NEW YORK -- The men's quarterfinals kick off on Wednesday at the U.S. Open, highlighted by a Big Four clash between Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray. On the women's side, we could see a rematch of last year's final if Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka can fend off the upsets.
No. 1 Novak Djokovic vs. No. 9 Andy Murray (second night match, Arthur Ashe Stadium): Never have these two friends, born just a week apart, played as early as the quarterfinal round at a Grand Slam tournament. Djokovic leads the head-to-head 12-8 and won their only 2014 meeting, a 7-5, 6-3 victory at the Sony Open in March. The big question is whether Murray has sorted out his mid-match wobbles to make this a compelling match. Aside from his first-round win over Robin Haase, which took four sets and saw Murray struggle with cramping, the 2012 champion has looked sharp. His straight-set takedown of Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the fourth round was particularly impressive, as Murray hit 45 winners to 18 unforced errors in his best performance of the summer.
As for Djokovic, he's put his subpar hard-court prep for the U.S. Open behind him. He's been lights out through four matches, going 12-0 in sets and winning each before a tiebreaker. While he was hitting bushels of unforced errors during the lead-up tournaments, he's minimized them here. In each of his last three matches he's hit fewer than 20 unforced errors while pounding at least 25 winners. He's also served at least 64 percent in all four matches and won 68 percent on his second serve in a fourth-round victory over Philipp Kohlschreiber. All the numbers point to Djokovic's being back to his ruthless hard-court form.
Prediction: Djokovic in 4.
No. 1 Serena Williams vs. No. 12 Flavia Pennetta (first night match, Arthur Ashe Stadium): New York never fails to bring out the best in Pennetta. Five of her six quarterfinal appearances at the Slams have come here, and she was a semifinalist last year, when she lost to Azarenka. But her run likely ends against Williams. The Italian has taken only one set off Williams in five matches (Pennetta retired down 0-4 in one of them). If Pennetta can't make her first serves, Williams will prey on her soft second serve, which averages around 75 mph. Williams has not dropped a set in the tournament. I don't think she'll drop one here.
Prediction: Williams in 2.
No. 3 Stan Wawrinka vs. No. 11 Kei Nishikori (not before 3 p.m., Arthur Ashe Stadium)
: Can Nishikori recover from his five-set comeback win over No. 5 seed Milos Raonic, which ended at 2:26 a.m. on Tuesday morning? He'll have about 36 hours to recoup and find his legs, which he'll need against Wawrinka's powerful game. If Nishikori has a full tank and can use his speed to get into Wawrinka's head, this could be the best match of the day. On the other hand, Wawrinka has won their only two meetings in straight sets.
Prediction: Wawrinka in 3.
No. 17 Victoria Azarenka vs. No. 18 Ekaterina Makarova (not before 12:30 p.m., Arthur Ashe Stadium): Makarova took out Eugenie Bouchard in the fourth round and comes into her fifth career Slam quarterfinal having not lost a set. Bidding to reach her first major semifinal, her summer form suggests that she's more than capable of advancing here. Azarenka leads their head-to-head 3-2 and has won their two hard-court encounters, but this is their first meeting this season. The injury-plagued Azarenka has been rounding into form with each match she's played in New York, but this will be her first match against a seeded player.
Prediction: Azarenka in 3.