Sunday, January 30, 2011

Djokovic Dominates Murray To Win Australian Open

Novak Djokovic of Serbia holds aloft the winner's trophy after  beating Andy Murray of Britain in their men's singles final on the  fourteenth day of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on  January 30, 2011. Djokovic won 6-4, 6-2, 6-3. MAGE STRICTLY.
Getty

More exhibition than Grand Slam final. Andy Murray competed for about half of the first set, but once Novak Djokovic took it on a break of serve, the match was all but over. Even with a minor lapse in the second set when Djokovic slapped a forehand long on a set point to deliver a bagel followed by a loose game to drop serve, he was never in any trouble. 6-4, 6-2, 6-3.

It's been a long time since a women's final eclipsed a men's final for overall quality, drama, and competitiveness, but here we are. Both finals featured the same number of games, but Li Na, despite losing her focus, still played with some passion and fight.

Murray, on the other hand, becomes the first player in the Open Era to lose nine consecutive sets in Slam finals. I'm not going to say it again, but you can no longer consider me a fool for believing it. (For the record, Dinara Safina has also contested three Slam finals without winning a set...) Some of the pundits are now beginning to wonder if we should be talking about the Big Three instead of the Big Four.

Humph.

Djokovic has taken his game to a new level. Focused, precise, efficient. And what incredible defense to offense. There were a few points where I felt like I was watching Serena Williams in full flight. He admitted that winning Davis Cup was a strong wind in his back, and he delivered in spades.

Am I becoming a fan? Maybe. Maybe not. Not sure I can get over a lot of his history, but what I do admire is that he didn't let the premature expectations of being the "Future of Tennis" derail him. (He also proved me wrong. He stopped tanking and talking shit, showing far more respect for the sport.) He slumped. He recovered. He regrouped. He improved. That takes an inner toughness not always seen in the upper echelons of tennis.

And he can play on clay. While no one touts him as the next man capable of winning four Slams in a row, not yet anyhow, wouldn't it be interesting if he found a way to win Roland Garros this spring?

Novak Djokovic of Serbia (L) embraces Andy Murray of Britain (R)  after Djokovic won their men's singles final on the fourteenth day of  the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on January 30, 2011.  Djokovic won 6-4, 6-2, 6-3. MAGE STRICTLY.
Getty

Face Of The Day

Ana Ivanovic of Serbia sits n the supporters box of compatriot  Novak Djokovic for his match against Britain's Andy Murray in the men's  singles final at the Australian Open tennis championships in Melbourne,  Australia, Sunday, Jan. 30, 2011.
AP

Ana Ivanovic of Serbia sits n the supporters box of compatriot Novak Djokovic for his match against Britain's Andy Murray in the men's singles final at the Australian Open tennis championships in Melbourne, Australia, Sunday, Jan. 30, 2011.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Australian Open 2011 Men's Final Preview

BY MAD PROFESSAH

Here is my prediction for the 2011 Australian Open men's final. I previously predicted the men's semifinals (2 of 2 correctly) and the men's quarterfinals (3 of 4 correctly).

A  combo created on January 29, 2011 shows Novak Djokovic of Serbia (L)  returning in his quarter-final men's singles match on the ninth day of  the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on January 25, 2011  and Andy Murray of Britain (R) hitting a return in his men's singles  semi-final match on the twelfth day of the Australian Open tennis  tournament in Melbourne on January 28, 2011. Andy Murray hopes to end  Britain's 75-year Grand Slam drought against Novak Djokovic at the  Australian Open on January 30, the first major final without Rafael  Nadal or Roger Federer for three years.
Getty

Andy Murray GBR (5) vs. Novak Djokovic SRB (3). This is not the final everyone expected (or wanted) to see this year. However, everyone has been predicting for years that eventually these two would be competing for major titles. Djokovic and Murray were born one week apart in May 1987 and the two were on the junior circuit contemporaneously, with Murray arguably having the more successful career (winning the 2004 US Open junior title) then. However, Djokovic has had the more successful career on the adult tour so far, winning the 2008 Australian Open and losing two US Open finals (2007 to Roger Federer, 2010 to Rafael Nadal). Murray has only been to two major finals, losing to Federer both times (2008 US Open and 2010 Australian Open). The two have the same number of Masters Series titles (six), with Djokovic's including the end-of-season Masters Cup title in 2008. Djokovic has 18 ATP Tour titles overall to Murray's 16. They have played each other 7 times, with Djokovic leading 4-3 in the career head-to-head. The two times they played in finals, Murray has won, but the last time they played each other was in March 2009. They have split 3-3 the 6 hard court matches they've contested

Okay, so that is how the two have played against each other in the past, but the question everyone wants answered is how will they play against each other in their next match, the 2011 Australian Open men's final? Well, right now Djokovic's results in the tournament to date indicate he has been playing better tennis. His stunning straight-sets dismissal of defending champion Roger Federer in the semifinals demonstrated his ability to take his tennis to stratospheric levels. Similarly, Murray's two 4-set wins in the quarterfinal (over Aleksandr Dolgopolov) and semifinal (over David Ferrer) are indications of the opposite. There's no question that Djokovic will pose much more probing questions to Murray than any of his previous opponents, and the Scot has already illustrated that his games sometimes gets wobbly in those situations, although ultimately he did prevail.

I am not one of the naysayers that says that Murray will never win a major title, (he has too many outstanding aspects of his game to not breakthrough sometime) however I am fairly confident he will not win this one.

PREDICTION: Djokovic (in 4 sets).

Clijsters Beats Li For Australian Open Title

TOPSHOTS- Kim Clijsters of Belgium (L) poses with the winner's  trophy after beating runner-up Li Na of China (R) who holds her shield  after the women's singles final on the thirteenth day of the Australian  Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on January 29, 2011. Belgium's  Clijsters beat Li Na 3-6, 6-3, 6-3 in the Australian Open final, dashing  China's hopes of a first Grand Slam singles title.
Getty

I'd love to post a long, insightful write up about this final, but it's not necessary. Kim Clijsters' experience and Li Na's lack of the same propelled the Aussie's favorite adopted daughter to the title 3-6, 6-3, 6-3.

Despite waking up with a stiff neck and dropping the first set behind a rash of errors, Clijsters rallied against the unraveling first-time Slam finalist who let everything but the night sky distract her from focusing on the finish line.

Technically, these two mature-in-age tennis players player a similar game. But Li should never ever take a ball out of the air. Never. In umpteen attempts to put the ball away before letting it bounce, she won a mere two points. (Or was it three?) She gets low marks for overheads/swinging volleys, high marks for stubbornness. One of her amateurish attempts came on set point in the second set when she hit a timid swinging backhand volley right back to Clijsters who blasted it down the line to seal the set. To add insult to injury, the floater she struck was sailing wide.

We all knew what the outcome would be from there, and so it was.

At least Li made Clijsters serve for it, and serve for it she did. She hit three first serves and three groundstroke winners to earn three match points. She missed a first serve on her first one, but Li missed a forehand to give Clijsters her fourth major title and first outside New York.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Australian Open 2011 Women's Final Preview

BY MAD PROFESSAH

Front pages of newspapers in Beijing on January 28, 2011 show  Chinese tennis player Li Na celebrating her win over world number one  Caroline Wozniacki in the Australian Open semi-finals on in three tough  sets. China's tennis chief Sun Jinfang hailed Li Na, the first Asian  woman to reach a Grand Slam final, as a 'pioneer' and national sports  hero on a par with NBA great Yao Ming and star hurdler Liu Xiang.
Getty

Front pages of newspapers in Beijing on January 28, 2011 show Chinese tennis player Li Na celebrating her win over world number one Caroline Wozniacki in the Australian Open semifinals on in three tough sets. China's tennis chief Sun Jinfang hailed Li Na, the first Asian woman to reach a Grand Slam final, as a 'pioneer' and national sports hero on a par with NBA great Yao Ming and star hurdler Liu Xiang.

Belgium's Kim Clijsters answers questions at a press conference at  the Australian Open tennis championships in Melbourne, Australia,  Friday, Jan. 28, 2011. Clijsters will play China's Li Na in the women's  final here Saturday Jan 29.
AP

Belgium's Kim Clijsters answers questions at a press conference at the Australian Open tennis championships in Melbourne, Australia, Friday, Jan. 28, 2011.

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Li Na CHN (9) vs. Kim Clijsters BEL (3). This is an historic match: the first time a player from Asia has competed for a major title in singles. There are potentially 1.3 billion people in China who will be personally invested in the result of this match and learn the name of their compatriot: Li Na. In some sense this can be considered performance pressure that no other player has ever experienced. However, Li is used to being a trailblazer so perhaps she will not be overly affected. Clijsters is in her 8th career major final (losing the first four and winning the last three!) and her second consecutive major final following her 2010 US Open title. The two have played 6 times, with Clijsters winning 4 times, including twice in grand slams. However, Li Na won the last match they played, the final of the Sydney International, exactly two weeks to the day before the 2011 Australian Open women's final will be completed. Li Na made history there by becoming the first Chinese player to win a top Tier title on the women's tour; she beat Clijsters 7-6(3) 6-3 despite the fact that the Belgian was up 5-0 in the first set.

I find it hard to believe that Clijsters will blow a lead of 5-0 in the final (and also hard to believe that Li Na will be in such a large hole). The two play similar styles but the 3-time US Champion does everything better than the 1st-time finalist. They both have huge forehands, dangerous backhands and are excellent movers. Additionally, Clijsters is quite good at the net (although Li is not afraid of approaching the net she is not very effective when she gets there) and has a serve that should win her some free points.

The only hope for Li is if Clijsters goes through one of her patches of bad play, or for some reason gets nervous as she nears winning her first major title outside of New York.

PREDICTION: Clijsters.

Australian Open 2011 Men's Semifinals Preview

BY MAD PROFESSAH



Rafael Nadal ESP (1) David Ferrer ESP (7) vs. Andy Murray GBR (5). Everyone expected a Murray-Nadal semifinal, and many many tennis fans were salivating at the prospect of seeing a match of the same caliber as their superlative ATP World Tour Championships semifinal in London. Murray did his piece first, by dispatching the extremely talented Aleksandr Dolgopolov of Ukraine who had eliminated Robin Soderling and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in 5-set matches by coming from behind to win those contests. Dolgopolov plays in an unorthodox fashion, with quick, whip-like strokes, but this generates tremendous (and surprising) power on both wings; he also has a truly unusual serve which allows him to get several free points, even from someone as good at returning serve as Andy Murray.

In the first set the younger player had 12 aces to Murray's two and was hitting winners into both corners of the court. Essentially, he was "out-Murraying" Murray. Unfortunately for Dolgopolov his quirky style is sometimes combined with an almost laissez-faire approach to finishing a point which resulted in errors instead of winners on balls that MadProfessah could have put away. These lapses enabled Murray to eke out the first set 7-5 (after blowing a 4-1 lead). The second set featured tremendous serving from Murray, losing only two points on his serve for a 6-3 win. The third set Murray should have closed out the match, but Dogopolov was able to climb back to win the 3rd in a tiebreaker 7-3 after horrendous play by Murray in the decider. The final set was never much in doubt with Murray winning the first fourteen points and the Dogopolov errors accumulating until he was at a total of 77 for the match compared to a showy 57 winners. Murray had a more sedate 33 winners and 34 errors and won the final set 6-3.

The drama of the Murray-Dolgopolov quarterfinal was quickly eclipsed when the two Spaniards took the court. After a quick service hold by Ferrer to start the match, Nadal's first service game lasted 17 minutes and consisted of 22 points with 7 deuces. Ferrer was playing very aggressively, especially with his forehand and service return; he was running down shots which would have been winners against almost anyone else. Eventually Ferrer was able to get the break, which he then immediately gave back through strong play by Nadal. On the changeover it became clear something was very wrong with Nadal, and he left the court to take an injury time out and receive treatment. It looked very much like he would retire at various points in the first set after that. Amazingly he had retired in a match played exactly a year before, in the men's quarterfinal of 2010 against Murray, also played on Australia Day, January 26. However, Nadal soldiered on and Ferrer continued his style of aggressive play, taking advantage of Nadal's clearly limited movement to his forehand side (Nadal's left thigh was heavily strapped) and maintained his composure to complete the stunning 6-4 6-2 6-3 straight sets win over the defending Roland Garros, Wimbledon and US Open champion.

Rafa's quest to be the first man in a generation (or two) to simultaneously hold all 4 major titles was over. The reason I have spent so much time reviewing the quarterfinal matches instead of previewing the semifinal match is because there is not much to say. Head-to-head Ferrer and Murray have met 5 times, (never in a Grand Slam) with Murray winning all their hard court matches relatively easily and Ferrer winning the clay court matches. Murray was able to reach the final last year, and he is playing even better one year later. Ferrer is also playing better, but, barring an injury, the result of their next hard court match will not be any different from the other three they have played before. PREDICTION: Murray in 4 sets.

Roger Federer SUI (2). vs. Novak Djokovic SRB (3). This semifinal match-up is a reprise of the four celebrated grand slam semifinals these two have competed: the 2010 US Open semifinal won by Djokovic after saving two match points in the 5th set; the 2009 US Open semifinal won by Federer which featured the amazing tweener shot by the Swiss great on the penultimate point of the match; the 2008 US Open semifinal won in straight sets by Federer despite trailing in the first two; and the 2008 Australian Open semifinal won by Djokovic on his way to winning his first major title. So, despite Federer's impressive 13-6 head-to-head edge overall, the two have actually split the four hard-court major semifinals they have played in their careers. Bizarrely, they have never played at Wimbledon or at Roland Garros. It should be noted that Federer has won the last three times they have played, and has apparently taken energy from his defeat in New York last year. Djokovic is also playing inspired tennis, having achieved one of his career goals by anchoring his country to a Davis Cup title (something Federer has not done despite having someone as talented as Stan Wawrinka on his team). Of the four players left remaining in the tournament, Djokovic and Murray have both only dropped one tie-break set each. Djokovic in particular has looked the most impressive, taking out the #6 (Tomas Berdych), #14(Nicolas Almagro) and #29 seeds. The highest seed that Federer has had to face was Wawrinka at #19 but Gilles Simon in the first round was playing like a Top 10 player when he stretched the World #2 to 5 sets. To determine my pick, I'm going to try an do some math. There are three possibilities, which I will assume are equally likely to occur (3-set, 4-set and 5-set match with 33% probabilities). If only 3 sets of tennis are played I give Federer a 25-8 edge. In a 4-set match I give Djokovic a 17-16 edge. In a 5-set match I give Djokovic a 25-8 edge. So overall, Djokovic has a 50-49 edge. I split the last point equally and this gets Djokovic slightly ahead to reach his second Australian Open final, and second consecutive major final. PREDICTION: Djokovic (has a 50.5% chance to win).

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Video: Li Na Is Really Funny



See the end of the match and the hilarious on-court interview after rallying to defeat the computer's world No. 1 and become the first Asian player in history to advance to the singles final of a Grand Slam.

Authentic humor. And she doesn't even appear to be trying.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Grace

by Craig Hickman

Rafael Nadal of Spain sits with his head down between games in the  final set against David Ferrer of Spain in their quarter-final men's  singles match on the tenth day of the Australian Open tennis tournament  in Melbourne on January 26, 2011. Ferrer won 6-4, 6-2, 6-3. IMAGE  STRICTLY.
Getty

The Rafa Slam will not come to pass.

Imagine my surprise at the scoreline that flashed on the television when I awoke today. Didn't get to see any of the match until the reply on ESPN late this afternoon. Because of my onging love affair with cooking, I was right out straight all day. Had to cook a lunch for 25 people for my community soup kitchen (roasted chicken, beans, kale, salad, homemade biscuits, and marble cake) and cater a private dinner for 9 at my farm (scallops with fennel buerre blanc, organic carrot ginger soup, organic farm-raised roasted leg of lamb with sour cream and leek mashed potatoes and haricot vert, and Hazelle's Mississippi sweet potato pecan pie with homemade vanilla ice cream), and now I'm beat. But I've sat down for the first time all day to write this drive by.

From what I saw of the match in the background, David Ferrer ran the world No. 1 ragged. Rafa's first service game took forever. And in that forever, he injured himself.

He finished the match.

To his credit, he tried not to make any excuses. Tried not to diminish his compatriot's excellent tennis. Tried not to magnify the loss as he expressed gratitude for all he has won.

In the brief bit of his interview I was able to catch, I was reminded of the Rudyard Kipling quote that appears over the player's entrance to Wimbledon's Centre Court:

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;

It takes grace to achieve that. And grace is what I saw in Rafael Nadal today.

Australian Open 2011 Women's Semifinals Preview

Here are my predictions for the women's semifinals at the Australian Open this year. I correctly predicted 3 of 4 women's quarterfinals.

China's Li Na poses with chinese lion during a visit to Melbourne's  China Town following her quarterfinal win over Germany's Andrea  Petkovic, at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne,  Australia, Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2011. Li will play Denmark's Caroline  Wozniacki in their semifinal here on Thursday Jan 27. AUSTRALIA OUT, NO  ARCHIVE.

AP
Caroline Wozniacki DEN (1) vs. Li Na CHN (9). Wozniacki is the #1 ranked player in the world despite not having reached a single major final in 2010 and only once in her brief career (2009 US Open). The nubile, flaxen-haired 20-year-old from Denmark is sometimes called the "Golden Retriever" by some tennis observers due to her style of play resembling a human backboard. Wozniacki is in her first Australian Open semifinal while her opponent has reached this far in the tournament for the second consecutive year. In fact Li has won the first 10 matches she has played in 2011 and is surfing a wave of confidence while Wozniacki is hearing an increasingly louder chorus of whispers doubting her ability to ever win a major title. Li on the other hand is hearing the call of history: can she become the first player from China to compete for (and win) a major title, especially the grand slam of Asia/Pacific, the Australian Open? I say, yes, and probably this week. The match-up between the two players is interesting: Li has great power on both wings and is also an excellent mover; Wozniacki has the ability to frustrate her opponents by forcing them to "win" a point several times through relentless defense. Head-to-head Li leads 2-1 and beat Wozniacki in the fourth round here last year in straight sets as well as a few weeks before in Sydney. A year later I see no reason why the result should be any different. PREDICTION: Li.

Kim Clijsters of Belgium holds Matilda, a baby echidna from  Healesville Sanctuary, in the players lounge at the Australian Open in  Melbourne January 26, 2011.
Reuters

Vera Zvonareva RUS (2) Petra Kvitova CZE (25) vs. Kim Clijsters BEL (3). I expected Kvitova to come through this match just like she had against #5 Samantha Stosur whom she dismissed easily in straight sets in front of a hometown crowd. However, Zvonareva showed incredible defense and consistency to eliminate the Czech lefty 6-2 6-4. Zvonareva has always been one of my favorite players to watch and her rise to the #2 ranking in the world via two consecutive major final finishes is a delight. Clijsters has been the clear favorite to win this year's title since Serena Willliams announced she would not be defending her 2010 Australian Open title. She is the only player of the final four remaining in the tournament who has won a major title; Clijsters has 3 US Open titles (2005, 2009, 2010). With Elena Dementieva's retirement Zvonareva is probably the best player on tour not to have won a major. Head-to-head Clijsters leads 6-3 but 5 of these wins were before Clijsters' "retirement" in May 2007. The two played 4 times in 2010 and Zvonareva won 3 of those matches, losing the most important one in a rout: the 2010 US Open women's final (6-1 6-2). None of those matches were finals, where the mental pressure is a larger factor and this poses a disadvantage to the more mentally fragile player. In a semifinal the mental pressure is less which should help Vera play some of her best tennis. It is also true that Clijsters does have a tendency to go through bad patches which complicates what should be easy wins. I suspect something like that will happen in this match as well, but in the end, Clijsters will find a way to prevail. PREDICTION: Clijsters.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Australian Open 2011 Day 10 Open Thread

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 25:  Fans show their support in the  quarterfinal match between Novak Djokovic of Serbia and Tomas Berdych of  the Czech Republic during day nine of the 2011 Australian Open at  Melbourne Park on January 25, 2011 in Melbourne, Australia.
Getty

Fans of Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic cheer during his match against Novak Djokovic of Serbia during the men's quarter-final match at the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne January 25, 2011.

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Order Of Play For Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Rod Laver Arena 11:00 AM Start Time

1. Women's Singles - Quarterfinals
Petra Kvitova (CZE)[25] v. Vera Zvonareva (RUS)[2]

Not Before:12:30 PM

2. Women's Singles - Quarterfinals
Agnieszka Radwanska (POL)[12] v. Kim Clijsters (BEL)[3]
3. Men's Singles - Quarterfinals
Alexandr Dolgopolov (UKR) v. Andy Murray (GBR)[5]

Rod Laver Arena 7:30 PM Start Time

1. Men's Singles - Quarterfinals
Rafael Nadal (ESP)[1] v. David Ferrer (ESP)[7]

The Turning Point

I don't have a problem criticizing the world No. 1 on the women's side. I feel no need to prop her up in ways she doesn't quite deserve simply because she's the face of the tour. You're shocked, I'm sure. And while she deserves her ranking, because, well, the system is what it is and the computer says she's the world No. 1, it's becoming clearer, what with her all her shenanigans, monologues, and tall, tall tales, that she's more interested in being an actress. Or a fiction writer. Now make no mistake, acting and fiction writing are honorable professions. But if you're going to be a serious tennis player then play tennis and stop playing games. Still, the world No. 1 competes hard, doesn't give up, unless she's completely overwhelmed by her opponent and can't call on her father, and does the best she can to earn the respect of those who believe she's a joke.

Most of the match reports from the 2-hour-24-minute, 3-set quarterfinal last night against Ironwoman Francesca Schiavone will tell you that Caroline Wozniacki turned the match around by beginning to step up and put more pressure on the bold Italian. That she changed the thrust of the match and took her elder foe out of her comfort zone. That she showed the world why she was worthy of the No. 1 ranking.

Like beauty, such things are in the eye of the beholder.

I saw a 20-year-old player being schooled by a real tennis player. A player who, to quote dapxin, need not be burdened by anything more than sweet candy. A player so desperate to win the match, she took a medical timeout off the court after dropping the first set to have her left thigh taped. A player who, after icing her opponent with such nonsense, returned to the court and fell behind a break of serve and got so angry she ripped the tape off her thigh, running about like the squirrel she was before the icing.

And then I saw a 30-year-old woman who had played the longest women's Grand Slam singles match in recorded history, who, last night, didn't call for the trainer once, crash head first into a brick wall. Out of nowhere, she committed 4 horrific errors, lost her advantage, lost her way. Was that nonsense icing the turning point, the stoppage of play that allowed fatigue to set like concrete, both in her body and in her mind?

The Ironwoman was gracious enough to say she wasn't at all tired, that Little Miss Sunshine, without the leg wrap she had stopped the match to receive, simply started to play her tennis and that was that. Good for her. But by the beginning of the third set, I saw a woman who looked as though that head crash caused concussion, a disoriented woman who had nothing left and left nothing unspent.

Whatever the case, from where I sit, the story of the match reads as follows:

A 20-year-old woman needed a 30-year-old woman who played for 4 hours and 44 minutes in her previous match to hit a wall just to have a chance to win her quarterfinal.

::

Thank you, Francesca, for lifting the WTA to new heights, if only for one fortnight.


Italy's Francesca Schiavone waves to the crowd after her loss to  Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark in their quarterfinal match at the  Australian Open tennis championships in Melbourne, Australia, Tuesday,  Jan. 25, 2011.
AP

Monday, January 24, 2011

Australian Open 2011 Day 9 Open Thread

Fans of Rafael Nadal of Spain cheer during his match against Marin  Cilic of Croatia at the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne  January 24, 2011.
Reuters

Fans of Rafael Nadal of Spain cheer during his match against Marin Cilic of Croatia at the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne January 24, 2011.

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If you're a Roger Federer fan, you might want to avert your eyes, for what I'm about to say may cause a mild case of heartburn.

Before the Roddick-Wawrinka match, Raja told the ESPN studio commentators that Wawrinka would have the advantage over Roddick because he had already played a night match while Roddick hadn't.

On another episode, the same commentators declared that the all-Swiss quarterfinal which resulted would obviously be the featured night match, while the all-Eastern-European affair would be contested during the day.

So, using Raja's own thinking, it would seem that a day match for the all-Swiss affair would be an advantage to the defending champion because his compatriot has played his last two matches at night and therefore is playing well within 48 hours of his last match.

I won't even begin to suggest that the organizers asked Raja what he preferred, thereby allowing him to actually choose this advantageous scheduling. Nope. Not at all. Not even for a second.

But he receives the advantage anyway.

Humph.

I hope Peter Lungren has his charge ready to produce an upset in broad daylight.

Order Of Play For Tuesday, 25 January, 2011

Rod Laver Arena 11:00 AM Start Time

1. Women's Singles - Quarterfinals
Andrea Petkovic (GER)[30] v. Na Li (CHN)[9]

Not Before:12:30 PM

2. Men's Singles - Quarterfinals
Stanislas Wawrinka (SUI)[19] v. Roger Federer (SUI)[2]
3. Women's Singles - Quarterfinals
Caroline Wozniacki (DEN)[1] v. Francesca Schiavone (ITA)[6]

Rod Laver Arena 7:30 PM Start Time

1. Men's Singles - Quarterfinals
Tomas Berdych (CZE)[6] v. Novak Djokovic (SRB)[3]

Australian Open 2011 Men's Quarterfinal Preview

BY MAD PROFESSAH

A  combination picture shows players who reached the men's quarter-finals  of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne January 25, 2011.  From top row left to right: Rafael Nadal of Spain, Roger Federer of  Switzerland, Novak Djokovic of Serbia, Andy Murray of Britain. From  bottom row left to right: Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic, David  Ferrer of Spain, Stanislas Wawrinka of Switzerland and Alexandr  Dolgopolov of Ukraine.
Reuters

From top row left to right: Rafael Nadal of Spain, Roger Federer of Switzerland, Novak Djokovic of Serbia, Andy Murray of Britain. From bottom row left to right: Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic, David Ferrer of Spain, Stanislas Wawrinka of Switzerland and Alexandr Dolgopolov of Ukraine.

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Here are my predictions for the men's quarterfinals at the 2011 Australian Open.

Rafael Nadal ESP (1) vs. Milos Raonic CAN David Ferrer ESP (7). I thought that the 6'6" 2010 Australian Open semifinalist from Croatia would have followed up on his 5-set win over John Isner with a better showing against Rafael Nadal. However, the World No. 1 came out with a strong game plan since Cilic had beaten him in their one meeting in October 2009 and dismantled the Croatian in straight sets 6-2 6-4 6-3. David Ferrer has been called the best service returner in the world by both Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal and he demonstrated that ability against the huge serving 20-year-old, 6-foot-5-inch Canadian. Ferrer is only 5'9" but has optimized the amount of tennis success a male player can extract from such a slight frame. He is also one of the fittest players on tour and very speedy. The problem is, everything he can do, Nadal can do better, and Nadal is a lefty. Head-to-head the two have played 14 times with the more celebrated Spaniard winning all but 3 of their meetings. Ferrer does have a notable win over Nadal in the 2007 US Open quarterfinals, but unfortunately he will be playing the vastly improved 2011 version. The difference will be very clear. PREDICTION: Nadal in 3 sets.

Robin Soderling SWE (4) Alexandr Dolgopolov UKR vs. Andy Murray GBR (5). The only unseeded player in the final 8 is the 22-year-old counterpuncher from Ukraine. From the way World No. 4 Robin Soderling was dismissing his opponents and hitting the ball in first three rounds I had expected him to have few problems getting past Dolgopolov but Soderling has never done well at the Australian Open and also doesn't like to play in windy conditions. That being said, the biggest problem he had on court was not the weather but the phenomenal defense and gigantic serving of the Ukrainian. Soderling was not playing his best tennis and ran into an opponent who could take advantage of this opportunity to reach his first major quarterfinal. Andy Murray has been playing some of the sharpest tennis of any of the legitimate contenders. He demolished crafty lefty Jurgen Melzer and has yet to lose more than 3 games in a set through four rounds! Melzer at No. 11 and Guillermo Garcia Lopez at No. 32 are the only seeded players the Brit has faced on his way to an inevitable showdown with World No. 1 Rafael Nadal in the semifinals, whom he was on track to dismiss in the quarterfinals last year when Nadal retired. Of course the Spaniard went on to win every other Grand Slam for the rest of 2010, but I think that Murray does not fear Nadal on a hard-court. Will we see a reprise of the 2010 Australian Open final between Murray and Federer or a reprise of the 2009 Australian Open final between Nadal and Federer or something else? Only time will tell. PREDICTION: Murray in 3 sets.

Tomas Berdych CZE (6) vs. Novak Djokovic SRB (3). This should be the best battle of the quarterfinal round, a showdown between the 2010 Wimbledon finalist and the 2010 US Open finalist. Djokovic has won this title before (over Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in 2008) although the Frenchman was able to get revenge last year in this round. Head-to-head Berdych has only beaten Djokovic once, but it was a blowout in the 2010 Wimbledon semifinals. Since then, the Serbian has had multiple breakthroughs, including an epic 2010 US Open semifinal win over Roger Federer and anchoring his country to their first ever Davis Cup title. Berdych played near-perfect tennis in a tremendous 3-set dismissal of Fernando Verdasco in the 4th round (featuring a final set where the Czech was crushing the ball and had either 1 or 2 unforced errors). If Berdych plays like that, even a prodigiously talented ball-striker and mellifluously mobile player as Djokovic will have trouble surviving the onslaught. Another factor is that Djokovic's results are often sensitive to the weather conditions; if this match is played during the day then even a 3-set win will be unlikely for the Serb. PREDICTION: Djokovic in 3 sets or Berdych in 4 or 5 sets.

Stanislas Wawrinka SUI (19) vs. Roger Federer SUI (2). These two are best friends and share a lot in common: they come from the same country, are both young fathers and are both undefeated in 2011 so far. Together they won the Gold medal in men's doubles at the Beijing Olympics in 2008. Head-to-head the two have played 7 times, with Wawrinka winning once on clay. They have only played once in a grand slam, with Federer winning that as well. Wawrinka has come up with some good upsets in the last two Slams (defeating Andy Roddick and Gael Monfils in this tournament and Andy Murray and Sam Querrey in the 2010 US Open) but I doubt that storyline will continue with the defending champion. This match should feature some exquisite one-handed backhands: my favorite shot! PREDICTION: Federer in 4 sets.

Australian Open 2011 Women's Quarterfinals Preview

BY MAD PROFESSAH

A  combination picture shows players who reached the women's quarter-finals  of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne January 25, 2011.  From top row left to right: Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark, Vera  Zvonareva of Russia, Kim Clijsters of Belgium, Francesca Schiavone of  Italy. From bottom row left to right: Li Na of China, Agnieszka  Radwanska of Poland, Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic and Andrea  Petkovic of Germany.
Reuters
From top row left to right: Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark, Vera Zvonareva of Russia, Kim Clijsters of Belgium, Francesca Schiavone of Italy. From bottom row left to right: Li Na of China, Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland, Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic and Andrea Petkovic of Germany.

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Here are my predictions for the women's quarterfinals at the Australian Open this year.

Caroline Wozniacki DEN (1) vs. Svetlana Kuznetsova RUS (23) Francesca Schiavone ITA (6). After the historic marathon match between Svetlana Kuznetsova and Francesca Schivaone, most observers expected the quarterfinal involving the "winner" to be scheduled last in order to increase the likelihood of a competitive match. Unfortunately, the powers that be have decided that the World No. 1's quarterfinal would not be a featured night match, opting for a women's doubles quarterfinal instead. There are very few men's 5-set matches that have lasted the 4-hours and 44 minutes of "Franlana." After the titanic first round match between David Nalbandian and Lleyton Hewitt was won by the Argentine, it resulted in the "winner" retiring meekly after playing about a set and a half of tennis 48 hours later. Schiavone finished her match around 8:05pm on Sunday and is scheduled to play her match against Wozniacki on Rod Laver Arena following the all-Swiss Federer-Wawrinka quarterfinal which will not be before 12:30pm on Tuesday. That is much less than 48 hours of recovery time. I know that the Italian has already proved that "Impossible is Nothing" with her incredible 2010 French Open win but I think that asking her to be 100% (even 50%) for her match with Wozniacki less than 48 hours after playing the longest women's grand slam match in history is a hill too high for even this dynamic athlete to climb. PREDICTION: Wozniacki in 2 sets.

Maria Sharapova RUS (14) Andrea Petkovic GER (30) vs Li Na CHN (9) Victoria Azarenka BLR (8). I really like the play of the veteran Chinese player (so much so I named my dog after her!) and am very excited that she is playing even better than last year, where she reached the semifinals of this tournament, losing to the eventual winner Serena Williams. Li Na has been a trailblazing icon of Chinese tennis; she is the first Chinese player to reach the Top 50, Top 40, Top 30, Top 20, Top 10 and to win a Tier 1 title (when she defeated Kim Clijsters in Brisbane earlier this year). She dismissed what some people thought was a legitimate contender to win the title in Victoria Azarenka in straight sets. Li has excellent power on both wings and is currently brimming with confidence since she is undefeated so far in 2011. Petkovic is no slouch and has improved upon her best result in a major (4th Round at the 2010 U.S. Open) at this year's 2011 Australian Open. I think it is highly unlikely she will prevent Li Na from attempting to improve her best result in a major and become the first Chinese player to reach a major final. PREDICTION: Li in 2 sets.

Agnieszka Radwanska POL (12) vs. Kim Clijsters BEL (3). Kim Clijsters is simply the best player on hard courts still left in the tournament, as evidenced by her three consecutive US Open titles. She does have a tendency to go off sometimes, and can get frustrated by counter-punchers. She had a surprisingly tight match with the diminutive Alize Cornet of France in the third round. Aggie Radwanska is the epitome of the kind of player who could give Clijsters fits, since she plays a game resembling the late, little lamented Martina Hingis. Clijsters had a pretty good record against Hingis and the one time she played Radwanska (more than 5 years ago) she won that match as well. I suspect this match will either be a 2-set blowout or a seesaw 3-setter where none of the individual sets are very close. PREDICTION: Clijsters in 3 sets.

Samantha Stosur AUS (5) Petra Kvitova CZE (25) vs. Vera Zvonareva RUS (2). Petra Kvitova is the most dangerous player in the draw. She is a very confident, powerful lefty with tremendous power on both wings and she's an excellent mover with a good serve. She's also undefeated for 2011; in fact she's only lost one set all tournament, to the hard-hitting and crafty Italian Flavia Pennetta. Kvitova dismissed the host country's great hope Samantha Stosur in straight sets with no regard for the audience.Vera Zvonareva has defeated every player she has faced in her half of the draw in the last two majors she has played (Wimbledon 2010 and US Open 2010) and has done an admirable job of turning around her reputation as "head case" by embodying consistency. But when consistency meets power, I usually put my money on power. Zvonareva has also lost only one set so far in the tournament (to hard-hitting young Serb Bojana Jovanovski) and almost lost another one to the hard-hitting lefty Lucie Safarova from the Czech Republic. I'm pretty sure that streak will end when she faces an even harder hitting lefty Czech player. PREDICTION: Kvitova in 3 sets.

Video: Berdych Visits Melbourne Zoo

Quote For The Day

Alexandr Dolgopolov of Ukraine celebrates after beating Robin  Soderling of Sweden during their round four men's singles match on the  eighth day of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on  January 24, 2011. Dolgopolov won 1-6, 6-3, 6-1, 4-6, 6-2. IMAGE  STRICTLY.
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Not a quote, exactly, but a passage from an article last year about Alexandr Dolgopolov.

"I have this problem from birth—some blood problems. Sometimes, I don't feel so well, especially when I change time zones a lot: Australia, Europe to the U.S. . . That's why I don't like to fly. Sometimes it affects my game, and I just have to deal with it. I couldn't have the usual [medical] treatment before the U.S. Open Series because I played Umag and then had just five days before I came to the U.S."

"And what exactly is that treatment?"

"They do intravenous blood stuff. They just put some medicine in, and I have to take some pills and change my diet, take some time [two weeks] off."

I had to ask, what is this disease officially called?

"I don't really want to say a lot. . . I just have it. It affects my stomach. I feel ill all the time. I don't want to eat. So for four tournaments now, I couldn't play my game. "In Cincinnati, I felt a lot better. I was more consistent in my game. Here in New York, I didn't even practice before the tournament. I practiced today for 20 minutes, just to hit the ball. I'm feeling really bad.

"So today I risked what I could, got a few games, but pretty well that was the maximum of what I can do. I couldn't run. I couldnt serve. I was feeling dizzy. I just had to go for it because the more I played the worse I felt. So I just play like I could, and with David you have to play really soild, because he's running so good, and he's getting all the balls back. I couldn't let him play a lot."

I felt badly for the guy. I reminded him he still managed to pull an impressive number of rabbits out of his hat.

"Well, it's my style, too. I don't wait for the other guys. I don't run like crazy on the baseline. I like to play a lot of risk—attacking tennis, serving fast, going to net, drop shots. . .And now, with my health, I don't have a choice. I can't imagine running and working out points."

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Australian Open 2011 Day 8 Open Thread

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 23:  Switzerland fans show their  colours during day seven of the 2011 Australian Open at Melbourne Park  on January 23, 2011 in Melbourne, Australia.
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Switzerland fans show their colours during day seven of the 2011 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 23, 2011 in Melbourne, Australia.


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I see three upsets, none of which will be all that surprising.

Order Of Play For Monday, 24 January 2011


Rod Laver Arena 11:00 AM Start Time

1. Men's Singles - 4th Round
Robin Soderling (SWE)[4] v. Alexandr Dolgopolov (UKR)
2. Men's Singles - 4th Round
Jurgen Melzer (AUT)[11] v. Andy Murray (GBR)[5]

Rod Laver Arena 7:30 PM Start Time

1. Men's Singles - 4th Round
Rafael Nadal (ESP)[1] v. Marin Cilic (CRO)[15]
2. Women's Singles - 4th Round
Ekaterina Makarova (RUS) v. Kim Clijsters (BEL)[3]

Hisense Arena 11:00 AM Start Time

1. Women's Singles - 4th Round
Petra Kvitova (CZE)[25] v. Flavia Pennetta (ITA)[22]
2. Women's Singles - 4th Round
Iveta Benesova (CZE) v. Vera Zvonareva (RUS)[2]
3. Men's Singles - 4th Round
Milos Raonic (CAN) v. David Ferrer (ESP)[7]

Margaret Court Arena 11:00 AM Start Time

Not Before:1:30 PM
3. Women's Singles - 4th Round
Shuai Peng (CHN) v. Agnieszka Radwanska (POL)[12]

Blood All Over The Place

by Craig Hickman

Svetlana Kuznetsova of Russia reacts during her match against  Francesca Schiavone of Italy at the Australian Open tennis tournament in  Melbourne January 23, 2011. French Open champion Schiavone edged  Svetlana Kuznetsova 4-6 6-1 16-14 in a four-hour and 44 minute marathon  on Sunday that shattered the women's record for the longest match at a  grand slam in the open era.
Reuters

Francesca Schiavone of Italy reacts after a point against Svetlanda  Kuznetsova of Russia during their round four women's singles match on  the seventh day of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on  January 23, 2011. The match was tied one set all with play continuing  in the third set. IMAGE STRICTLY.
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Svetlanda Kuznetsova of Russia gets back up from the floor after  slipping in a game against Francesca Schiavone of Italy during their  round four women's singles match on the seventh day of the Australian  Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on January 23, 2011. Schiavone won  6-4, 1-6, 16-14 in a marathon match that lasted 4 hours and 44 minutes.
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Francesca Schiavone of Italy slips during a point against Svetlanda   Kuznetsova of Russia during their round four women's singles match on   the seventh day of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne  on  January 23, 2011. Schiavone won 6-4, 1-6, 16-14 in a marathon match   that lasted 4 hours and 44 minutes.
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Svetlana Kuznetsova of Russia slips during her match against  Francesca Schiavone of Italy at the Australian Open tennis tournament in  Melbourne January 23, 2011. French Open champion Schiavone edged  Svetlana Kuznetsova 4-6 6-1 16-14 in a four-hour and 44 minute marathon  on Sunday that shattered the women's record for the longest match at a  grand slam in the open era.
Reuters

Francesca Schiavone of Italy returns against Svetlana Kuznetsova of  Russia during their round four women's singles match on the seventh day  of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on January 23,  2011. Schiavone won 6-4, 1-6, 16-14 in a marathon match that lasted 4  hours and 44 minutes.
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Svetlana Kuznetsova of Russia returns against Francesca Schiavone  of Italy during their round four women's singles match on the seventh  day of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on January 23,  2011. Schiavone won 6-4, 1-6, 16-14 in a marathon match that lasted 4  hours and 44 minutes.
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Francesca Schiavone of Italy beinds double over the net after  reaching a drop shot from Svetlanda Kuznetsova of Russia during their  round four women's singles match on the seventh day of the Australian  Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on January 23, 2011. The match was  tied one set all as play continued in the third set reaching 14 games  all as play continued in the marathon match.
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A  combo shows Svetlana Kuznetsova of Russia (L) and Francesca Schiavone of  Italy receiving treatment during their match at the Australian Open  tennis tournament in Melbourne January 23, 2011. French Open champion  Schiavone edged Kuznetsova 4-6 6-1 16-14 in a four-hour and 44 minute  marathon on Sunday that shattered the women's record for the longest  match at a grand slam in the open era.
Reuters

Francesca Schiavone of Italy prepares for her last serve to  Svetlana Kuznetsova of Russia during their match at the Australian Open  tennis tournament in Melbourne January 23, 2011. French Open champion  Schiavone edged Svetlana Kuznetsova 4-6 6-1 16-14 in a four-hour and 44  minute marathon on Sunday that shattered the women's record for the  longest match at a grand slam in the open era.
Reuters

Francesca Schiavone of Italy prepares to serve for match point  against Svetlanda Kuznetsova of Russia in front of the clock showing the  match duration of 4 hours and 44 minutes during their round four  women's singles match on the seventh day of the Australian Open tennis  tournament in Melbourne on January 23, 2011. Schiavone won 6-4, 1-6,  16-14 in a marathon match.
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MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 23:  The scoreboard at Hisense Arena  after the fourth round match between Francesca Schiavone of Italy and  Svetlana Kuznetsova of Russia during day seven of the 2011 Australian  Open at Melbourne Park on January 23, 2011 in Melbourne, Australia. The  match set a new Australian Open record in the time of 4 hours 44  minutes.
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MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 23:  Svetlana Kuznetsova of Russia  reacts after losing a point in her fourth round match against Francesca  Schiavone of Italy during day seven of the 2011 Australian Open at  Melbourne Park on January 23, 2011 in Melbourne, Australia.
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Francesca Schiavone of Italy applauds after winning against  Svetlana Kuznetsova of Russia during their match at the Australian Open  tennis tournament in Melbourne January 23, 2011. French Open champion  Schiavone edged Svetlana Kuznetsova 4-6 6-1 16-14 in a four-hour and 44  minute marathon on Sunday that shattered the women's record for the  longest match at a grand slam in the open era.
Reuters

Francesca Schiavone of Italy (L) and Svetlana Kuznetsova of Russia  shake hands after their match at the Australian Open tennis tournament  in Melbourne January 23, 2011. French Open champion Schiavone edged  Svetlana Kuznetsova 4-6 6-1 16-14 in a four-hour and 44 minute marathon  on Sunday that shattered the women's record for the longest match at a  grand slam in the open era.
Reuters

Svetlana Kuznetsova of Russia (L) and Francesca Schiavone of Italy  (R) embrace at the net after Schiavone won their round four women's  singles match on the seventh day of the Australian Open tennis  tournament in Melbourne on January 23, 2011. Schiavone won 6-4, 1-6,  16-14 in a marathon match that lasted 4 hours and 44 minutes.
Getty

Svetlana Kuznetsova of Russia (L) and Francesca Schiavone of Italy  (R) embrace at the net after Schiavone won their round four women's  singles match on the seventh day of the Australian Open tennis  tournament in Melbourne on January 23, 2011. Schiavone won 6-4, 1-6,  16-14 in a marathon match that lasted 4 hours and 44 minutes.
Getty

Francesca Schiavone of Italy gives a thumbs-up after beating  Svetlana Kuznetsova of Russia during their round four women's singles  match on the seventh day of the Australian Open tennis tournament in  Melbourne on January 23, 2011. Schiavone won 6-4, 1-6, 16-14 in a  marathon match that lasted 4 hours and 44 minutes.
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Saturday, January 22, 2011

Australian Open 2011 Day 7 Open Thread

by Craig Hickman

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 22:  A fan has his face painted like  Shrek in the crowd third round match between Mikhail Youzhny of Russia  and Milos Raonic of Canada during day six of the 2011 Australian Open at  Melbourne Park on January 22, 2011 in Melbourne, Australia.
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A fan has his face painted like Shrek in the crowd third round match between Mikhail Youzhny of Russia and Milos Raonic of Canada during day six of the 2011 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 22, 2011 in Melbourne, Australia.

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I've always believed that the fourth round is one of the most difficult rounds to notch a Slam victory, especially if you haven't been this way before, as it is for the Latvian and the German.

You've made it to the second week, a victory automatically makes you a contender for the title, and you'll always be referred to as a Grand Slam quarterfinalist. Kind of like being nominated for an Academy Award.

I'm rooting for three upsets, although I think we might see six. Yesterday seeping into today.

What do you see?

Order Of Play For Sunday, 23 January 2011

Rod Laver Arena 11:00 AM Start Time

1. Women's Singles - 4th Round
Caroline Wozniacki (DEN)[1] v. Anastasija Sevastova (LAT)
2. Women's Singles - 4th Round
Na Li (CHN)[9] v. Victoria Azarenka (BLR)[8]
3. Men's Singles - 4th Round
Tommy Robredo (ESP) v. Roger Federer (SUI)[2]

Rod Laver Arena 7:00 PM Start TimeBold
1. Women's Singles - 4th Round
Andrea Petkovic (GER)[30] v. Maria Sharapova (RUS)[14]
2. Men's Singles - 4th Round
Andy Roddick (USA)[8] v. Stanislas Wawrinka (SUI)[19]

Hisense Arena 11:00 AM Start Time

Not Before:1:00 PM
2. Men's Singles - 4th Round
Nicolas Almagro (ESP)[14] v. Novak Djokovic (SRB)[3]
3. Women's Singles - 4th Round
Svetlana Kuznetsova (RUS)[23] v. Francesca Schiavone (ITA)[6]

Margaret Court Arena Not Before 2:30 PM

3. Men's Singles - 4th Round
Tomas Berdych (CZE)[6] v. Fernando Verdasco (ESP)[9]

Special Upsets

by Craig Hickman

Of course, the very day I only highlight one match to watch, Day 6 turned into a day of exciting upsets only the clairvoyant could see coming.

Upsets From The Left

Six left-handed players contested singles matches on Day 6. Ekaterina Makarova from Russia; the Czech trio of Iveta Benesova, Petra Kvitova, Lucie Safarova; the Austrian Jurgen Melzer and of course Rafael Nadal of Spain.

No. 2 seed Vera Zvonareva was able to fend off an upset from Safarova in three sets, while both lefty men, despite being pushed against the wall for at least a set, pushed through.

Iveta Benesova of Czech Republic gestures as she celebrates victory  after her third round women's singles match against Anastasia  Pavlyuchenkova of Russia on the sixth day of the Australian Open tennis  tournament in Melbourne on January 22, 2011. Benesova won 6-3. 1-6. 7-5.  IMAGE STRICTLY.
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Perhaps the biggest surprise was the three-set victory of Benesova over No. 16 seed Anastasia Pavyluchenkova. The 19-year-old Russian was the Brisbane runner up who'd never lost more than a few games to Benesova in their previous two meetings. But the 60th-ranked veteran destroyed her first two opponents to the loss of only five games. So when she took the first set routinely, it was clear she had come to play. Nastya fought back to take the second, but the lefty slice-served her way to a 7-5 victory.

Ekaterina Makarova of Russia gives the thumbs-up after beating  Nadia Petrova of Russia during their round three women's singles match  on the sixth day of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne  on January 22, 2011. Makarova won the match 6-2, 3-6, 8-6. IMAGE  STRICTLY.
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49th-ranked Makarova, who also dismissed No. 19 seed Ana Ivanovic 10-8 in the third in the first round, had beaten No. 13 seed Nadia Petrova the last two times they played. Her 8-6 in the third upset of the talented but mentally frail and heavily frilled Russian wasn't exactly a surprise. After the match, Makarova accused her compatriot of all kinds of gamesmanship. Must've made for an interesting locker room scene.

Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic returns against Samantha Stosur  of Australia during their round three women's singles match on the  sixth day of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on  January 22, 2011. Kvitova won 7-6, 6-3. IMAGE STRICTLY.
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Petra turned in the best and most fearless performance of the event so far on the women's side in dispatching No. 5 seed Samantha Stosur in straight sets. The 20-year-old No. 25 seed took the crowd out of the match early. With unreturnable serves, heavy ground strokes, deft touch, deceptively efficient court coverage, she went up 3-1. But her first serve deserted her and Sam made the first set a dogfight that ended in a 12-point tiebreak. Steve Tignor pointed out one of the things that makes Petra special.

Kvitova had come from behind to snag a 6-5 lead in the first-set tiebreaker. She got a second serve to her forehand in the ad court. I was sitting right down that line behind her, and I thought she would try to crack it straight ahead for an outright winner. It was tempting, it was open, and it’s what most top women players would have done. Instead, Kvitova swung her return into the middle of the court, without being tentative about it, and made the obviously quaking Stosur play. Kvitova won the point and the set.

What impresses me most about Petra is her composure under pressure. Facing three break points at 2-2 in the second set, she played three of the bravest points of the match. And she looked as though she enjoyed every moment of it. The woman who looks like a young Bette Davis with smaller eyes struck 35 winners total, 16 in the second set. Sam Stosur hit 11 winners, ZERO in the second set. Sam tried to slice, kick, spin, and shuffle, but Petra had an answer for everything. Simply stunning.

Upsets From The Youth

Alexandr Dolgopolov of Ukraine celebrates after winning his match  against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of France at the Australian Open tennis  tournament in Melbourne January 22,  2011.
Reuters

I didn't get to watch most of the tussle between No. 13 seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and 46th-ranked Alexandr Dolgopolov, but the 22-year-old man from the Ukraine with the androgynous face, frizzy hair, and stringy pony-tail, making his Australian Open debut, whipped the former finalist into submission taking the affair 6-1 in the fifth. Raise your hand if you saw that coming? Tsonga needs to get fit. Period.

Milos Raonic of Canada shouts in celebration after winning against  Mikhail Youzhny of Russia during their round three men's singles match  on the sixth day of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne  on January 22, 2011. Raonic won 6-4, 7-5, 4-6, 6-4. IMAGE STRICTLY.
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The story of the event belongs to 20-year-old Canadian qualifier Milos Raonic ranked No. 152 in the world. I return you to Tignor:

So it was with some surprise—and some surprise at my surprise—that I saw the spirit of Sampras rise again this afternoon in the blandest of places, Melbourne Park's Show Court 3, and in seemingly the most anonymous of players, 152nd-ranked Milos Raonic. A native of Montenegro (his uncle is the vice-president) who has lived most of his life in Canada, Raonic spent his youth poring over tapes of Sampras matches and building a game that was similarly based around a monster serve—“I’ve got a good shoulder on me,” Raonic says. You could see that his serve, which Raonic believes is already among the game’s best (he’s really not that cocky), allowed him to take a Sampras-like approach to his match with No. 10 seed Mikhail Youzhny.

“I feel like I serve like probably one of the top guys on the tour," he said. "It allows me to play more freely also on the return games, because I know most of the time I will be holding. So it allows me to take less pressure on myself, whereas I feel it also puts more pressure on the other guy.” (Confident, yes, Raonic does seem to be that—call it the civilized version of cocky.)

Even when Raonic was broken in the second and third sets, which he was more regularly than he might have expected, he played borderline-risky, opportunistic tennis on Youzhny’s serve. Raonic prefers to rip rather than rally on his forehand, and he loves to go for an outright crosscourt winner on his return from that side. He also put two backhands smack on the sideline to break Youzhny early in the third set.

But as big as he tries to hit, Raonic says he has a plan. When one reporter implied that he was enjoying the youthful freedom to crack the ball with total abandon, Raonic quietly protested. “I was trying to do what I thought was the percentage play," he said, "or if I felt I had an opportunity to try something riskier. But I wouldn’t say I was really just letting the ball fly off my racquet, not knowing where it’s going.” Indeed, Raonic doesn’t just bash to bash or rally to rally. He hits with purpose and aggression, and has to accept the errors that come with that aggression.

Read the whole piece for the whole story on the hunch-shouldered ball of dynamite from the North.

After his upset, ESPN conducted a studio interview. This young man analyzes his game and his opponents with the insight of the best commentator. He told us exactly what he'll do to beat David Ferrer in the next round. But perhaps his best weapon of all is his self-confidence. "I believe in myself," he told a drooling Patrick McEnroe and Darren Cahill.

You can have all the talent in the world but without belief, it means nothing.