While Ivanovic gazes languorously into a future beyond the Australian Open, we remain firmly in the present and bring you the six most compelling encounters of Day 4.  Can these twelve players fill the void left by the absence of Ana?

Petrova vs. Molik:  Pitting the 2010 quarterfinalist against a comeback-minded Aussie, this encounter should feature a combination of heavy serving and adept net play.  Whereas Molik relies almost exclusively on her forehand, Petrova derives greater power and consistency from her backhand.  If she can target the Aussie’s weakness, the Russian will control the overwhelming majority of the rallies.  Molik will not gain an equally immense advantage if she targets Petrova’s forehand, though, for that less reliable wing still can explode with unpredictable winners.  Not inclined to defend from behind the baseline, both players will seek to capitalize upon their first serve and truncate rallies by moving forward at the earliest opportunity.

Del Potro vs. Baghdatis:  As memories of his US Open title recede, the gentle Argentine represents the single greatest uncertainty in the ATP season.  His reclamation project began inauspiciously last fall and grew only slightly more ominous in Brisbane with a victory over Lopez.  Seeking to rediscover the rhythm on his groundstrokes, Del Potro found an ideal opponent in his opener against Dudi Sela, a consistent ball-striker who extended him into rallies without outhitting him from the baseline.  A finalist in Melbourne five long years ago, Baghdatis collaborated with Hewitt on the latest Slam finish in Open era history here.  In the night session once again, he may well extend that record in a match contested almost entirely from the baseline and littered with flat groundstrokes that skim dangerously low to the net.  Will the Argentine’s superior serve or the Cypriot’s improved fitness prove the greater weapon?

Jankovic vs. Peng:  After Li and Zheng flourished the Chinese flag at the 2010 Australian Open, Peng hopes to follow in their footsteps by building upon consecutive semifinal appearance in Auckland and Hobart.  Conquering the dangerous Kateryna Bondarenko in the first round, her double-fisted forehand created angles reminiscent of Bartoli during her New Zealand upset over Kuznetsova.  Although Jankovic dominated their first six meetings, Peng upset the Serb at the Beijing tournament in 2009, where she also overcame Sharapova.  Solid early and erratic late in her opening victory over Kudryavtseva, the seventh seed will find her renowned movement tested if she resorts exclusively to counterpunching rather than seizing the initiative in rallies.

Tomic vs. Lopez:  Spearheading the future of Australian men’s tennis, the precocious teenager shoulders the hopes of a nation already impatient despite a Slam drought far shorter than the British counterpart.  In addition to that source of pressure, Tomic must navigate around the publicity generated by his controversial father, an enigmatic presence at best.  Nevertheless, the home hope impressed with a comfortable victory over Chardy in his opener and nearly upset eventual semifinalist Cilic early in last year’s tournament.  A less imposing foe than the Croat, Lopez will confront Tomic with serve-and-volley tactics that the teenager rarely will have encountered among his peers.  The Australian will have demonstrated his maturity if he can adjust to the lefty’s arrhythmic style, which has flustered even Federer before.

Jovanovski vs. Zvonareva:  A surprise semifinalist in Sydney, the third-ranked Serbian woman stunned the top-30 trio of Kanepi, Rezai, and Pennetta.  At the same tournament, Zvonareva slumped to an early exit amidst 11 double faults; these serving struggles trickled slightly into an otherwise emphatic start to her Melbourne campaign.  While Jovanovski’s good fortune almost certainly ends here, the experience of playing in the vast expanse of Hisense Arena will benefit her maturation process, and spectators can glimpse a potential star still on the horizon.

Soderling vs. Muller:  Never having reached the third round of the Australian Open, the Swede hopes to rectify that alarming statistic against a former US Open quarterfinalist.  Outside that one splendid fortnight, the top-ranked player from Luxembourg has accomplished little of significance in a career clouded by injury.  On the other hand, Soderling struggled mightily against the net-rushing lefty Llodra at the Paris Indoors, saving three match points before snatching a final-set tiebreak.  Almost impeccable against Starace in the first round, the Swede might drop a set here but surely not three.


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