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On the lyrically entitled Lotus Court and Moon Court, eight opportunistic competitors have advanced to the quarterfinals at the WTA’s last significant event outside the year-end championships.  Not all stars glow with equal luminosity, though.  We organize them below from supernovas to Sevastovas.

Wozniacki:  Having swiped the #1 ranking from the world’s most famous manicurist, the Great Dane now has won 21 of her last 22 matches and 16 consecutive matches at non-majors.  Few players who can blunt her momentum remain in the draw, which includes none of the storied Slam champions against whom she typically struggles.  During her first two rounds, Wozniacki rebounded from a stomach complaint to dispatch the often tricky Errani and exact satisfying revenge from her Wimbledon conqueror, Kvitova.  Although the Dane fell to Ivanovic on the medium-speed hard courts of Melbourne two years ago, the Wozniacki of 2010 has evolved far beyond the Wozniacki of 2008 and will bring a much sturdier degree of self-belief to their encounter.  Having won her last five finals, the top seed displays none of the nerves that cripple so many of her rivals in championship matches.  Nevertheless, Wozniacki’s vaunted consistency has wobbled occasionally during her last two tournaments; in Tokyo, she escaped these lapses, but she couldn’t escape them in New York.  And how sharply will her motivation dwindle after capturing the top spot?  To her credit, Wozniacki seems more focused upon winning matches than wooing the computer, and the inevitable controversy over her rise to #1 won’t escalate to a maelstrom until after the event.

Zvonareva:  Probably a bit dazed from her US Open heroics, the most successful Russian of 2010 trudged to an uninspired exit in Tokyo last week.  Sturdier at this tournament, Zvonareva posted two tight wins over talented compatriots en route to a quarterfinal with Schiavone.  Although Safina remains far beneath her former heights, she had defeated Vera at prestigious events and thus posed the sort of psychological test that often has flustered the world #4.  After routing Petkovic for the second time in three tournaments, Zvonareva weathered the tenacious Kirilenko and displayed her best tennis in the match’s culminating stages, always an encouraging omen.  Her head-to-head record against the reigning Roland Garros champion looms at an intimidating 9-0, including five consecutive hard-court victories since early 2008.  (Oddly, they meet in the Chinese capital for the fourth time in just over two years; Schiavone has not won a set in the three previous Beijing meetings.)  In the semifinals, Zvonareva probably will clash with another of her victims during that bronze-medal run in the 2008 Olympics, Li Na.  Likely to prevail in that meeting, the second seed would seek to improve upon her dismal 2010 record in finals.  During four straight defeats in title tilts this year, Zvonareva has won five or fewer games on all of those occasions.

Li:  Vociferously exhorted by her compatriots, the flamboyant Chinese hope has shown few signs of the illness that forced her to withdraw from Tokyo.  Emphatic against the inflammable Kleybanova, Li has trampled upon her first three foes with the smooth relentlessness that characterizes her game at its best, a level that she reached during the Olympics two years ago here.  Implacable when focused, she should dismiss Sevastova’ pedestrian game as briskly as she dispatched the unheralded Kerber.  Considering the Chinese star’s shot-making talent and crisp ball-striking, one suspects that she could have won many more titles had injuries not derailed her at inopportune moments.  On the other hand, Li ultimately crumbled under the pressure of China’s expectations when she faced Zvonareva for the Olympic bronze medal.  If she faces the Russian again in parallel circumstances, those memories might return.  A Slam semifinalist this year, Li has yet to acquire a title as prestigious as her home tournament, but no player remains in the draw against whom she would find herself clearly overmatched.  Demoralizing at the time, her underwhelming summer may have positioned her for an explosive fall, since she enters these events fresher than her more renowned rivals.

Schiavone:  Following her spine-tingling Roland Garros fortnight, most commentators sensed that the Italian would spend the rest of her season in contented contemplation of her unexpected prize.  The feisty Schiavone confounded expectations again, however, by reaching three consecutive quarterfinals at the prestigious events in New York, Tokyo, and Beijing.  Overcoming talented Slovenian youngster Polona Hercog with ease, she rallied from a one-set deficit against fellow veteran and doubles expert Dushevina.  Despite her history of futility against Zvonareva, Schiavone probably enters their quarterfinal with greater motivation, incited by the goal of finishing a season in the top 10 for the first time.  Away from clay, the Roland Garros champion must rely upon an especially advantageous draw in order to win an elite tournament.  That said, the draw here has settled into a relatively benign condition after a fusillade of early upsets; last fall, Schiavone claimed the Kremlin Cup in a similarly opportunistic manner.  If the Italian can circumvent Zvonareva, she might ultimately find herself in another final, a situation where she has flourished as much as the Russian has floundered.

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Ivanovic:  Avenging two 2010 losses to Bartoli in the first round, the sensuous Serb has advanced to the quarterfinals without dropping a set.  Although her serving percentage has lagged below optimal levels, Ivanovic has dominated behind her first serve and unleashed forehands reminiscent of her 2008 glory.  Most importantly, Ana rediscovered her inner resolve when she captured two tiebreaks from Tokyo finalist Dementieva, a round after she erased a substantial second-set deficit against Govortsova.  Reversing a trend that characterized her slump, the former Roland Garros champion delivered her most impressive tennis at the most critical moments, including two aces in the match-ending tiebreak and a bold backhand winner on match point.  With no rankings points to defend this fall, Ivanovic has capitalized upon the opportunity to inch up the rankings in preparation for a 2011 return to relevance.  While she has won both of her previous meetings with Wozniacki, those matches occurred at the zenith of the Serb’s ascendancy in early 2008.  She should enter their quarterfinal free from pressure or expectations, allowing those factors to settle squarely upon the shoulders of the newly crowned #1.  At the US Open, however, Ivanovic proved emotionally unable to summon that insouciant attitude against the defending champion.  Having not captured a tournament since 2008, Ana remains far from reaffirming her status as an elite title contender.

Peer:  Experiencing a modest revival in 2010, the steely Israeli has delivered perhaps the most commanding performance of the tournament, during which she has surrendered more than two games in just one of the six sets that she has played.  Upon closer analysis, though, these lopsided scorelines may speak as much to the quality of her opposition as to her own brilliance.  Dispatching a Chinese wildcard in the first round and Serbian qualifier Jovanovski in the third round, Peer confronted only one foe with any experience on this stage, the seemingly ageless Schiavone.  Nevertheless, the road doesn’t become much more arduous in the quarterfinals, where another Swiss player lies ahead.  If Peer advances to a potential semifinal with Wozniacki, she should gain confidence from her victory over the Dane in Dubai, the tournament that triggered her renaissance.  But the newly minted #1 presents a much more imposing challenge now than she did in February.  Even in the area of her greatest strength, consistency, Peer can’t equal Wozniacki unless the latter’s breathless schedule exerts a toll upon her physical and mental reserves.

Bacsinszky:  Even dedicated fans know little about the wide-eyed Swiss upstart, who profited from a recurrence of Azarenka’s leg injury after barely edging Tokyo sensation Julia Goerges in a third-set tiebreak.  Presented by Vika with a second life, Bacsinszky capitalized with aplomb by ousting Sharapova-killer Vesnina in a much more comfortable affair.  Against Peer, she won’t find herself regularly overpowered or outmaneuvered, yet her inexperience and impetuosity probably will play into the Israeli’s hands.  While the WTA has unveiled numerous surprises throughout the year, the Beijing Premier Mandatory title seems even more remote from a player of Bacsinszky’s status than did the Madrid Premier Mandatory title from Rezai.

Sevastova:  A game away from defeat in her opener against Stosur, the Latvian somehow broke the Australian’s formidable serve on two straight occasions to record her third notable upset of the season.  On the similarly medium-speed hard courts in Indian Wells and Monterey, Sevastova downed first Ivanovic and then Jankovic in losses that seemed to illustrate the struggles of the Serbs more than her own talents.  Sharing a passport with Gulbis, she has crafted a vastly divergent game from Ernests that relies upon paceless, soporific groundstrokes to lull opponents into febrile errors.  Following a surprising three-set win over Cibulkova, Sevastova received a walkover from Petrova, who probably would have ended her run.  We expect Li Na to prove less accommodating than the Russian.

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Look for further astronomical observations from the Chinese capital in the days ahead!

 

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