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The 2010 version of Melanie Oudin, Cibulkova remains the only unseeded player in either US Open draw after an astonishing upset over 2004 champion Kuznetsova.  Despite her diminutive stature, the charming Slovak displayed impressive ball-striking authority in that match and often outhit the more powerful Kuznetsova from the baseline.  Relying upon her low center of gravity to absorb an opponent’s pace, Cibulkova now confronts the most promising member of her generation.  Yet perhaps Wozniacki already has graduated from “next” to “now” by scoring her first win over a former #1 in the previous round; three more victories will not only secure the Pole-Dane a maiden major but assure her the #1 ranking.  Even while suffering back issues two weeks ago in New Haven, Wozniacki eased past Cibulkova to extend a streak in which she has won seven consecutive sets from the Slovak.  The tournament’s surprise story has defeated the top seed only once and has won two or fewer games in four of the last six sets that they have played.  An indifferent server and modest returner, Cibulkova lacks sufficient shot-making audacity to challenge an opponent whose consistency can match hers.  Unless Wozniacki experiences a post-Sharapova hangover or experiences an untimely injury, one can’t imagine that anything other than a routine straight-sets win will unfold.  Whereas she played her more comfortable role of counterpuncher against Maria, though, she will need to assume the less familiar role of aggressor in order to progress efficiently here.  Since the world #2 shouldn’t be seriously threatened, we hope to see her take a few more risks in preparation for sterner challenges ahead.

Kanepi vs. Zvonareva:

When this season began, only the most brilliant fortunetellers could have predicted that these two players together would reach more Slam quarterfinals than Clijsters, Henin, and Sharapova combined.  After Wickmayer crammed a bagel down the Estonian’s throat in the fourth round, she displayed unexpected tenacity by edging through a tight second set before cruising through the decider.  Having squandered six match points against Kvitova in her Wimbledon quarterfinal, she will be eager to erase that disappointment in the final eight at the Open.  Across the net stands the All England Club finalist, who delivered a powerful statement of intent in a crushing rout of up-and-comer Andrea Petkovic on the same court that she departed in a tearful fury last year.  Blossoming just when her countrywomen are wilting, Zvonareva recently has found the balance between patience and aggression on these fast courts, which suit her balanced groundstrokes.  The Russian has coped expertly with the added expectations fostered by her Wimbledon exploits after desultory weeks in San Diego and Cincinnati.  While Kanepi possesses a much more potent serve and first-strike power, Zvonareva has honed crisper technique; moreover, she showcased an intelligent sense of court positioning and point construction during her earlier matches.  Formerly known for her negativity, she demonstrated confidence by pumping her fist to celebrate especially sparkling winners.  Perhaps the only significant cause for concern was her struggle to close out Petkovic despite a massive lead, which led her to drift into passivity during the last two games.  If the match stays close late in sets, we’ll be intrigued to observe whether she stays aggressive or retreats both physically and mentally.

Monfils vs. Djokovic:

Seeking a fourth consecutive US Open semifinal, the third seed historically has played his best Slam tennis in the city that most suits his ebullient personality.  During convincing victories over Blake and Fish, his game elevated several notches above his pedestrian performances in the first two rounds.  Yet the alignment between personality and venue also could describe the flamboyant Monfils, who has carved a career out of mind-boggling athleticism and mind-numbing gaffes.  More fabulous than feckless in New York so far, the Frenchman revealed a bit more sensibility and poise in a well-crafted win over his equally fabulous and feckless compatriot Gasquet.  Recognizing his foe’s mental frailties, Monfils played the scoreline adroitly and raised his focus for the most critical points, not a trait typically associated with this enigmatic competitor.  The slick surface notwithstanding, both players cover the court with exceptional ease, likely leading to more elongated rallies than one normally sees at the US Open.  Monfils and Djokovic also share a taste for unleashing massive forehands at opportune and maybe less opportune moments, so their crisp movement will be mingled with startling shot-making off their stronger sides.  Although the Serb doesn’t attempt outright winners as frequently off his backhand, his two-hander comprises more of a weapon than the Frenchman’s; he might consider forcing his opponent into his forehand corner in order to open up the backhand side.  Steadily enhancing his net skills, Djokovic should attempt to curtail the rallies with forays into the forecourt, but he must venture there only behind a compelling approach, for Monfils can uncork some improbable passing shots.  If the match becomes a battle of attrition with marathon baseline exchanges, the third seed’s ever-suspect fitness might waver under the afternoon sun.  Nevertheless, Djokovic should rely upon his greater experience in the latter rounds of majors to prevail over his less motivated challenger.

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Soderling vs. Federer:

Reprising his memorable quarterfinal with Federer from a year ago, Soderling hopes to recapitulate his Roland Garros upset of the GOAT, which snapped the latter’s record-breaking Slam semifinal streak.  On the other hand, the Swiss legend fancies the beginning of a new streak here with a bit of revenge served as a garnish. Once feasting on ball-bludgeoning baseliners with limited versatility, Federer has found himself the hunter rather than the hunted in recent meetings with Del Potro, Berdych, and Soderling.  With the addition of coach Paul Annacone, however, he has begun to answer their aggression with aggression of his own, attacking his backhand more vigorously and exploiting opportunities to approach the net more frequently.  Through his first four rounds, he hasn’t dropped a set and has been dragged into only one tiebreak.  Somewhat more tested during the first week, Soderling watched a two-set lead evaporate in his opener and required four sets to pulverize Spanish jackrabbit Montanes; on the other hand, his annihilations of Dent and De Bakker equaled anything that Federer has produced so far.  In last year’s quarterfinal, the Swede dug himself an immense early hole with unfocused, diffident play through the first set and a half.  By the time that his artillery found its range, the five-time champion had settled too far into his comfort zone to be greatly disturbed by his opponent’s late charge, although Soderling did battle his way within a point of a fifth set.  Should he deliver the same brand of tennis that he showcased in the third and fourth sets of the 2009 quarterfinal, the 2010 quarterfinal will become a classic to remember.  Facing the sport’s greatest player under the intense lights of Arthur Ashe, though, will he control his nerves and his inflammable temper to measure his groundstrokes with the necessary precision and control?  For that matter, will Federer experience any uncertainty as he faces a recent Slam nemesis?  The mental dimension should be as intriguing as the physical dimension in this collision, which says quite a bit considering the savage thunderbolts and stylish ripostes with which the sledgehammer Swede and the stylish Swiss dazzle their audiences.

***

After Day 10, just ten players will remain in the 2010 US Open..  Who will survive to live another day, and who will ponder wistfully what might have been?

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