Sunday, 19 January 2014

Melbourne day 8: Azarenka the huge favourite now

Upset of the previous day:

Ana Ivanovic def. Serena Williams 4-6 6-3 6-3

Ana Ivanovic held her nerve, matched Serena shot for shot, and finished her biggest win of her career surprisingly. Serena was clearly hampered by her back injury, and with her biggest weapon nullified, she made an uncharacteristic amount of unforced errors. Still, Ana held on to the very end and served it out without a hiccup. Well done for the former world number 1, who seems to have finally overcome her demons. As for Serena, one has to wonder if her body can hold up for another major. She is so close yet so far to even the 18th slam that Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova held. Hopefully she can stay healthy for the rest of the slams this year.

Match focus:

Dominika Cibukova vs. Maria Sharapova

Pocket rocket Cibulkova ruthless took apart Carla Suarez Navarro in her previous round. Will she do the same to shaky Sharapova? Maria's form has been dire for her past 3 matches. If Cibulkova hits an inspired streak, it will not be a surprise if she upsets Maria. Dominika has beaten her before, so she knows what to expect. One thing that motivates Maria now is that her greatest nemesis, Serena is out of the tournament. If she can tough through her rough patch of play, there's a great chance of her adding another slam to her resume. Tough call here, but I believe Sharapova's superior mental toughness will scrape through again.

Pick: Sharapova in 3 sets

Sloane Stephens vs. Victoria Azarenka

A rematch of last year's semifinals, Stephens will be hungry for revenge after Azarenka took a timely injury timeout to disrupt the American's rhythm. However, Sloane's form has been iffy for her past 3 matches. So it will take a monumental effort from her to topple the steady Belarussian. Beside, with Serena out, Victoria knows she has this title in her bag. She will bulldoze her way into the quarters.

Pick: Azarenka in 2 sets

Agnieszka Radwanska vs. Garbine Muguruza

As much as I'm impressed by Muguruza's fearless hitting, Radwanska's exceptional court sense and guile will outfox Garbine easily. The Spaniard is not the best mover, and Agnieszka will take full advantage of that. It is hard to expect Garbine to maintain that high level of aggressive throughout, so I expect no surprises here as the Pole strolls to yet another quarter-final.

Pick: Radwanska in 2 sets

Jelena Jankovic vs. Simona Halep

For someone with such stellar results outside slams, Simona needs to improve her performance in the majors. What better chance than to do it here against the vulnerable Jankovic. Jelena was not at her best against Nara, and would have crumbled against a tougher player. Simona will fully exploit that and make the Serbian pay if she loses her concentration again. Halep's form isn't that fine either, but it's now or never for the Romanian. With a top 10 ranking virtually secured, she needs to be aggressive and dictate play. I sniff an upset here.

Pick: Halep in 3 sets

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