By Jane Voigt
For all the hubbub about momentous clashes between this and that player, the outcomes today were quite predictable. Of course the bulldozers — The Big Four — plowed through. This is a Grand Slam and their performances impressed up and above the clouds. None has dropped a set.
Three of these big four landed on the top half of the draw, though. Therefore when the end of week two approaches the crunch in crunch-time could be heard around the world.
Given Rafael Nadal’s convincing elimination of Gael Monfils (61 62 63) and the Spaniard’s comment that he had played his best tennis ever in Australian, we can safely say that this usual suspect will make the semifinal.
Standing in Nadal’s immediate path is Kei Nishikori (No. 16), who breezed past Donald Young (left) once he primed his engines. Serving for the first set at 5-3, Young faltered. Nishikori went on a romp, winning 17 of the next 18 games and whipping the recalcitrant American 75 61 60. (Photo credit Gillian Elliott/Tennisclix.com)
Andy Murray and Roger Federer wasted no time against their opponents: Feliciano Lopez and Teymurax Gabashvili, respectively. Lopez remains winless over the Briton and Federer’s serving and ground game proved consistent. However, our expectations that Federer serve and volley more because of Stefan Edberg’s influence, and because it could help him push back against his beloved brethren, have not been rewarded.
Over three rounds Federer has approached the net 71 times, with a success rate of 72%. But has he committed to the strategy? Answer: not really. He came in 22 times in round one, 29 in round two, and 22 against Gabashvili.
His other sticking point is break point conversions. Federer’s average rate is the lowest, amongst the big four, at 38% with Novak Djokovic’s 65%. This does not tell the entire story, but as Joe Nardini Jr. pointed in Down The Tee’s draw analysis, “In the past Federer has relied too much on his natural talent and abilities to carry him through matches. That isn’t working well now that he is older.” Federer, therefore, must bear down. He faces Jo-Wilfred Tsonga (No. 10) on Monday.
Grigor Dimitrov (No. 22) is in his first fourth round at a slam. Here is a player whose time has come. He needed 5 match points in the fourth-set tiebreak to win the match over Milos Raonic, Dimitrov’s star-in-pursuit-of-tennis-glory Canadian counterpart, probably the most nervous five points in the Bulgarian’s life.
“I have practiced a lot,” Dimitrov said, USA Today reported. “I have done a lot of homework. So, to me, in a way it’s a bit expected.”
Next for the 22-year-old is the most unusual of fourth-round suspects, Roberto Bautista Agut. The odds that the No. 62-ranked Spaniard would be into week two are small, very small. But, he belongs. He defeated Juan Martin del Potro (No. 5). Today he dismissed the 27-seed Benoit Paire, 62 61 64, a striking scoreline akin to one from Nadal, Djokovic, Federer and Murray.
Although 33-year-old Stephane Robert can’t be called the karma-kid of the tournament, which would be appropriate, he does wear his Lucky Loser label well. He lost in the last round of qualification, but got a main draw berth when Philip Kohlschreiber withdrew with an injury Tuesday. Fox News reported Robert was given ten minutes to prepare for his first round match. He has won 16 tour level matches in his career. Nothing to lose for the Frenchman now.
On the women’s side … the usual suspects of Maria Sharapova (No. 3), Agnieszka Radwanska (No. 5), and Victoria Azarenka (No. 2) are alive and poised. Simona Halep (No. 11) is the player whose time has come. She has advanced to her first Australian Open 4th round, and it’s well deserved. Halep has won six WTA Tour titles, all came in 2013.
The only unseeded player in this part of the draw is Garbine Muguruza of Spain. She defeated Caroline Wozniacki (No. 10) today, 46 75 63, announcing herself on the grand slam stage. It’s her first foray into a second week.
Muguruza (Moo-goo-rue-za) won her first career title earlier this month in Hobart, Australia. Her victory over Wozniacki was her third top-10 win, though. She has beaten the Dane twice and Vera Zvonareva at Miami in 2012.
Quick Hit … These Australian Open tennis fans (below) are what makes this slam the happiest, or nuttiest, of the year. Perhaps they had enjoyed a few too many Heinekens before posing … nonetheless it was all done in good fun, Aussie style.