Narrowing Fields

By Jane Voigt 

January 21, 2013 -- Milos Raonic was supposed to give Roger Federer a run for his money -- well, maybe not all his money -- in their fourth-round match Monday night in Melbourne.

But the talented, young, fast-serving 22 year-old Canadian seemed to lose control of his biggest asset at times and his ground game, too, as Federer advanced to his 35th successive quarterfinal at a major: 64 76(4) 62.

Quite frankly, though, Federer played too well. He took the ball early, drawing valuable reaction time away from Raonic. He lost only 12 points on his serve throughout the match. Winners to unforced errors accent his impressive performance: 34 winners to 12 unforced errors.

"If I can maintain such a level of play," Federer began, "I give myself a chance to going deep in this tournament, which is obviously the goal.

Federer has not dropped a set to date.

And neither has Andy Murray. 

Today, he cruised past a limp Gilles Simon who was definitely dragging his sore body and mind to court Tuesday after his 5-hour ordeal-of-a-match with Gael Monfils the previous round. One rally extended 70 shots while others commonly extended 25 shots. (You might need oxygen just reading these statistics.)

In the round prior to Simon, Murray found himself facing a fragile Blaz Kavcic. He, too, had had a knock-down five-setter 48 hours beforehand. His, though, was Thursday during the day when air temperatures rose to 114 degrees Farenheit. 

Kavcic was cooked before he walked on court and simply could not  pressure Murray in any significant way. 

Asked by the press if he had concerns about not being tested in the tournament so far, Murray replied, "I think this week, the first few matches, like against Berankis, I think almost every single time when I've been broken, I've broken back, which is a good sign."

Tomas Berdych has not dropped a set, either. His quarterfinal against Novak Djokovic is the Czech's best shot to advance to the semifinals.

Djokovic will have had only 48 hours to recover from his 5-hour thriller against Stanislaus Wawrinka, as he faces Berdych this evening. 

"I know I can recover," Djokovic said. "I know I have it in me. I wasn't too much worried about the physical part. I was ready for it. I was ready to go the distance, and I've done so. Hopefully I can take that day off tomorrow and recover for quarters."

David Ferrer had to play one four-set match to reach the quarterfinals.  But that's it. Ferrer reaches the quarters with a new spirit. He won more titles last year -- 7 -- than any other player. His Masters 1000 trophy in Paris, his first at this level, also injected his mind with possibilities. He will face his compatriot Nicolas Almagro. 

Ferrer still feels he is not a top four player. If Nadal were at Melbourne,  Ferrer would most likely have been seeded #5. However, his concentration and calmness provide a solid platform from which to spring.

Asked about his consistent performance in Grand Slams Ferrer said, "Now I want to be focus with my next match. Is very difficult to win a Grand Slam because there are the top four. In this moment, the last three or four years, they are better than the other players. But, you know, I am not thinking about if I have the chance to win a Grand Slam. I am only focus with every match I will play."

Bottom line ... The quarterfinals of this Australian Open are stacked with the top 5 seeded players -- Djokovic, Federer, Murray, Ferrer, and Berdych. This scenario comes darn close to matching the results from 2012 when -- Djokovic, Nadal, Federer, Murray, and Ferrer -- were the top five seeded players. 

Looking back to 2011, the picture reflects a similar draw when Nadal, Federer, and Djokovic made quarterfinal appearances but the 4-seed, Robin Soderling, lost in the 4th round to a hot Alexandr Dolgopolov. 

In 2010, only Juan Martin del Potro, seeded #4, did not make the quarters. However the usual suspects of Federer, Nadal, and Djokovic were there fighting for glory. 

On the women's side, the top four seeds have also proceeded to the quarterfinals: Victoria Azarenka, Maria Sharapova, Serena Williams, and Agnieszka Radwanska. 

The biggest surprise in that draw is Svetlana Kuznetsova, a 2-time grand slam winner. Out the second-half of last year with a knee injury, she came in the Australian Open ranked #75.

"It's my best result," Kuznetsova said. "It's amazing. It's very good result for first tournament, for first Grand Slam, and especially I don't remember when I was in quarters." 

Kuznetsova won the U. S. Open in 2004 and Roland Garros in 2009.

Wednesday, two Americans Serena Williams and Sloane Stephens will battle for a spot in the semifinals. 

This is Stephens second Australian Open and her first quarterfinal result. This is Serena's 13th appearance in Melbourne. The two women are friendly off court, but we can expect that will be put aside as the chair umpire says, "Play." 

Serena is looking for her sixth Australian Open title, and her 16th major overall. Twenty-year-old Stephens has no WTA career titles and turned pro less than a year ago. No matter what happens against her mightiest foe, Stephens will move into the top 20 for the first time. A formidable result for the talented young adult. 

© Jane Voigt Tennis 2013