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Resetting the Australian Open

At the halfway point of the first major of the year, we’ve seen some sizable upsets, some resurrections of players, and some new faces that could potentially be this year’s breakout star.  With all of these results, it’s time to revisit the predictions laid out at the beginning of the tournament and revise our predictions as the event heads down the homestretch.




Women’s Singles

Predicted Quarterfinal Matches:

  • (1) Serena Williams vs (8) Caroline Wozniacki
  • Coco Vandeweghe vs (6) Agnieszka Radwanska
  • (5) Ana Ivanovic vs (3) Simona Halep
  • (7) Eugenie Bouchard vs (2) Maria Sharapova

Eliminated Quarterfinalists: (5) Ana Ivanovic, (8) Caroline Wozniacki

Two predicted quarterfinalists and former world number ones are already out of the tournament, eliminated by players who simply outhit them.  Caroline Wozniacki’s loss to Victoria Azarenka is understandable: Azarenka is a two-time champion in Melbourne, and her ranking does not match with her skills.  Plus, Caroline Wozniacki did come into the Australian Open with a wrist injury that prevented her from hitting backhands in practice.  Still, the assumption was that Azarenka’s preparations were not enough to get her capable of pulling an upset against the WTA’s most consistent baseline retriever in Wozniacki, and that while Victoria wouldn’t simply roll over, she wouldn’t have the match play and proper form to knock out a woman who has been playing well the last six months or so.

Ana Ivanovic crumbled under the weight of expectations as her serve abandoned her. (Source: William West/AFP)

The other eliminated quarterfinal prognostication in Ana Ivanovic was a complete shock.  Ivanovic played very well in Brisbane, reaching the final and taking the first set off of Maria Sharapova in that final.  However, she looked like a completely different player in Melbourne.  Her serve abandoned her—something we had thought had been mostly erased from her game as she revived her career as a top ten player—and when Ivanovic’s serve becomes a liability, her entire game crumbles around it.  It’s tough enough when the shot that starts rallies and can initiate an advantageous position becomes a weakness, but anyone can tell that when Ana knows her serve is off, she puts extra mental strain on herself and pulls the trigger on shots that normally she wouldn’t be attempting.  Lucie Hradecka has a booming serve that has helped her immensely in doubles, and she has had success on the singles circuit in past years, but her singles game has wondered aimlessly in the past season or so.  It was a big win for the Czech, but this loss was clearly on Ivanovic’s own faults more so than Hradecka’s play.


Replacement Quarterfinalists:

(10) Ekaterina Makarova—Honestly, it was probably a massive oversight on my part not to pick Makarova as the quarterfinalist to start the event.  It was forgotten that Makarova’s most successful major is the Australian Open (18-7 lifetime record), as she has reached the quarterfinals twice in her career here and notched a dominant win against Serena Williams in 2012.

Victoria Azarenka—This one is a toss-up.  Though Azarenka has good vibes from her prior results in Melbourne, one still has to worry if her lack of match play could catch up to her as she progresses through the tournament.  Plus, the 19th seed Alize Cornet is still alive, and she’s a good, underrated player, even after multiple wins over Serena last year.  Cornet’s not a lock either; she faces off against last year’s finalist in Dominika Cibulkova, and Cornet can still implode if things start to get out of hand for her.

Victoria Azarenka has looked like quite a bit like the Azarenka of old in defeating both Sloane Stephens and Caroline Wozniacki. (Source: Paul Crock/AFP)


Matches to Watch:

Third Round: (4) Petra Kvitova vs Madison Keys—Kvitova has looked very solid thus far, but the buzz about her potentially making a deep run has been relatively quiet.  Is the tennis establishment wondering if she’ll stumble in Melbourne as she is wont to do outside of Wimbledon?  Or is it simply a case of Kvitova being overlooked?  Petra has a potential test on her hands as she takes on Keys, the promising young American who handled a partisan crowd in knocking out Australian Casey Dellacqua last round.  She’s got former major champion Lindsay Davenport in her camp now, a move that everyone saw as a perfect match when it was announced.  It may be too early to see results from that pairing in terms of an upset of the world number four, but Keys does have the game to shake up this part of the draw and ensure an American quarterfinalist.

Fourth Round: (6) Agnieszka Radwanska vs (18) Venus Williams—This hasn’t yet come to fruition, and it might not—Venus, though she’s looked fantastic in Melbourne, must contend with the hard-hitting and dangerous Camila Giorgi in the third round, while Agnieszka faces off against Varvara Lepchenko, the lefty American who has defeated Radwanska both times they played in 2014.  Still, if these two meet up, it will be yet another excellent clash of different playstyles.  Radwanska is the WTA’s master of funky shots; she has the ability to use a variety of spins and slices to absorb pace and allow herself to reset points.  Venus, on the other side, would bring a game of brute force and power.  She still possesses one of the best first serves in the game, and her forehand—when on—is a potent weapon.  But Venus also seems to struggle against players who take away pace and give her balls that are at different heights throughout a point, which is exactly what Radwanska does.  This match should be a great one.

Quarterfinals: (2) Maria Sharapova vs (7) Eugenie Bouchard—This match is a potential looker, and I don’t just mean that in terms of the beauty of both women.  Both of these players have excellent games predicated on power, pace, and keeping their opponents pinned behind the baseline.  They’ve also had some hiccups early on in this tournament.  Maria Sharapova was nearly eliminated in the second round against fellow Russian Panova, while Eugenie Bouchard looked overwhelmed early on against young Frenchwoman Caroline Garcia in the third round before seizing control.  Is Bouchard capable of pulling the upset against Maria?  Yes, but the last time we saw Bouchard take on a veteran player whose game is predicated on pace but can also be streaky in Melbourne, we saw Eugenie become overwhelmed against her.  Maria will obviously be focused from the start, and as evidenced in her third round match, if she gets the upper hand, she’s liable not to let it slip.



Men’s Singles

Predicted Quarterfinal Matches:

  • (1) Novak Djokovic vs (8) Milos Raonic
  • (4) Stan Wawrinka vs (5) Kei Nishikori
  • (22) Philipp Kohlschreiber vs (3) Rafael Nadal
  • (6) Andy Murray vs (2) Roger Federer

Eliminated Quarterfinalists: (22) Philipp Kohlschreiber, (2) Roger Federer

A stunning upset occurred in the third round as the four time champion in Federer was outplayed during pressure moments by Andreas Seppi, a good player (he’s a former top twenty player and was seeded at last year’s Australian Open) but could be more considered as simply a journeyman.  Alas, Roger is prone to these kinds of losses as he enters the latter stages of his career, but it’s still galling to see him being outplayed during tiebreaks and being undone by spectacular shotmaking after years of seeing him do it to everyone on the tour.  We saw him stumble in his second round match, losing the first set to another Italian in Simone Bolelli.  He recovered to win that round, but it should have raised some doubts in Roger’s game in Melbourne.  One positive for Australians: his loss certainly opens the draw up for the brash Nick Kyrgios to take advantage.

Philipp Kohlschreiber’s loss in the second round was the result of another young Australian taking advantage.  In retrospect, it may have been underselling Bernard Tomic in thinking the talented Australian was simply going to fall out of his home major meekly and quietly as he did last year.  Tomic appears to be focused this go-round in Melbourne; he left the 2014 edition with a sour taste in the mouths of the home fans, but this time he’s reached the second week with his funky game.


Replacement Quarterfinalists:

(7) Tomas Berdych—I do wonder if things seem destined for a Rafael Nadal-Bernard Tomic rematch, where Tomic can repent against his dubious injury withdrawal against Nadal from last year’s clash in Melbourne, but Berdych has simply looked solid thus far at the Australian Open.  It’s still hard to pick him to be a threat to win a major without lots of help, but he appears set to live up to his seeding at this point.

Nick Kyrgios—Kyrgios takes advantage of the draw that’s been handed to him and should be considered the favorite to see himself in the final eight.  He hasn’t had a murderer’s row of opponents by any means: first round against claycourter Frederico Delbonis (which, somehow, went five sets), second round against 23-seed Ivo Karlovic (arguably the biggest underperformer in majors ever), and a third round win against Malek Jaziri (who has feet of lead).  But he’s a shot-taker, and in recent months, a shot-maker, and he’ll certainly have the home support behind him against Federer-vanquisher Seppi.

Nick Kyrgios has the game to go with his attitude to potentially take advantage of a now soft draw. (Source: Lukas Coch/EPA)


Matches to Watch:

Third Round: (12) Feliciano Lopez vs Jerzy Janowicz—The lefty Spaniard, affectionately nicknamed by his adoring female fans (including Judy Murray, Andy’s mother) as “Deliciano” for his looks, has quite honestly looked awful in Melbourne.  Yet somehow he’s still in the event even though he should have lost in the first round against Denis Kudla and benefited from Adrian Mannarino, his second round opponent, retiring despite having fallen behind two-sets-to-love.  In the third round, he’s up against Jerzy Janowicz, who should probably have a picture of himself in the dictionary under the term “wildcard”.  There’s honestly no telling what Jerzy might accomplish from match-to-match, or even within a match.  His game has little margin for error, which results in awesome shotmaking (including his love for the dropshot regardless of where he is on the court) or spectacular failure.  His combustible personality is also cause for concern, especially at an event known for its heat and the prior incidents of groups of fans becoming a little too raucous.

Fourth Round: (6) Andy Murray vs (10) Grigor Dimitrov—Murray has looked very good in his first three matches in Melbourne, defeating each of his opponents in straight sets with little worry.  He hasn’t necessarily played anyone of note, but he’s dealt with his matches with a workmanlike performance that shows he may be fully back as a threat to win majors (and with Roger’s surprise loss, he could easily take advantage of the opening).  In the fourth round, he’s slated to take on the player nicknamed “Baby Fed”.  Dimitrov’s game does have similarities to Federer’s, namely the grace in his footwork and that one-handed backhand, but Grigor’s game isn’t as potent as the all-time great’s.  Grigor has done what he’s had to in order to reach the second week; he’s survived and advanced against each of his opponents, especially against Marcos Baghdatis, the former Australian Open finalist who has a contingency of Cypriot fans in Melbourne.  Dimitrov was stretched to five topsy-turvy sets but took hold in the final set as the superior player.  If he wishes to unseat Murray, he can’t afford any slip-up in his play.

Andy Murray is quickly returning to the form that’s gotten him ever-so-close to winning at the Australian Open. (Source: Carlos Barria/Reuters)

Quarterfinals: (1) Novak Djokovic vs (8) Milos Raonic—Is Milos finally ready to have a serious breakthrough?  After seeing some of his contemporaries and rivals enjoy a serious breakthrough in 2014 (Marin Cilic and Kei Nishikori competing for the US Open title last year), Milos can make a big name for himself if he can get to the quarterfinals and take out the man whom pretty much everyone has already penciled in as the one reaching the final on this half of the bracket.  We know about Milos’s serve and forehand, and he’ll certainly need to use both to the best of his abilities if he wants to pull the upset, but his backhand has improved thus far in 2015.  One area where Milos is going to have to do better is during Novak’s service games.  Though he barely dropped a point against Donald Young in the second round when he was serving, Milos still only won a total of 28 points of Young’s service points, even though Young’s average first serve was only 111 MPH (and the second about 92).  Djokovic is a far better server than Young is, and if Milos simply thinks he can win a match against the world number one by trying to hold serve enough times to win three tiebreaks, he’s sorely mistaken.


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