Indian Wells: Breaking down the women's quarterfinals
Top-ranked Victoria Azarenka survived a tight second-round match against Mona Barthel and cruised by Svetlana Kuznetsova and Julia Goerges to reach the quarters. (Getty Images)
INDIAN WELLS, Calif. -- There have been plenty of upsets on the way to the BNP Paribas Open quarterfinals, but that doesn't mean we're in for anything less than an exciting home stretch. Here's a look at how the women's quarterfinals shakes out.
Victoria Azarenka vs. Agnieszka Radwanska: This quarterfinal clash pits the two hottest players on the WTA Tour against each other, and though they may not be the best of friends anymore, the cosmos sure seem determined to bring these two together on a regular basis. This will be their fourth meeting of 2012 and as we all know, Azarenka has won all three of their meetings this season, most notably a straight set win in Doha that resulted in Radwanska criticizing Azarenka's on-court behavior. In fact, Radwanska, who is tied with Azarenka for the most match wins in 2011 (20), has only three losses this year, all at the hands of Azarenka.
Both have been tested in the early rounds here. Azarenka survived Mona Barthel in the second round, squeaking out a 6-4, 6-7 (4), 7-6 (6) win, and Radwanska was tested by Jamie Hampton in the fourth round, dropping the second set before Hampton retired due to cramps. Despite reaching a career-high ranking of No. 5, Radwanska has been cranky all year, possibly annoyed that her junior rival has not only surged to the top of the WTA but owned her in the process. Their clashes have historically been tense three set affairs and with so much on the line, this match, full of subtext, is the one to watch.
Maria Sharapova vs. Maria Kirilenko: Sharapova admits that she doesn't have a lot of friends on Tour (no high fiving, remember?) but she has always included Kirilenko as one of them. The two "Masha's" met as 12-year-olds at a junior tournament and hit it off. "I don't think we played against each other that tournament," Sharapova recalls. "We were running around Baden Baden like freely, like little girls out of control." They haven't played since 2010, when Kirilenko stunned Sharapova in the first round at the Australian Open, but that was a different time. Sharapova was in the midst of her comeback from shoulder surgery and particularly vulnerable to early round upsets. That's not the case now and she shouldn't have too much trouble with Kirilenko, who is still struggling to find her late 2011 form. If Sharapova is returning well, she'll gobble up Kirilenko's second serve, applying the pressure immediately. Kirilenko's best chance is to work her way to the net but that's a tough ask against Sharapova's power. Sharapova's groundstrokes should pin "Lil' Mash" to the baseline.
Li Na vs. Angelique Kerber: It was hard to know what to expect from Li in her first tournament back since a back injury forced her out of Doha, but the 2011 French Open champion has impressed in the early rounds. After shaking off the rust in a three-set win over Galina Voskoboeva in her first match, Li has dropped only five games, defeating Zheng Jie 6-1, 6-3 in the third round and Klara Zakopalova 6-1, 6-0 in the fourth round. She's moving well and her timing on both sides has been pitch-perfect. She'll be tested by Kerber, who has saved three match points in each of her last two matches to make the quarterfinals. Needless to say, the German fights to the very last point and if she can hang with Li, using her deceptively good movement, she could get into her head. That's where you need to be to disrupt Li. Kerber has a great chance to pull off the upset but Li does hold a 3-0 head-to-head edge over the German (with all three contests played in 2010), whose serve is still a weakness. I predict Li will come through but Kerber will make her earn it.
Marion Bartoli vs. Ana Ivanovic: This is a rematch of last year's quarterfinal, which Bartoli won 6-4, 7-6 (4) on her way to a run to the final. Bartoli says she's recovered from the calf injury she sustained in Doha and after surviving her first match against Varvara Lepchenko, she's been unstoppable, dropping a mere seven games against Chanelle Scheepers and Lucie Safarova. Ivanovic is into her fifth quarterfinal in seven years in Indian Wells, thanks to a near-perfect performance against Caroline Wozniacki in the fourth round, beating the Dane 6-3, 6-2 in what was arguably her best career win since Roland Garros 2008. She's hitting the ball big, moving well, and despite the fact that her toss still looks headed for the Pacific Ocean at times, she's serving well. This is a toss-up match for me (Ivanovic leads the head-to-head 4-3), as they're two of the most unpredictable players on the Tour. At their best, on this slow hard court, I give the nod to Ivanovic. Whether they can both bring their best is a different question.