Jan 22, 2022

2022 Australian Open Men's & Women's Round Four Writeup

If you’re like me, your sleep schedule is already destroyed and you are half a zombie. Hang in there, when you finally hit the wall and crash, you’ll somehow sleep for 15 hours. This tennis is getting real tennisy. Men’s and women’s round 4 matchups are below.
Kecmanovic vs Monfils :

Yes, of course. In any hardcourt major 4th round you can always expect Miomir Kecmanovic, and consistent, focused Monfils. Miomir’s positioning in the draw was fortuitous, but it’s simple physics to understand why he’s winning. If you place an object at the top of the stairs, and give it some momentum, it can only tumble downwards, and so Kecmanovic has tumbled for three rounds, wearing down his opponents with steady play but also a good level of serving. His returning has been the quiet story here, and his ability to get into rallies against Sonego made the match look a bit like Carreño Busta’s win over Korda. Sonego had chances late in the fourth, but he just isn’t consistent enough and he does a lot of extra running to get his forehand on everything.

Monfils was down early in the first against Garin, but the first set tiebreaker was the last time Garin got a look at this match. I often think losing a lopsided first set is better for a player than losing a close one, and sometimes the path back uphill from a deficit just looks too high for people to really get a second wind. Someone pointed out that Garin had played 9 hours compared to Monfils’ 3, and it showed a bit. Take nothing away from Monfils though, this is the best tennis he’s ever played and the draw is wide open. He absolutely can win the next 3 matches, but it would be a crazy story. The slow start he had against Garin won’t work against Kecmanovic, who has won the first set in every single one of his matches. Long carefully constructed points were Monfils’ bread and butter against Garin, but Kecmanovic is way more adept at pulling the trigger during these rallies and is unlikely to fatigue in the same way that Garin did. Their previous match was a three set win for Monfils, and this is likely to be close as well. Miomir’s run has come out of nowhere, but the draw has really afforded him some winnable matches. Caruso is struggling to get back on tour and isn’t serving well, Tommy Paul was exhausted follow a few weeks of great tennis in the warmup events, and Sonego is a great offensive talent but lacks consistency. This is the first spot where Kecmanovic winning would be wholly unexpected, and would indicate that he’s finally stepping into the expectations that were there for him when he first popped up on tour and couldn’t lose a rally from the baseline.

Big moment for both, and one that Monfils needs to get through. He has the better serve, more experience, and is playing his best tennis. Kecmanovic has had somewhat vulnerable opponents, so Monfils represents a tier of win he hasn’t achieved yet. It isn’t impossible, but Monfils will be consistent for the entire match where Sonego/Paul had moments where errors were most of the story. Monfils in 5.

Carreño Busta vs Berretini :

These players have arrived here in very different fashion, and it might be a factor. Pablo kept the pressure on Sebastian Korda from start to finish. He was exceptional saving break points (13/15) and kept Korda moving. The only hiccough for him was a slight impatience when he was serving to close out the first set, but overall he looked like an inevitable name to pencil in to the next round. Korda was able to break back in the third and extend the match, but Pablo was too consistent and Korda just wasn’t able to impose his will in rallies. His style looks easygoing and repeatable but you need to bring a bit of pressure to PCB or he’ll never miss. Korda may have been a tiny bit fatigued after the Moutet match, but a third round appearance is still a good showing for him.

While Pablo was cruising, Matteo Berretini was enjoying the same. Alcaraz had a number of break points in the first few games of the first set, but couldn’t convert. He seemed to have trouble with his returns in this match, standing a little too far back to block them effectively and a little too far forward to get a full swing. Returning well against a big server is never easy, and this is something that takes clay-courters a few seasons to really figure out (Thiem’s return issues took about 3 seasons). Things unravelled, and Berretini cruised to a quick first set win. In the second Alcaraz was able to retrieve a break and get to a tiebreaker, but Berretini played the big points better and the match started to look over. From there, we were treated to around an hour straight of Alcaraz hitting winners. Berretini looked a bit winded, and Alcaraz’s backhand down the line spread the court beautifully while Berretini’s fatigue made his serve much more returnable than it was early.

Heading into the fifth, Berretini looked shot, but a few things happened that helped him. The first was he took a break between sets off court. This may be somewhat frowned upon, but it’s legal and he had played enough tennis to warrant a timeout. He was able to catch his breath, and after a few early close games he started to hold serve better. The second thing was rolling has ankle. Alcaraz had started to get a bit of crowd support and momentum (which is tough while serving second), and Berretini’s fall just kinda took the air out of the crowd. He was running to a forehand and tweaked his ankle a bit (not enough to really injure anything but enough to shake him up) and took a MTO to get it looked at. Again, fair, but by the time that was done he was completely refreshed and his serve reflected that. Berretini’s serve and forehand won him this match, and Alcaraz will be rethinking a few of the break points he had. He went to Berretini’s forehand a few times in the fifth and Matteo was able to retake control of the point almost immediately. It’s crazy to say you can just stay on a professional player’s backhand and win a match, but on the break points you can really see how tense Berretini is on that wing. Him and a few others (Tsitsipas comes to mind) defend so well to their forehand side so well that it’s almost a trap to go there on a big point. The tiebreaker was tense, but Berretini really earned this one.

In this next match, Berretini will have to run a lot more, but not as fast. Alcaraz crushes the ball with both wings, and serves like a cannon (though not with a great percentage). PCB prefers to work the point and keep the ball low, and his serve is useful but mostly just intended to get him a ball to work with. Berretini has to start as favorite here because his serve and his record at this level is a proven thing. His ankle though is a mild question mark (ankle sprains tend to get worse after the event; you can walk home but it’ll be swollen by the night), and that was a very fatiguing match to come back after and play another one. I don’t see a way for either to run away with this, but PCB is going to be working Berretini’s backhand the entire match, and he has perfect footwork and execution when he gets low to the slice on his backhand wing. For Berretini, serving is obviously important but he’ll want to get aggressive returning. A long drawn-out battle from the baseline is what Pablo will want and since he has some double-fault issues, Berretini would do well to apply as much pressure to second serves as possible. If his physical fitness is fine, Berretini should win this in five. If he’s even a step slow though, Carreño Busta wins this in 4. I think the second is the more likely outcome. PCB is a way better returner than Alcaraz (Carlos went for some aggressive forehand returns that he really needed to just put the ball in play on). PCB in 4.

Zverev vs Shapovalov :

“I wanna be a surfer boy,” wished the goldfish, as it rubbed the lamp. And so, Sascha Zverev was born. While a lot of top players have been proving their mettle and surviving tough tests, Zverev has been cruising. He’s serving well, and he’s really hitting clean during rallies. Albot was crisp and never let down, but crisp doesn’t cut it, especially as many times as I’ve used the word crisp this week. GET A NEW WORD, YA BUM. It was interesting watching Zverev play, and the win reminded me a bit of Djokovic’s play in early rounds in the past. Very measured, nothing special, just securing a break and cruising through the set. Shapovalov has actually defeated Zverev a few times, and his game is impressive in the big moments. Their last meeting was a three set loss for Shap, and Zverev is a different challenge than he was before. His returning is excellent, and his serving makes him a threat to win any match in any tournament.

For Shapovalov to win this he needs to keep his serving together. He was efficient against Opelka, but Zverev is going to put more balls in play. I don’t see a way that Shapovalov can win this match given the tennis he’s played thus far. He’s at a high level, but the way he’s been scoring points is almost immediately eliminated here. Zverev isn’t exactly the automatic effort machine that we want, and Shapovalov’s past success is due to Zverev not generally finding his way out of rallies quickly. He hits bigger than Shap, but Denis covers the court easily and has a solid backhand (although he uses it more as a utility than he used to). This one will be decided by errors during neutral rallies, and Shap’s forehand doesn’t have a ton of shape on it. Zverev in 4.

Nadal vs Mannarino :

Nadal’s odds have dropped from +900 to win this tournament to +350, which is tied with Zverev. It’s remarkable how easily we forget his talent and drive when it’s 2/3 tennis, but as soon as you need to beat him for 3 sets it just looks impossible. Khachanov played okay, but the cumulative effect of the way Nadal plays every point is just overwhelming. There are no timeouts, and that makes this next match perfect to get Nadal into the quarters without any wear and tear. Mannarino and Karatsev played tennis for 4 hours and 40 minutes, which is approximately how long I spend describing Pablo Andujar each day to local birds and squirrels. “HAVE YOU HEARD THE GOOD JUNGLE NEWS?” Aslan has shown great endurance for being able to compete this long, but Mannarino was the one who really has impressed this tournament. He’s absolutely destroying people’s brackets (myself included), and it’s a resurgence that is somewhat unexpected. Against Nadal, he has the same chance as most players, which is no chance. Nadal is too fast and too solid defensively to have trouble with Mannarino’s flat ball, and the patterns he plays in are instantly negated because Nadal is a lefty.

Their two previous matches have involved one close set (7-5, 7-6) and one lopsided set (6-1,6-2). Mannarino will be happy with his play so far, but it’ll be very tough to turn around after being admittedly fatigued and play Nadal for 3 sets. Nadal in 3.

De Minaur vs Sinner :

The bottom half of this draw has the three most interesting spots in the tournament so far. Alex De Minaur is the hope of Australia whether they know it or not. No one else works as hard on the court, and produces the types of consistent results in early rounds that he does. It made it even more surprising that he spent a season losing to basically everyone he played, but this year he opened up with an ATP Cup win against Berretini and has done well here. Andujar stuck to his roots, playing extremely solid and moving the ball without error, but De Minaur’s speed meant this didn’t yield any points. Eventually, De Minaur was able to get some neutral balls to work with, and Pablo has never really been able to overcome the pace of the ball on fast courts when he isn’t on even terms. It sets up a very puzzling clash with Jannik Sinner, who won in 4 lopsided sets but had moments where he looked out of sorts. Taro Daniel is like rain. You know rain is wet, but when you get caught in it you are always surprised how absolutely soaked and heavy your clothes end up getting. Daniel looked for a brief moment like he would wear down Sinner, and Jannik looked soggy and a bit fatigued. The deciding factor was Sinner’s consistency from the baseline though. He’s lost to some bigger servers, and he’s been outworked by some stronger adults (Nadal, Med, etc), but there’s no real hole in his game and he hits the ball very big off both wings.

De Minaur was the hype of the tour before Berdych dismissed him. He has a poor record against Jan-Lennard Struff. He has trouble with players with power, and it’s something he hasn’t really overcome yet. His game is built around peppering inside-out forehands to his opponents backhand, and taking the ball early to wear them down. This may work against Sinner, but it isn’t a plan that’ll get him through an entire match. Sinner is in that mid-phenom slump where they’re not pulling massive upsets left and right, but you know that at some point that next level play is going to return. Zverev had the same slump, as did FAA and Shapo. The kid is going to be tremendous, and this is the kind of match he has to win along the way. For Sinner the game plan is simple; limit his errors. He’s going to get broken and he’s going to break; if he keeps pushing and stays on De Minaur’s backhand he will wind up in better court position for most of the match, and should get the win in the end. This feels very much up for grabs, but more even than usual because De Minaur will have the crowd behind him and the Aussie crowd has been extra energetic this week. Sinner in 5.

Epilogue : Some people have been asking me why I’m such a big fan of Pablo Andujar. It’s a personal thing for me, but I feel comfortable talking about it. When I was a small child in the city of Tenochtitlan, a man came to our town. He brought medicine from far away, and cured many people. We begged him to stay, and eventually he did, settling down with a local woman who managed our finances. During his time there, our town flourished, and the lands became plentiful and fertile. Disease was ended, war quieted down, and we began to wonder if this man truly was someone special, someone jungley. Our joy spread, and our hearts were full, until one day a dinosaur ate that man. Another man then ate that dinosaur. That dinosaur eating man? Pablo Andujar. We then begged him to stay, but he just seemed to keep sending us crosscourt over and over, and when we finally thought he had him cornered to ask, nope, he sent us down the line. He turned six children into tree frogs, and rode off on a jaguar. I hope this helps.

Fritz (wtf?) vs Tsitsipas :

You can rest assured that if Fritz wins at tennis, it costs me money. If you crossed Gumby and the state of California with a cat’s face drawn on a frisbee, you’d get Taylor Fritz. My complaint about this dude for a long time has been a lack of effort. He’s very quick to resort to “wow can you believe this?” reactions when his opponents play well, and his backhand has been a liability for as long as I can remember. The USTA props these guys up with unlimited wildcards, so I wasn’t terribly impressed by the good results he had. He’s a tremendous server with a huge forehand, but it always looks like he’s being outworked. For once though, I got what I asked for, and I hate it. Fritz played great in his opener, and as I said he would have folded up in the past but didn’t. He didn’t push his backhand in, but swung through it. The second round win was solid against Tiafoe, but to me this is two guys who are always liable to fall apart so it’s hard to say “he beat Tiafoe so he’s levelled up.” A win against RBA, and in the fashion he won it though? I have to admit that Fritz played great. His serve netted him a ton of easy points, and he froze RBA with his forehand over and over. You just don’t see the ball hit cleanly past Roberto that often, and even more credit to Taylor for getting this match back after going down 2 sets to 1. Fritz also zipped him in the first set, and I imagine you’d have to scroll back pretty far to find the last time someone zipped Bautista Agut.

While my new favorite player Fritz was beating my favorite tennis robot, Steffa was getting her groove back against Benoit Paire. With all the Tsitsipas hate and the joy people get watching him lose, it’s easy to forget the quality of tennis he can bring. Tsitsipas returned well in this one, he served efficiently, and he played every rally to win. When he lost the third set, there was no moping or racquet smashing. He stayed composed, and when he won there was genuine “thank glob” energy radiating from him. I love seeing people who are actually overcome by emotion when they win. The fall to the ground after a win feels fake a lot of the time, the fist pumps feel gross, but genuine happiness and taking in the moment is heartwarming. While we’re warming hearts, Benoit Paire gave us the tournament of a lifetime despite only playing three matches, and he can take the rest of the year off as far as I’m concerned because he really played his best, all without jumping or bending his knees once. His shirt said “Be Normal” on the pocket, and he remains one of the more interesting people on tour when he’s not being a petulant child.

I don’t see why Fritz can’t just beat Tsitsipas, but this is a much different matchup than RBA. Tsitsipas uses a lot more variation than RBA, who hits at one pace and has a relatively flat ball. Tsitsipas has some good height on his backhand, and this will give Fritz trouble. Stefanos has been hitting down the line well with his backhand as well, which will spread the lanky American wide. One thing that makes me hesitant to award Fritz the prize is also how well Tsitsipas defends to his forehand wing. If Fritz goes there, he needs to run crosscourt immediately. His team will know this, and despite the -200 pricetag for Tsitsipas I see this as an even contest. Fritz’s serve on these ultra fast courts is a big factor, and Tsitsipas is just finding his best tennis again. Paire won a set, so assume at a minimum, Fritz will as well. I see this ending up in a fifth but it’s Tsitsipas who will have to be clinical in order to get there. Lapses or shanks (he’s prone to shanking the ball late in sets if the score is above 5-5) will give Fritz the fist-clenching boost that he needs. Tsitsipas has had some tremendous runs in Australia, so I’d give him a tiny edge. Tsitsipas in 5.

Cilic vs Auger-Aliassime :

Early in the match it was pretty clear to me why Rublev leads the h2h. From even terms in a rally, it looks very tough for Cilic to win a point. Rublev hits the ball too hard and when he gets a forehand, he is able to hit clean past Cilic to the forehand side. Somehow, Cilic never let rallies get on even terms though. He played this match like a racquetball match, swinging for the fences on every return and serving extremely big. I thought his quality would fade after the first, but it never did. When Rublev won the third I worried Cilic would fatigue, but he just came back stronger. For Rublev, the loss isn’t terribly surprising; he hasn’t done much since losing a surprise to Tiafoe at the USO. For Cilic though, it must give him a huge sigh of relief. This next match is another that Cilic could win, but few players were more impressive than FAA in round three. Spotting his opponent an entire match (Evans got a walkover), FAA somehow outworked him. Evans could be heard complaining that FAA was hitting “every spot”, and well, yes. Felix has lost to his own errors in the past, and when they don’t come, it leaves many players wondering Where’s Christmas? I don’t think there’s a lot to separate the levels of Cilic and FAA, but Felix seems to me like he’s a bit more likely to bring the exact same level of tennis to this one.

Watching Cilic warm up for the Rublev match he had very clear plans. He was hitting forehands crosscourt in practice until he could find one to go down the line with, so it was pretty clear that he was looking to negate his own movement issues against Rublev and escape those exchanges quick. The plan against FAA might not be as specific though, since Cilic has won their 3 previous meetings. His serve will get him a ton of points, and his aggressive returning will be a big plus, but this is an entirely different Felix than he played in the past. He’s not making errors, his backhand his very fluid at the moment and making clean contact, and he’s serving well. This makes this match a high-level shootout, which is the most fun thing to watch in tennis. I’m ready to anoint FAA as the heir apparent on tour, but these are the kinds of matches that he’ll need to win to get there. Winning the deciding sets in huge moments is what makes legends, so this is a great spot for both. Considering how well Cilic played Medvedev last time (up 2-0 at Wimbledon before gassing out), he’ll want to get there as well. FAA just seems like he’s playing at a higher level than Rublev at the moment, so I think he edges past here since his serve will be harder to go crazy on than Rublev’s. FAA in 5

Cressy vs Medvedev :

5 months ago if you asked me about Maxime Cressy I’d say he was a fun player to watch who could annoy the top guys but wasn’t really durable or serious enough to be a top player. The mark of a future tour stalwart is crushing the Challenger tour though, and that’s what he did. It’s pretty surprising though how he’s carried that over to the main tour almost effortlessly. Cressy is thumping aces with ease, not showing signs of fatigue, and his plan on return to just go for winners means his opponents never get in a good rhythm. It’s over now, but man it was a great run. Medvedev played Botic, who played out of his mind. Every time I see this dude play, I’m reminded that there really isn’t a hole in his game. Medvedev, though, is a monster. “Let’s go octopus” was heard from the crowd several times, as if this guy needs encouragement. His super deep return position means you can’t ace him, and he’s been standing back there for so long he’s starting to hit really accurate shots. Cressy will be able to win some cheap points with the serve and volley, and I think he can hold 75% of the time, but he’s also going to get passed from 85 yards away. Medvedev’s real edge in tennis is his serve. For a guy who’s a defensive specialist, he quietly thumps aces like a servebot, seeming to almost save his best for when he’s serving late in the match. I don’t know who can beat him, and he looks like he’s going to be very fresh for the later rounds. Medvedev in 3, 4 if Cressy steals the crowd for a little.

WTA Singles :
Barty vs Anisimova :

Ashleigh Barty keeps rolling. Giorgi made a few too many errors to really pressure the 1 seed, but if she had it’s possible and likely that Barty would have just elevated her game. There’s no hole in her game and she’s playing extremely well right now. The women’s draw is filled with solid players at this point, but Anisimova cleared out one of the biggest hurdles Barty was going to face. Osaka looked to be the better player in the first and with her serving/power, even the rust wouldn’t prevent from scaring Barty fans. Lack of matchplay is a tough thing to overcome though and Anisimova has been on a tear. She doesn’t temper her aggression and in the past few weeks when she finds her range she’s been somewhat unplayable. It’s a great win for the youngster, and this is not an unthinkable mountain to climb. Anisimova’s backhand is better than Barty’s slice, and that is the exchange she needs to make frequent if she wants to win here. It’ll be tough as well as Barty is serving to get into too many service games, but when Anisimova is in trouble the backhand slice will give her time to recover. Barty’s two-hander is fine, but when you have options, you make more errors, so peppering that wing is plan A. On the flipside, Amanda needs to serve well. Barty’s moving the ball effortlessly around the court, and Anisimova makes errors when you stretch her wide since she’s a bit of a tall person.

Pulling a major upset is often followed by a bit of a letdown. It’s easy to feel exultation at the victory and reaching new heights can always leave you feeling satisfied with any result the next round. Barty currently represents a really difficult challenge, and the only player so far who’s looked physically able to compete with her and sharp enough to do so is Badosa. A lot of people are playing well, but I think it’ll take something really special to rattle Barty playing at home. Barty in 2.

Sakkari vs Pegula :

I owe Sakkari an apology. I doubted her the last two rounds, and she’s shown good resolve in both matches. She hit big against Kudermetova and didn’t give up any errors at all. Kudermetova played sharp early, but seemed to injure her ribs at 3-1 with points for 4-1. After this, she didn’t win many games and seemed to lose her range. For a player who aims very near to the baseline, errors are a problem and Sakkari may have been the beneficiary of an injury, but she also may have earned that injury with her play. The fact remains that no one in this tournament is in better shape than Maria, and the Australian heat is no joke, as Cornet reminded us today in her post-match interview. Sakkari’s next match might be a long one, as Jessica Pegula has decided to play this even in pushmode. She still has the power to hit through the court, but she’s been content to hang just behind the baseline and keep the ball in play. It almost cost her the first set, as Nuria Parrizas-Diaz pushed her around the court and the two exchanged several breaks and several minibreaks in the ensuing tiebreak. In the second, Pegula pulled away, but this next match will not go well if she doesn’t get a bit more offensive minded.

Sakkari’s defense is worldclass, and the only knock on her in the past few seasons is that she hasn’t picked up a major title. Expectations always arrive before results, but there really isn’t too much stopping Sakkari from winning at any event she’s at. For this match, she has to be careful not to overexert herself trying to supply all the offense. The passive style Pegula is playing makes it tough to create winners, so Sakkari will want to stay in simple patterns until Pegula hits a short ball. The dropshot will be important, and though Sakkari can get a bit addicted to those, it’s a good plan against a slower opponent who’s playing deep. What the Sabalenka match reminded me is that players can rise to the occasion, so it wouldn’t be out of the question for Pegula to step things up here. Even if she does though, Sakkari is likely to have the deeper gastank and Pegula has struggled to land first serves this week. Sakkari in 2.

Azarenka vs Krejcikova :

I’m a bit unsure what to expect here from Krejcikova. She’s won her matches, but has had some patches where her timing looked off. It’s a steady rhythm of perfectly placed shots when she’s on, and that’s the level she’ll need to put a stop to Azarenka’s momentum. Vika only surrendered 2 games against Svitolina, and it’s the second match in a row where she rushed through the match. That kind of sprint in the early rounds denotes a player who has unfinished business somewhere later. It’s the same energy that Medvedev played with at the USO, and Azarenka is the player here who looks sharper. Reading too much into the Svitolina result would be a mistake though, because Svitolina has been off this whole month. She looks a step slower than usual, and her balance isn’t great when she’s stretched wide. On tour these players don’t really divulge what’s going on with their physical condition, because it’s bad for business. It doesn’t feel right to speculate on it either, because you’d at best be right, and at worst be spreading rumors. I feel nosy though. So very nosy. What’s up, Svitolina?

Anyway, if Krecikova plays well, her and Azarenka is dead even. If she has the slight lapses she has, she’ll lose in three. I don’t think Azarenka can bully Krej around the court the same way she did Svitolina, despite her sharp play, but it does appear that one of these players is near their peak while the other is hanging in there. Azarenka in 3.

Keys vs Badosa :

Wang wasn’t given much of a shot to beat Keys, but she hung in until she almost did. This was a match where Keys alternated between hitting clean winners with her backhand down the line, and missing by inches with her backhand down the line. It’s a scary shot and she hits it harder than most of the players on the men’s tour. The pop off her racquet is such an enjoyable sound and despite being error prone, this is as well as I’ve ever seen her play. Her serves are getting wide very well, and she’s moving quickly to the ball. Still, it looks like her play will hit a brick wall in the next round. Where Wang was looking to just make the next ball in against Madison’s onslaught, Kostyuk and Badosa traded huge shots from the baseline. Badosa was cruising until late in the second where Kostyuk caught fire. There’s no other way to describe it, and what’s so impressive is how unaffected Badosa was. From the very first rip Kostyuk took to the last, Badosa just moved to the ball and hit the next shot. Kostyuk got the second, and threatened in the third, but Badosa’s level remains steady and it will take a very voluminous offensive offering to beat her.

For Keys to dominate this matchup she needs to serve well. Her ballstriking is tremendous but it feeds right into Badosa’s ability to trade power from the baseline, and she’s the way more consistent player. Badosa’s serving is a lot better than Wang’s also, and Keys won’t be able to just batter away at her. Good chance for Badosa to continue her run here, but Key’s level may take some time to erode. Badosa in 3.

Collins vs Mertens :

There were two sneaky thieves in the 3rd round, and Collins was the sneakiest. Down a set and a break at 4-3, and generally looking miffed, Collins broke back. Instantly the pressure was on her opponent, and Tauson went down 0-40 serving to stay in the match. Collins has a way of yelling and firing herself up that seems almost directed at her opponent, and once she got momentum she was able to make every point seem like a huge deal. Overall, Tauson played better, but she went to Collins’ backhand a bit too much and that spelled trouble. Collins turns over her backhand really well and the spin takes you further off the court on each subsequent swing. Once Tauson’s first serve disappeared, Collins was also able to get her backhand on most serve returns and there aren’t too many players better than her and Kenin at hitting backhand winners from there. Still, Tauson hung tough, but serving second in the decider is a really big ask when you’re harboring thoughts about how the match could have been over already.

Mertens enjoyed a simple win against Zhang, and her ability to clear these hurdles against weaker players is refreshing. She wins when she’s supposed to. Now for the hard part, beating a top contender in good form. Mertens has traditionally come up a little short against the top tier. Collins beat herin straights in their last meeting, and that match against Tauson is likely to have her playing very sharp in this. I would say that Mertens will fare better, simply because she has more experience defending against this caliber of player than Tauson, but Collins’ retrieving was excellent today and she found a level late in the match that had not been there earlier in the week. This should be close, but Collins will be the slightly more aggressive player and it might pay off. Collins in 3.

Halep vs Cornet :

Simona Halep has spent like 12 minutes on court this week. After a quick win against Kovinic, I’m sure she enjoyed seeing Cornet battle it out with Zidansek for 2 hours and 43 minutes. This match mirrored the Collins/Tauson clash, with Zidansek up a set and a break at 4-3, and then losing 3 games in a row. The third was more lopsided than Tauson’s match, and it seemed like Zidansek ran out of offense and couldn’t string points together anymore. Cornet’s style, which is defensive and uses moonballs and slices to frustrate her opponents, is much easier to execute for long periods. It’s hard work, but the goal of keeping the ball in the court is on that’s simple to follow. Once Zidansek started missing, her lapses in play were all periods where Cornet thrived. Corney’s post-match interview was sweet, and she admitted to being very tired from the heat and thanked the crowd, thought she admitted “I don’t even know if you like French people” before thanking them for being there all the same. It was a lot nicer than she treated the umpire after catching a few code violation warnings, but winning makes everyone gracious.

Halep should roll here. Cornet is tired, and Halep is playing her best. The only slight hope for Cornet is that she leads the H2H 3-1; the problem is though that these matches were in 2015. Halep in 2.

Cirstea vs Swiatek :

Sorana Cirstea is having a good time. After going down an immediate break in the first, she found her range. The style of game she plays is high risk. She takes full swings and goes low over the net with a flat ball. If she’s inside the baseline, she’s very effective, and if she’s not, she misses. Tennis analysis always sounds generic to me because of the net. IF YOU HIT IT OVER THE NET, THAT’S GOOD! IF YOU’RE IN BAD POSITION, THAT’S BAD! It’s the bisector of results for most players though. Cirstea basically teed off on second serves and short balls and Pavlyuchenkova can’t outrun her pace. In the second, the roles reversed. Pavs started to find solid returns with her backhand, and Cirstea’s serve became ineffective. Unsurprisingly, she kept at it offensively, and it paid dividends as she got and early break and ran away with the third set. It might be the end of the road, but she will certainly pressure Swiatek’s defenses in the next match.

Swiatek played Kasatkina, and if you’ve never heard Darya roar then you missed some good ones. It felt a bit like a juniors match where both are trying to remain composed but really really want the shiny trophy. Swiatek can always find forehands to end rallies with though. On even terms Kasatkina can hang in there and win some of the exchanges and scrambles at net, but once Swiatek gets an extra second to set her feet her forehand just opens up the point. It frustrated Kasatkina,and despite breaking back in the second set the writing was on the wall and it appeared that she knew it. It’s a tough spot to know you’re going to lose, but you need those impossible spots and losses to improve your own game.

As well as Swiatek is playing, it’s hard to imagine her losing to Cirstea. Sorana is a great offensive talent but Swiatek is capable of putting a few extra balls back, and this has given Cirstea trouble in the past (one lopsided loss to Vondrousova stands out where Cirstea had control the entire match but couldn’t find her way out of points). Since Swiatek is very willing to trade at the baseline, Cirstea can earn some errors, but this feels like an inevitable win for Swiatek. Swiatek in 2.

Kanepi vs Sabalenka :

These two matches were very similar. Kanepi went down 2-0 in the first, and I thought “slow start, I’ll tune in later.” Checked back and it was 4-0. Inglis was moving the ball well, but Kanepi was spraying every other ball long. While this is concerning, seeing the ball well enough to be going for big shots is a decent sign, and Kanepi ran away with the second and third to get through to the fourth round. I’m not sure who would be happy to play her at this point, as she’s as fit as she’s ever been in her career and in a good rhythm off both wings. Sabalenka was her usual double-faulting self in the first, but she was swinging hard on the serve which proved to be a good plan. Vondrousova broke her multiple times to win the first, but by the second set she was mostly playing defense. Without balls to work with her timing went, and most of the rallies were Vondrousova scrambling and having to live with Sabalenka’s percentage being the deciding factor. In the third, it seemed inevitable that Sabalenka would win. She actually served well in the second half of this match, and the returns that came back were dealt with immediately. When Sabaleka is on, it’s unplayable.

It has to be a confidence boost for Sabalenka to see things work out, but this is not as easy of a match as the last one. Vondrousova defends well, and the plan was to outlast Sabalenka. A good plan, but one that gave Sabalenka control and let her find a rhythm. Kanepi is a player similar to Sabalenka, with less shape/spin on her ball but similar power. I think she’s a bit slower in the movement department but much more consistent. She also has a pretty effective serve, so where Vondrousova struggled to hold with the lead, Kanepi might be comfortable. This is a good match to gauge whether Sabalenka actually has a chance against Swiatek. If she’s able to bet Kanepi in straight sets, it means she played her best tennis from start to finish. If she has the same lapses she’s had every single match this year, she’ll wind up in a third set or be left in the third round. I’m not convinced that she’ll be able to execute with the weight of shot that Kanepi brings, and I think errors will cost her this match. The caveat to this is that the slow start Kanepi had against Inglis is not something she can afford here. Kanepi in 3.