Each day during the Australian Open, Richard Pagliaro will preview three must-see matches—and offer his predictions.
(10) CAROLINE WOZNIACKI vs. SVETLANA KUZNETSOVA
Fourth Round; Rod Laver Arena, first match
Head-to-head: Wozniacki leads 5-3
Wozniacki’s consistency helped her rise to No. 1; Kuznetsova’s ability to lift her level against top seeds in majors is one reason why she is a two-time Grand Slam champion.
Kuznetsova possesses more power, but Wozniacki has more staying power. Four of their eight meetings have gone the distance. Down a set and 1-4, Wozniacki reeled off 12 of the final 14 games in rallying for a 6-7 (8), 7-5, 6-1 win at the 2011 U.S. Open, two years after squeezing out a 2-6, 7-6 (5), 7-6 (3) win at the Flushing Meadows major.
The 75th-ranked Russian won their most recent meeting in Sydney earlier this month, which should embolden her in this rematch. Kuznetsova has gained traction in cross-court forehand exchanges in their past meetings because she hits the ball bigger, and I believe Kuznetsova has the weapons to win this match. The question is, does she have the nerve? Too often, Sveta sweats the small stuff, but she looks refreshed after the layoff and I’ll take a shot with her in an upset.
THE PICK: KUZNETSOVA IN THREE SETS
(29) SLOANE STEPHENS vs. BOJANA JOVANOVSKI
Fourth Round; Hisense Arena, third match
Head-to-head: First meeting
Since she hadn't survived the second round in 10 prior Grand Slam appearances, the 56th-ranked Belgrade baseliner hardly seemed likely to be the last Serbian standing in the women's field. But Jovanovski can hit the ball hard and flat, and she’s won six straight sets since dropping her first set of the tournament.
The 21-year-old is a bold ball-striker adept at at pressuring her opponent from the baseline. If she can refine her shot selection and add some variety to her game, she should continue her rise.
That said, I’m a big believer in Stephens’ game. She plays off pace effectively, is quick around the court, has a live, loose arm that translates to a penetrating serve, and her spin affords her more margin for error—elements she applied sweeping Laura Robson.
Jovanovski has beaten flatter hitters—17th-seeded Lucie Safarova and ageless wonder Kimiko Date-Krumm in succession—but Stephens’ ball has more bounce to it, and the American looked confident in reaching the fourth round without surrendering a set.
THE PICK: STEPHENS IN TWO SETS
(3) SERENA WILLIAMS vs. (14) MARIA KIRILENKO
Fourth Round; Rod Laver Arena, first night match
Head-to-head: Williams leads 5-0
When she rolled her right ankle and was lying flat on her back in round one, it appeared Serena had met a major stumbling block. Instead, Williams scraped herself off the court to complete a shutout; since straining her ankle, she’s lost just six games.
The fact that Serena is playing doubles with sister Venus suggests the five-time champion is confident in her health and court coverage. Serena hits with more juice on her shots and is the stronger athlete. Kirilenko is extremely fit and fast around the court, but is a slender woman, so she’d be wise to try to take some pace off at times, throw in some high balls, and occasionally work the short slice to try to bring Serena forward. The problem with that tactic is if you aren't precise, then you set yourself up for misery when Williams runs it down.
Serena’s imposing serve and explosive shotmaking are obviously two major weapons in her arsenal, but her mind and movement are key components as well. She steps on the court as the strong favorite in virtually every match she plays, yet with a few exceptions (see her nervous loss to Virginie Razzano in the 2012 French Open), she rarely succumbs to nerves.
Kirilenko is fun to watch because she can do a little bit of everything. But Williams does everything better, and has won 10 of 12 sets against Kirilenko. Barring another injury scare, I can’t see her stumbling.
THE PICK: S. WILLIAMS IN TWO SETS