Each day during the Australian Open, Richard Pagliaro will preview three must-see matches—and offer his predictions.
1. (4) AGNIESZKA RADWANSKA vs. (13) ANA IVANOVIC
Fourth Round; Rod Laver Arena, first night match
Head-to-head: Radwanska leads 4-3
Former No. 1 Ivanovic faces a moveable wall in the crafty fourth seed. Picking opponents apart with precision, Radwanska has played almost unerring tennis in 2013, posting a 12-0 record without surrendering a set while sweeping tune-up tournaments in Auckland and Sydney. Both women like to hug the baseline, but that’s where the similarity ends.
Playing for her third straight Australian Open quarterfinal, Radwanska is a better mover, has more gears to her game, and can disrupt an opponent's rhythm by changing spins and speeds. Ivanovic must maintain the depth of her drives and keep the points short to test the 2012 Wimbledon finalist. The good news for Ivanovic is all three of her wins over Radwanska have come on hard courts; the bad news is she hasn’t beaten her since 2008, though most of their matches have been close.
Ivanovic, who tugs down on her visor after an egregious error as if trying to close the curtain on a cringe-worthy moment, must keep calm and play with a loose arm (and a short-term memory). Her straight-edge forehand is a weapon, and if she’s landing it—and controls her sometime stray service toss—she can test Radwanska. But the Pole is on a roll and I don’t see it stopping here.
THE PICK: RADWANSKA IN TWO SETS
2. (6) LI NA vs. (18) JULIA GOERGES
Fourth Round; Hisense Arena, fourth match
Head-to-head: First meeting
Li began working with former Justine Henin mentor Carlos Rodriguez last year, and is trying to apply the Belgian's famous forward thinking to her game. She’s marched through the field without permitting a set, and carries an 11-1 record into this match.
Goerges showed guts in rallying from a 4-5 final-set deficit to subdue former semifinalist Zheng Jie, reeling off nine of the last 10 points in her 6-3, 1-6, 7-5, third-round win. Goerges hits with much heavier topspin, and since this is their first meeting it will be interesting to see how Li handles the high ball—it could create timing issues. Li likes to step into the court and play flat, so I envision her taking the ball on the rise and sometimes hitting behind the taller, slower German.
There could be sudden shifts here because both women can be streaky shotmakers and neither likes to defend, though Li’s athleticism and agility make her more dangerous on the move. When the 2011 finalist gets tight, she can lose the shape of her swing on the serve and forehand and flat line those shots into net. If that happens, Li would be wise to employ the Lindsay Davenport tactic of driving the ball deep down the middle to try to tie up the long-limbed Goerges, denying her access to angles. Goerges has a powerful serve, so she could push the former French Open champion, but I like Li.
THE PICK: LI IN TWO SETS
3. (5) ANGELIQUE KERBER vs. (19) EKATERINA MAKAROVA
Fourth Round; Rod Laver Arena, first match
Head-to-head: Kerber leads 3-2
Two left-handers share more than a quarterfinal quest in common: Both women beat Serena Williams on a hard court last year.
Makarova broke Williams five times and pounded her second serve as if it were a pinata, winning 20 of 29 such points in her 6-2, 6-3 Aussie Open shocker. Williams was hobbled by a sprained ankle suffered in Brisbane, but Makarova was ruthless in handing Serena one of the most lopsided losses of her Grand Slam career.
Kerber is the last woman to beat Serena (in Cincinnati last summer) and halted the run of talented American teenager Madison Keys in straight sets in round three. Kerber is very accurate on the counter attack; and the longer the rallies, the more she’ll like it.
Ultimately, Makarova must take risk and play bold, because if Kerber plays her usual ultra-consistent, grinding baseline game, she will win. Makarova likes Melbourne—this is her third straight fourth-round appearance here; she’s reached that stage just once in 16 other majors. And she smacked 51 winners in her 6-7 (4), 6-3, 6-4 third-round win over No. 11 Marion Bartoli, so she should be confident. Kerber has been a quarterfinalist in three of her last five majors. Unless Makarova has a sensational serving day, I see Kerber advancing.
THE PICK: KERBER IN TWO SETS