Novak Djokovic is set to face David Ferrer in the Australian Open quarterfinals, and leads their head-to-head 6-5. (Zumapress)
The Australian Open quarterfinals will conclude on Day 10. The bottom half of the men's semifinals is already set with a marquee matchup in Roger Federer vs. Rafael Nadal, and after Day 10, we could see the top four seeds in the semis for the second consecutive Grand Slam event. On the women's side, the No. 1 ranking is still up for grabs after Kim Clijsters ousted Caroline Wozniacki in the quarters. Petra Kvitova and Maria Sharapova take the court Wednesday in the hunt for the top spot.
Petra Kvitova vs. Sara Errani (first match, Rod Laver Arena): These two have never played before and it marks the first time Errani has reached the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam event. Errani has no weapons that should trouble Kvitova, so the match will be entirely on Kvitova's racket. Errani's best bet is to utilize her better-than-average speed to get a few extra balls back in hopes that Kvitova will become an unforced-error machine. But she simply doesn't have enough pace on her groundstrokes to bother Kvitova, and don't think the Czech is unaware of that. Kvitova should come into this match relaxed and hitting freely. Kvitova in 2.
Maria Sharapova vs. Ekaterina Makarova (second match, Rod Laver Arena): Never heard of Ekaterina Makarova? Well hang on, don't write Sharapova through to the semis just yet. If you beat Serena Williams in straight sets at a major like Makarova did in the fourth round, no one is going to roll their eyes at the fact that you've made it to your first Grand Slam quarterfinal. Makarova may be the lowest-ranked player in the quarterfinals at No. 56, but she's won a WTA title (2010 Eastbourne) and has ousted three straight seeded players to get here. Makarova showed impressive composure against Williams, even when Serena pulled her game together and seemed to be regaining control in the second set. The lefty has a great cross-court backhand when she gets pulled wide and she'll go down the line without hesitation.
For her part, Sharapova was tested by Sabine Lisicki in the fourth round, but Sharapova is as mentally strong as they come and was able to tighten up her game to win. She'll need a good serving day (always her weakness), which will be tougher with the daytime sun in her eyes. I'm picking Sharapova in 3, but Makarova proved a lot Monday so an upset shouldn't be a complete shocker.
Andy Murray vs. Kei Nishikori (third match, Rod Laver Arena): Murray is coming off an easy match against Mikhail Kukushkin, taking the first two sets 6-1, 6-1 in just 22 minutes a piece before his unseeded opponent retired after the first game of the third set. Worried that he might lose his rhythm, Murray went out to hit more balls after that match to make sure everything was still firing.
It'll be important for the Scot to come out strong against Nishikori, who has to have some heavy legs after his physically draining path to the quarterfinals. He's played two five-set matches (against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Matthew Ebden, the former in 90-degree weather). And credit to him for honoring his mixed doubles commitment to partner Kimiko Date-Krumm; the duo lost Tuesday in even hotter temperatures. Murray will make him work and grind for every point. Nishikori has a big forehand that can do some damage, but he'll need his legs to pull off the upset. I'm taking Murray in 3. Novak Djokovic vs. David Ferrer (first night match, Rod Laver Arena): Ferrer comprehensively beat a tired and banged-up Djokovic at the World Tour Finals in November, but aside from that the Spaniard hasn’t defeated the Serb on hardcourts since 2007 or taken a set off him in two meetings at majors on the surface. Djokovic had a lapse of concentration in letting a 3-0 third-set lead disappear in the last round, but I suspect that had more to do with the occasion of playing Lleyton Hewitt in front of his home crowd than a reflection of the top-ranked player's form. He's been superb all tournament. Djokovic in 3.