Almost Half-way There

By Jane Voigt

January 17, 2014 -- Half are in. Half are on hold. They all should get medals, though. They won three rounds in temperatures that touched 110F this week that tested every fiber of their being.  

The courageous eight women that have made their way to the round of sixteen can bless their lucky stars, or the cooling weather pattern that swept through. It dropped temps to 75F, which are delightfully perfect for tennis. Bye-bye overheating and visions of Snoopy. 

The men and women set to forge forward to greater career heights are a mix of the usual suspects, those whose time has come, and the relatively unknown. 

The Usual Suspects
Serena Williams -- Seeded at the top of the draw heap, Ms Williams has lost 12 games in three matches; she has not dropped a set. She topped Margaret Courts record of 60 match wins at The Australian Open this weed, thus becoming the leader with 61. Sports analysts talk about Serena as if they were witnessing a goddess of unmatched athletic proportions. Only history books will reflect the nature of her accomplishments on court. Thus, for now, let's put it this way ... the competition will have a real hard time stopping the America from winning her sixth title, and 18th Grand Slam. Her serve alone might carry her through, if everything else involved with her game fails and millions of locusts fall from the sky. She has struck 26 aces in three matches and has won 85% of points on her first serve. Next up Ana Ivanovic.

Li Na -- This 2-time finalist squeaked through, considering her match against Lucie Safarova. The No. 4 seed Li was a point away from elimination as the Czech hit with alacrity and conviction. Until the third set underway, Li seemed uncertain. It reflected in her winners to unforced errors stat: 17/50. As Coach Carlos Rodriguez might say, it doesn't get easier here on out. 

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Li Na hits a quintessential shot -- her backhand -- at the U. S. Open, 2013.
Please credit Tennisclix.com

Those Whose Time Has Come
Ekaterina Makarova -- The Venus Williams eliminator was a semifinalist in 2013 and a quarterfinalist in 2012. She hits left-handed and flat. Her mental game is sharp. She plays Li Na next. If the Chinese star cannot control her emotions better than she did today, Makarova could be on her way to another quarterfinal berth. 

Flavia Pennetta -- The soon-to-be 32-year-old Italian amazed fans at last year's U. S. Open when she made the semifinals. Her run to the fourth round in Melbourne was eased when Petra Kvitova's lost in the first-round. But let's not take anything away from this competent competitor. A decorated Fed Cup champion, Pennetta knows how to bear down when draws narrow.

The Relatively Unknown
Casey Dellacqua -- Unseeded lefty Aussie. Mother. Hot doubles player. In love with the challenge. Has nothing to lose. A fairytale waiting to be told. Eugenie Bouchard, No. 30, is next. The Canadian can smell the top 20, but destiny might be on Dellacqua's side this Grand Slam.  

On the men's side, the fact that the 'Big Four' have won 34 of the last 35 majors is considerable. Although there are outliers, their chances are slim to succeed where no man has for nine years.   

The Usual Suspects
Novak Djokovic -- The No. 2 seed has not dropped a set, which is not unusual at this stage. He hired Boris Becker to improve his 'on-court presence,' which many thought was an intimidating factor but might not have been as ruthless as necessary. He's aiming at his 5th title in Melbourne, which would place him ahead of Roger Federer and Andre Agassi. Djokovic is also hell-bent to get back to number one. His loss to Nadal in the semifinals of Roland Garros hinged on a couple points. The experience devastated Novak, until he packed up his sorrows and funneled his energy into improvement. Djokovic defeated Nadal in Monte Carlo last spring, denying the King of Clay his 9th, and unprecedented, title from the Principality. With that win he also broke the Spaniard's 46-match winning streak. Thus, Djokovic knows he has the game. Keeping his emotions calm will be key.

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Novak Djokovic, during the epic match with Stanislaus Wawrinka. Australian Open, 2013. Photo credit Tennisclix.com

David Ferrer -- The No. 3 seed's record in Melbourne over the last three years is impressive: 2011 semifinalist; 2012 quarterfinalist: 2013 semifinalist. Although he has only reached one major final: Roland Garros, 2013, it means nothing. Ferrer is the essence of the highest level of competition. However, he does not have a honed weapon in his court bag to do damage to the big guys. 

Those Whose Time Has Come
Tomas Berdych -- Maybe. Hasn't dropped a set. Could very well push through to the semifinals. First up … Kevin Anderson. "I think he has a good chance against Berdych," Joe Nardini Jr said. Only thing is the head-to-head reflects who has dominated. Berdych is 9-0 against the South African, yet each match tells its own story. Berdych's mind can melt and mess with his abilities. To make the final, well, he would have to break through the Djokovic wall.

Stanislaus Wawrinka -- Physically strong. Mentally prepared. A one-hand backhand that's the best. And, no longer thought of as Swiss #2. Who could forget his quarterfinal match last year against Djokovic. "I didn't know who would win until the last ball," said an exhausted Djokovic immediately after the match. He had a walkover when Vasek Pospisil withdrew. Rest will rest well with Wawrinka.

Tommy Robredo -- Can't say enough. He never quits; and, he defeated Richard Gasquet today (No.9) with steadfast performance, closing out a tight 4th set tiebreak to win. "With that win, I think he has a decent chance against Wawrinka," Nardini added. It's called momentum. This is Tommy's (No. 17) thirteenth Australian Open. Might just be the luckiest one of all. It would match the jubilation of a Casey Dellacqua dream come true.

USOFedVRobredoSept2,2013

Tommy Robredo celebrates during his victory over Roger Federer at the 2013 U. S. Open.
Photo credit Tennisclix.com

The Relatively Unknown
Fabio Fognini -- He's held up so far having no explosive outbursts. They have hindered consistent results in the past because his mind cannot calm down fast enough. He won three-straight titles last year. His doubles play has improved his court sense. His immediate problem … Novak Djokovic next.

© Jane Voigt Tennis 2013