Wizards of Oz (VII): Djokovic, Ivanovic, Radwanska, Sharapova, Berdych and More on Australian Open Day 7

Ana Ivanovic gets ready to take a whack at world #4 Agnieszka Radwanska.

At the start of the second week, all of the singles matches shift to the three show courts.  We organize our daily preview a bit differently as a result, following the order of play for each stadium.  From here to the end of the 2013 Australian Open, you can find a preview of every singles match in Wizards of Oz.

Rod Laver Arena:

Kerber vs. Makarova:  When two left-handed women last met on Rod Laver, the match unwound deep into a final set.  Viewers can expect less drama but higher quality from a meeting between the world #5 and a Russian seeking her second straight quarterfinal here.  In this round last year, Makarova recorded probably the best win of her career in upsetting Serena, and she rekindled some of those memories with a three-set upset of Bartoli.  Advancing through the draw more routinely, Kerber reached the second week here for the first time and will look to exploit the ebbs and flows in her opponent’s more volatile game.  Makarova will aim to take time away from the German counterpuncher, in part by opening the court with wide serves behind which she can step inside the baseline.  In a close match, Kerber’s outstanding three-set record and her opponent’s relative frailty under pressure could prove decisive.  The German won all three of their 2012 meetings in straight sets.

Ferrer vs. Nishikori:  Despite his clear superiority in ranking and overall accomplishments, the fourth seed might feel a bit anxious heading into this match.  Nishikori has won two of their three previous matches, both at significant tournaments.  More notable than his victory over Ferrer at the Olympics was a five-set thriller that he won from at the US Open, which introduced the Japanese star to an international audience four years ago.  Chronically beset by injuries, Nishikori overcame a knee problem early in his first match and has won nine straight sets.  As he pursues his second straight quarterfinal here, like Makarova, he cannot afford to encounter any physical issues in a grinding encounter filled with protracted rallies and few outright winners.  Ferrer wore down Baghdatis, a former nemesis here, in a routine third-round clash as his level rose with the competition, but now it rises again.

Sharapova vs. Flipkens:  Perhaps benefiting from the guidance of retired compatriot Clijsters, Flipkens has reached the second week at a major for the first time.  Still, she defeated nobody of greater significance than Zakopalova to reach that stage, and it is difficult to see any area of her game that can trouble the rampaging Russian.  Following her two double bagels, Sharapova conceded just four games to Venus in a highly anticipated encounter that turned into a demonstration of just how crisply she has started the season.  The Belgian’s best chance may lie in the hope that the world #2 enters this match a little complacent or satiated with her statement triumph, not likely from someone of her professionalism.  Their only previous hard-court meeting, in Luxembourg ten years ago, bears no relevance to what might unfold here.

Ivanovic vs. Radwanska:  Early in their careers, the Serbian former #1 hit through the Pole’s defenses with her serve-forehand combinations.  As Ivanovic has grown more erratic with time, the balance of power has shifted towards Radwanska with three straight victories in 2009-10 before a retirement from the former in their most recent meeting.  All of those matches have stayed very close, though, which can give the Serb as she realizes that she will have chances against a player who will not overpower her.  Stalling in the fourth round of majors for most of the last few years, Ivanovic has suffered a long string of losses to top-four opponents.  Currently undefeated in 2013 with two titles already, Radwanska has shown greater discipline and steadiness here (no surprise, really) than the flustered former #1, who has oscillated wildly in form.  Expect the fourth seed to outlast and outwit Ivanovic in an entertaining battle.

Djokovic vs. Wawrinka:  Not exactly known as a steely competitor, the Swiss #2 has acquired a reputation for folding at majors against elite opponents—not just Federer, but Djokovic and Murray has well.  He has lost his last ten meetings against the defending champion, last winning in 2006, although three times since then he has won the opening set.  Demolishing his first trio of victims without dropping serve, Djokovic has not shown any vulnerability that might offer Wawrinka a reason to believe.  Granted, the latter has not lost a set here either, but a matchup with the world #1 in a night session on Rod Laver Arena seems like the type of environment calculated to bring out the worst from the Swiss and something near the best from the Serb.  Parallel to Sharapova and Flipkens, one struggles to imagine any part of the underdog’s game that can threaten the favorite consistently.

Hisense Arena:

Almagro vs. Tipsarevic:  Never before have they met on a hard court, discounting an Abu Dhabi exhibition.  To no surprise, the Spaniard defeated the Serb comfortably when they met at Roland Garros last year, the most favorable surface for the former and the least favorable for the latter.  Almagro remains almost as lethal a threat on hard courts as on clay, producing a handful of fine results in Melbourne and New York behind an impressive serve and plenty of groundstroke first-strike power.  Both men can strike winners down the line from either groundstroke wing, nor will either hesitate in attempting a bold shot at any moment.  That factor, combined with their proximity to each other in the rankings, bodes well for a tightly contested match, as does their mixture of impressive and unimpressive results in the first week.

Li vs. Goerges:  If Almagro and Tipsarevic never have met on a hard court, this pair of women never has collided at all.  Whereas Li rolled through the first week without dropping a set, Goerges needed to claw through a long three-setter in her opener against Dushevina and salvage a third-round epic against Zheng after the Chinese served for the match.  Despite the accumulated fatigue, that resilience under pressure might aid her in a match likely to feature several twists and turns between two streaky women.  Under Henin’s former mentor, stern taskmaster Carlos Rodriguez, Li has hinted at improving her consistency from one tournament to the next.  Starting the year with a title and a Sydney semifinal, she enters this match with an 11-1 record in 2013.  On the other hand, Goerges has wobbled through a long span of the unpredictability typical of WTA Germans, leaving her stagnant until this week.

Margaret Court Arena:

Anderson vs. Berdych:  The first South African to reach the second week of a major since Wayne Ferreira ten years ago, Anderson did it the hard way by winning the last two sets of a five-setter against Verdasco.  Few players have started the year more impressively than he has, marching from a strong week at the Hopman Cup to the Sydney final and now a week in which he twice has won matches after losing the first set.  But Anderson may find himself eyeing adversity again when he meets a man who won all four of their matches last year.  The last two of those reached final sets, offering him some hope in this contest of crackling serves, ferocious forehands, and meager backhands, which should produce repeated holds and perhaps some tiebreaks.  Berdych has dominated the opposition through three rounds with the relentless focus that he does not always show, although he has not faced anyone of a quality approaching the South African.