Quarters for Our Thoughts: Sharapova, Ferrer, and More on Wednesday in Miami

Sharapova powered past Errani at Indian Wells. Will she do it again? (Christopher Levy for Tennis Grandstand)

After a handful of upsets in the men’s draw on Tuesday, Wednesday offers the start of the quarterfinals and the end of that round in the women’s draw.

Maria Sharapova vs. Sara Errani:  While nearly all of the other Indian Wells headliners have vanished, the women’s champion there keeps chugging through a streak of eighteen consecutive sets won, most in dominant fashion.  But Sharapova looked less crisp in focus, accuracy, and movement during her last two matches than during the climax of her desert run.  And her sternest test at Indian Wells awaits her for a second straight quarterfinal, continuing to show the hard-court consistency that has elevated her into the top eight.  Few people can have welcomed Errani’s ascent more enthusiastically than Sharapova, who crushed her in the Roland Garros final to claim a career Grand Slam.  While she repeated the same scoreline at the year-end championships, their meeting two weeks ago started with an 80-minute set that showcased the contrast between the flat baseline lasers of one and the artful net play of the other.  Sharapova saved set point before wearing down Errani, who feathered drop shot after drop shot to perfection but could not build a victory on that foundation alone.  The Italian already weathered the first strikes of Ana Ivanovic, though, and will probe her opponent diligently for cracks in her armor.

David Ferrer vs. Jurgen Melzer:  Of their eight previous meetings, not one has come on the Tour’s dominant surface of outdoor hard courts.  This anomaly complicates efforts to predict the outcome based on history, although Ferrer holds a meaningful 6-2 lead.  One of their most significant matches ended decisively in Melzer’s ledger at Roland Garros three years ago, where he achieved the best result of his career in upsetting Novak Djokovic to reach the semifinals.  Both over 30, the two men have traveled in opposite directions since then with the Austrian fading at most tournaments of note and the Spaniard claiming an ATP-leading nine titles since the start of 2012.  Into his second straight Miami quarterfinal, Ferrer has impressed with comprehensive victories over two seeded opponents, one of whom (Kei Nishikori) had troubled him before.  For his part, Melzer has defeated no challenger more prominent than Marcel Granollers, and he has needed final sets to secure three of his four victories.  The man who exploited Del Potro’s exit should crumble, physically and mentally, under the pressure of Ferrer’s resilient baseline defense.

Jelena Jankovic vs. Roberta Vinci:  To judge from their history, one can expect a highly competitive encounter.  Three times in five encounters, these two slow-court specialists have reached a final-set tiebreak to decide matches highlighted by their contrasting backhands.  Whereas Jankovic redirects the ball with her two-hander down the line, Vinci disrupts the rhythm of opponents with the versatility of the only one-hander in the WTA top 20.  Especially effective is her backhand slice, which floats deep into the court to keep aggressive baseliners at bay.  Somewhat the superior server, Jankovic still does not win many free points from her delivery and will need to outmaneuver the Italian in extended rallies.  The 2008 runner-up has not dropped a set in three matches, so she reaches the quarterfinal with more energy in reserve than a fellow veteran who has played three sets in all of hers.  Losing the first set in all of them, Vinci will hope to start more auspiciously against Jankovic, although she rallied from the same situation to edge past her in Sydney two months ago.

Tommy Haas vs. Gilles Simon:  Not the match that anyone anticipated for Wednesday’s night session, the battle of Serb slayers pits the opportunistic aggression of Haas against the impenetrable counterpunching of Simon.  While the Frenchman prefers to construct a fortress behind the baseline and rally in neutral mode until his opponent blinks, the 34-year-old German must force the issue by opening the court and cutting off angles.  Simon’s upset over Tipsarevic felt relatively minor because of the second-ranked Serb’s recent woes, but he still must feel satisfied to have restored his level from Indian Wells mediocrity to the solid results that he submitted in February.  For his part, Haas cannot afford to let his focus slide in the aftermath of a stunning triumph over the world No. 1.  Djokovic did not reach his normal heights in that match, but his opponent still displayed a level of shot-making precision that can carry him past Simon if he maintains it.  Having won two of his three hard-court meetings with Simon, he will hope to build upon his pair of victories last year on contrasting surfaces in Hamburg and Toronto.  The Frenchman’s only success in their history comes from an Indianapolis three-setter in 2008, when the heat and the slow court enabled him to outlast the older man.  With a rare window open to reach a Masters 1000 semifinal, each man hopes to capture key rankings territory.