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Seeking her first career quarterfinal at the US Open, Ivanovic confronts the US Open’s defending champion and one of the two or three favorites to seize this year’s title.  Despite a hip injury incurred at the Rogers Cup, Clijsters largely has returned during her first three rounds to the form that carried her to the Cincinnati title.  Nevertheless, Ana has inspired her legions of ardent fans with confidence after an impressive first week that included two bagels, thirteen total games lost, and satisfying revenge against 2008 nemesis Zheng.  At the core of her revival has been her reinvigorated serve, which delivered for her at crucial moments in a tight first set with third-round opponent Razzano.  Still a less potent weapon than her forehand, Ivanovic’s two-handed backhand also has crackled through the court with more force than usual during the past week.  Entering this encounter as a significant underdog, the Serb may prefer the quiet morning atmosphere of the match’s morning slot to the intense environment of a night session.  In order to conquer the two-time US Open champion, she must maintain a high first-serve percentage and brace herself for hitting a ball or two more than she normally would expect.  While we might have advised her to throw discretion to the winds earlier this summer, her fitness clearly has improved in recent months and will allow her to stay in longer exchanges, awaiting an ideal opportunity.  That said, Ivanovic’s superior first-strike potential represents her principal advantage, and she should take risks on both her serve and her second-serve return; throughout this comeback, Clijsters has faltered on her serve more often than in her “first career.”  Like her compatriot Henin, Kim can be easily disheartened when her delivery deserts her, or when opponents fearlessly punish it.  Despite the Belgian’s generally authoritative display in the first week, she has fallen prey to early lapses in her last two victories, so Ana must be alert to exploit early opportunities.  On the fast courts of New York, though, Clijsters’ symmetrical groundstroke game and seamless lateral movement will be favored to overcome the Serb’s less balanced style.  Unless Ana can serve with precision and variety, venture frequently into the forecourt, and unleash her forehand without surrendering too much court positioning, she will find the task before her imposing indeed.

Youzhny vs. Isner

A year ago on Arthur Ashe Stadium, Isner scored a stirring five-set victory over Roddick in the third round, which catapulted him into the awareness of champion-starved American fans.  During 2010, he has vied with occasional doubles partner Querrey for the title of this nation’s next hope, but strained ankle ligaments may forestall a deep run here.  ­­Extended to four sets against Federer’s compatriot Marco Chiudinelli, Isner struggled somewhat with his movement despite continuing to deliver his now-legendary serves.  Awaiting him under the lights is a versatile, stylish opponent who frustrated him during the Rogers Cup last year.  Fluid and crafty from anywhere on the court, Youzhny will seek to stretch Isner along the baseline with artfully angled groundstrokes.  Yet the immense disparity between their serves may create too much pressure for the easily pressurized Russian, once infamous for cracking his cranium with his own racket.  Isner likely will unleash some massive swings on his return, so Youzhny will want to maximize his first-serve percentage rather than exposing his second delivery.  Among other effective ploys would be his biting backhand slice, always useful against the ATP’s giants, and hitting behind the American to test his ligaments by forcing him to reverse direction.  If Isner can serve his way into tiebreaks, though, the vociferous New York crowd and his superior competitive mentality should (literally) serve him well.

Stosur vs. Dementieva

Veterans who have recently struggled with significant injuries, the Australian and the Russian suffered similarly bitter disappointments at Roland Garros this summer.  While Dementieva missed Wimbledon with a sore leg, Stosur battled a mysterious shoulder injury during the US Open Series; both of these injuries afflicted each woman’s respective strengths, movement and serve.  Historically more successful at the US Open, the Russian appears further along the road to recovery than the Australian after a semifinal appearance in New Haven and three sturdy victories here.  A tiebreak from defeat in her opener, Stosur has reached the second week here for the first time and successfully negotiated the sporadically formidable Errani.  Offering a dramatic contrast in styles, the Russian relies upon consistency, fitness, and movement to wear down opponents with a war of attrition, whereas the Australian relies heavily upon her serve and forehand to curtail rallies.  (Her brisk, businesslike personality likewise diverges from Elena’s fatalistic melancholy.)  In their four hard-court meetings, Dementieva has dropped just a single set, but two of those wins occurred well before Stosur’s unexpected renaissance.  Similar to their three-set Rogers Cup duel last year, a competitive encounter should develop with intelligently constructed rallies and crisply struck forehands.   Stosur should find her way to the forecourt as often as possible, and Dementieva should expose her opponent’s backhand with her much more penetrating two-hander.

Schiavone vs. Pavyluchenkova

After capturing the 2010 Roland Garros title, Schiavone effectively took a well-earned summer sabbatical that many observers (ourselves included) suspected might continue for the rest of her career.  Instead, the charismatic Italian sprang into the second week of the Open for the second straight year, dazzling New Yorkers with an expertly executed rendition of Federer’s between-the-legs stab.  Lean and lithe, Schiavone competes better than most of her younger colleagues but will find herself sternly tested by the former junior #1’s groundstroke arsenal.  A semifinalist in Cincinnati, Pavlyuchenkova has won sets from Sharapova and Kuznetsova over the past few weeks and thoroughly mauled the dangerous Dulko in the third round.  Despite her recent accomplishments, however, double faults chronically surface in her game at inopportune moments, a flaw that the Russian must address before fulfilling her potential.  No stranger to double faults herself, Schiavone succumbed to Pavlyuchenkova in Miami this year on a slower hard court and theoretically would be at an even greater disadvantage on the fast courts of the Open.  (Venus surely will be cheering silently for the Italian, against whom she is 7-0, rather than the Russian, who defeated her twice last fall.)

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Querrey vs. Almagro

The other American tower of power, Querrey has won more titles this year than anyone in the ATP except Nadal but continues to await a breakthrough at the Slams, where he has yet to reach a quarterfinal.  After a second-week run at Wimbledon, he seeks to consolidate that momentum with a noteworthy result in his home major.  Arguably more dangerous on hard courts than other surfaces, Almagro possesses one of the most electric one-handed backhands in the sport, albeit not one of the most consistent.  Sometimes more oriented around style than substance, the Spaniard can showcase sensational shot-making in equal measure with perplexing errors; this erratic tendency thus far has prevented him from capitalizing upon his impressive talents.  Far from flamboyant, the understated Querrey often attracts criticism for his lackadaisical attitude, yet his straightforward style has allowed him to outlast many flashier players.  In the fox-hedgehog analogy, Almagro is the fox who does many small things well, while Querrey is the hedgehog who does one or two big things well.  Fortunately for viewers, the fickle gods of tennis oscillate in their favors between both varieties of players.

Nalbandian vs. Verdasco

After missing all three of the year’s previous majors, the Grouchy Gaucho nearly exited New York in his opener, when he trailed the anonymous Rik de Voest by a break in the fifth set.  Having escaped that predicament, Nalbandian stifled Serra in the second round with a groundstroke barrage that recalled his enlivening performances during the US Open Series.  Against the Washington champion stands another survivor of a five-set opener, a Spaniard as dangerous on hard courts as on clay and armed with one of the ATP’s fiercest forehands.  Although commentators long have criticized Nalbandian for his lack of fitness in the best-of-five format, Verdasco may not possess a significant edge in this area after his draining first-half schedule.  Whereas Nadal’s compatriot enjoys the superior serve, the Argentine possesses a far superior backhand and more symmetrical groundstrokes that should exploit the slick surface.  Curiously, Verdasco’s left-handedness sets up cross-court rallies between his forehand and Nalbandian’s two-hander, creating a strength-to-strength, weakness-to-weakness scenario.  In contrast to the sixth seed’s vertically oriented groundstrokes, the 31st seed favors audacious angle construction that lure opponents far from their comfort zone.  If Nalbandian can blunt Verdasco’s serve and elongate the rallies, he might well record a minor upset here.

***

As the year’s final major enters its second week with accelerating drama, we hope to witness a surprise happy ending in the next episode of Ana’s Adventures.  Ajde!

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