difficult if he has both his serve and one-handed backhand dialed in. Directing that backhand down the line to keep Ferrer out of his favorite backhand corner would take away Ferrer’s ability to control the court with his inside-out forehand.
PREDICTION: Ferrer in three sets.
• No. 2 Maria Sharapova vs. No. 19 Ekaterina Makarova (third match, Rod Laver Arena): Makarova wants revenge after the more accomplished Russian defeated her 6-2 6-3 in the Australian Open quarterfinals last year. “I really want to play against her,” Makarova said. The problem for Makarova is that Sharapova is playing much better now, as she’s dropped a mere five games in four matches.
Sharapova is 4-0 against Makarova and has handled her lefty spin with no problems. It would take a serious dip in form from Sharapova to make this a match. She’s hitting her spots on her serve, returning big and controlling the rallies from both wings. On top of all that, her movement looks as good as ever.
PREDICTION: Sharapova in two sets.
• No. 4 Agnieszka Radwanska vs. No. 6 Li Na (first match, Rod Laver Arena): This is my pick for the match of the day and one that’s incredibly tough to call. Li is 12-1 this year … with the one loss to Radwanska, who hasn’t dropped a set in 13 matches in 2013. Li had been 4-0 on hard courts against Radwanska, including three straight-set victories last year, before falling in the Sydney semifinals nearly two weeks ago.
Li needs to serve well and move into the court on her ground strokes, keeping Radwanska from getting her on a yo-yo. China’s No. 1 also can’t overthink the match. Her game is a perfect balance of good movement and clean hitting from both sides, but when the pressure hits her feet get heavy, she starts snatching at the ball and the mishits come. If Li can control her nerves, she is more than capable of ending Radwanska’s winning streak.
PREDICTION: Li in three sets.