(1) Serena vs. (30) Bouchard
I won’t waste time telling you why Serena will win, the reasons should be obvious enough. Instead, let’s focus on Bouchard, whose success in Melbourne will signal another important step forward for the Canadian teenager. She made herself known to the tennis world last year, but making the quarters here will be unmistakable evidence that she has well and truly arrived.
(4) Li vs. (6) Kvitova
To my mind, there are only three women who have a legitimate shot at winning it all - Li is one of them. Petra Kvitova has more talent than most, but her inability to string together consistent performances will ultimately be her undoing. The conditions won’t do her any favours either; the expected rising temperatures will make her pattern of long three set matches a herculean task as the tournament progresses into week two.
Li is the rare player on tour who can hang with just about anybody. Though she’s suffered from bouts of uneven play in the past, she can also call upon prior success here to propel her forward. Last year was a bit of a revelation for Li; she managed to compile her most consistent season. I look for her to build on that in 2014. The problem for her is that she’ll likely have to go through Serena for a second major title.
Winner: Li Na
(8) Jankovic vs. (3) Sharapova
Maria Sharapova is on the comeback trail from shoulder problems yet again. How much will a lack of matchplay factor into her performance at the Open? Maria holds an 8-1 career H2H against the former world #1, and should win under normal circumstances. However, Maria might be susceptible to the resurgent Jankovic, who seems to have recaptured some of the form that catapulted her to the top of the rankings in 2008. Jelena has played her way back into my circle of trust, and so I’ll go with the Serb to make her second Australian semi.
Winner: Jelena Jankovic
(5) Radwanska vs. (2) Azarenka
Expect Vika to win her 8th straight against Radwanska. She’s established herself as a force down under and the second best hard court player in the game. This will be a rematch of last year’s quarters when Azarenka dropped the first set before rallying easily to win in three. Radwanska’s only shot is if the world #2 is not at her best; if both are at their best, I can’t see Vika losing.
Winner: Victoria Azarenka
(1) Serena vs. (4) Li
In spite of a lopsided H2H (10-1), matches between these two have often been competitive. Just as most would expect Serena to win this match, I’m sure most wouldn’t be surprised should Li finally score the big win. It’s just so difficult and irrational to pick against Serena right now. Should anybody topple her at the Open, it will be due to only injury or a major lapse in concentration.
(8) Jankovic vs. (2) Azarenka
A semifinal showing will be a major victory for Jankovic, her first since the 2010 French Open. Many, myself included, had written her off as a serious threat in majors. It will also be a satisfying culmination of the solid work she’s done over the past year. Moreover, the women’s game benefits from having someone with her vibrant personality contending again. Unfortunately, a win against the defending champ is an unlikely event.
Winner: Victoria Azarenka
(1) Serena vs. (2) Azarenka
This is the final everyone expects. The two have met 10 times since 2012, with seven occasions being finals. Though Serena holds an 8-2 lead over that time and 14-3 overall, Azarenka has shown the ability to hang with the 17-time Grand Slam champ. But, Vika has to find a way to do it at a major. She’s the two-time defending champion and an established star, but beating Serena on the big stage is something precious few have been able to do.
I wouldn’t be surprised if this went the distance, but Serena has history in her sights. She’s well aware of what’s at stake - tying Navratilova and Evert with 18 Slam titles - one more giant step towards cementing her place as the G.O.A.T. Serena seems intent on winning everything in sight, and Victoria Azarenka will fall victim to that ferocious determination yet again.