Each day during the Australian Open, Richard Pagliaro will preview three must-see matches—and offer his predictions.
For a preview of the Novak Djokovic vs. Stanislas Wawrinka quarterfinal, click here.
They were born a day apart, and the 31-year-old veterans will square off for the first time in four years for a berth in the final four.
Sliding her serve into the corners, Pennetta has hit 22 aces and is winning 79 percent of her first-serve points—the best marks of any woman still standing. She’s also converted 22 break points.
Pennetta has bounced back from wrist surgery to play some of her most passionate tennis. The former doubles No. 1 is a complete player and is coming off her first career major semifinal at the U.S. Open.
Two-time Australian Open finalist Li is more emotionally combustible, but she’s also more explosive on the run—and she’s 9-0 this season. I definitely don’t rule out an upset here, particularly given Pennetta’s past success in this rivalry. But since saving a match point against Lucie Safarova, Li has played with clarity and calm, winning 18 of the last 23 games she’s contested. It's becoming clearer to see her reaching a fourth Melbourne semifinal in the last five years.
The Pick: Li in three sets
(14) Ana Ivanovic vs. (30) Eugenie Bouchard
Head-to-head: Bouchard leads 1-0
Rod Laver Arena, second match
WTA Newcomer of the year Bouchard is playing with the purpose of a woman who plans on sticking around in her Melbourne debut. The 19-year-old Canadian has won eight of nine sets she’s played here, but she hasn’t faced an opponent ranked higher than No. 68 (Lauren Davis). On the other side, Ivanovic fought back from a set down to beat 2011 U.S. Open champion Samantha Stosur and 17-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams in succession.
The 2008 Roland Garros champion is more accomplished and experienced, but she’s facing a dangerous opponent who should be empowered after sweeping Ivanovic seven months ago at Wimbledon. Bouchard seems to love playing on the big stage and knows she'll see plenty of pace here.
The former No. 1’s flat forehand is a major weapon. In snapping Serena’s 25-match winning streak, Ivanovic also hit her backhand with conviction and defended her second serve—the shot that can stray when her toss goes off—with vigor. Ivanovic must hold her nerve and attack with her forehand. If she does, I believe she will reach her first Oz semifinal since 2008.
The Pick Ivanovic in three sets
Their first Grand Slam meeting pits Berdych’s baseline power against Ferrer’s precise counter-strikes, but the 5’9” Spaniard has stood toe-to-toe with the 6’5” Czech and taken charge with his inside-out forehand.
Their last six hard-court meetings have come under a roof; both men have hit ceilings in majors. Berdych has lost 11 of his 14 major matches against Top 3-ranked players, including an 0-6 mark in Oz. Ferrer, who has reached at least the quarterfinals in nine consecutive Grand Slams, is playing for his third trip to the Aussie Open final four.
The Berdych serve against the Ferrer return is key: The big man is winning a tournament-best 87 percent of first-serve points, while Ferrer has broken serve a tournament-high 31 times. Berdych has not surrendered a set, spent three hours less on court, and swept Ferrer in their most recent meeting at the ATP World Tour Finals. But Ferrer, who has defused Berdych’s power in the past, is quicker around the court, plays with more margin, and is the better big match-player.
The Pick: Ferrer in four sets