Roger Federer (left) will take on Juan Martin del Potro in the Aussie Open quarters, who beat him for the 2009 U.S. Open title. (Reuters)
The best thing about having so few major upsets in the first week of a Grand Slam event is now, as we get into the business end of the tournament, the matchups are the ones we want to see. The women's and men's quarterfinals each feature a U.S. Open final rematch; in fact, those two matches will be played back-to-back Tuesday.
Victoria Azarenka vs. Agnieszka Radwanska (second match, Rod Laver Arena): These two good friends are meeting for the second time this year and the 10th time in their careers, a remarkable number for two players who are only 22. Azarenka has won six of nine meetings, and she came back to beat Radwanska in the Sydney semifinals earlier this month after dropping the first set 6-1. Their last three matches have gone the full three sets, so expect a battle here.
Since surviving a tough first-round match against Bethanie Mattek-Sands, Radwanska has been on form and hasn't dropped a set. Azarenka, meanwhile, has been the most consistently dominant player through four rounds. Expect Azarenka to come out on top, but under the afternoon sun (it's expected to be the hottest day of the tournament), Radwanska's funky game could get under Azarenka's skin.
Caroline Wozniacki vs. Kim Clijsters (third match, Rod Laver Arena): How's that ankle, Kimmy? That's the big question coming into this match, which will also be the first true test for Wozniacki. The world No. 1 has lost both career meetings, but she came close in 2010 at the WTA Championships, pushing Clijsters in a 6-3, 5-7, 6-3 loss. Wozniacki is a better player today than she was then, but Clijsters still has more offensive firepower to break down Wozniacki's defense. Even a slightly hobbled Clijsters has the ability to blast winners on command, so she'll have a number of options at her disposal.
There's also the issue of whether the Belgian has recovered emotionally from her roller-coaster win over Li Na. Does the defending champion feel like she's playing with house money after being down four match points? Did that fourth-round battle take too much out of her?
The match will surely be on Clijsters' racket and it'll be up to Wozniacki to figure out how to dictate points and get her on the move, forcing her into errors. If Clijsters is moving well, that will be tough to do.
Roger Federer vs. Juan Martin del Potro (fourth match, Rod Laver Arena): Del Potro has been quietly making his way through the tournament, staying under the radar and out of the spotlight. That's how he likes it. "The favorites are them," Del Potro said, referring to the Big Four of Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Federer and Andy Murray. "I don't have nothing to lose [in the] quarters basically if I play against Roger."
The way Federer has been playing, Del Potro is absolutely right. Federer has been in "Maestro Mode" and showing no effects of the bad back that forced him out of Doha. He's moving beautifully and playing with tremendous focus, as we saw in back-to-back wins over Ivo Karlovic and Bernard Tomic, two players who couldn't be more different. Federer will have to shift gears again against Del Potro, who brings firepower off both wings.
"I played him in Cincinnati six months ago," Federer said. "It was super fast. It's going to be different. We'll have many more rallies, so for me, a chance to mix it up, but I have to stay aggressive, as well."
This will be a good gauge for the big man, who's still working his way back from serious wrist surgery, but I'll take Federer in four. Rafael Nadal vs. Tomas Berdych (first night match, Rod Laver Arena): Will the boo birds come out and boo Berd? His refusal to shake Nicolas Almagro's hand on Sunday made him public enemy No. 1 at Melbourne Park (check out the woman at the 1:26 mark), giving the crowd even more of a reason to get behind Nadal. The Spaniard hasn't lost to Berdych since 2006, winning nine straight. I was impressed by Berdych's mental fortitude in his last round, prevailing in three straight tiebreaker sets to beat Almagro in four. Still, I don't think he's ready to take three sets off Nadal, who is yet to drop a set in Melbourne.