As the first week concludes, several of the top seeds confront intriguing obstacles that range from two Czech lefties to a feisty Aussie and an elephantine American.

Safarova vs. Zvonareva:  Despite a dazzling start to 2011 in Hong Kong, the world #2 did not justify her elevated position in Sydney and her second-round victory in Melbourne.  Barely extricating herself from an early predicament against Jovanovski, Zvonareva looked tentative during rallies and erratic on her serve, which had donated 11 double faults to Pennetta a week before.  Like Stosur, she now faces a quirky Czech lefty with the ability to oscillate between Jekyll and Hyde more than once during a single match. When the sets (and players) grow tight, Zvonareva must remember to carpe the diem with penetrating groundstrokes rather than allowing Safarova to step inside the baseline.  If the Russian can keep the Czech off balance, though, the world #2’s distinctly superior footwork will reap rewards against a less technically precise opponent. 

Stosur vs. Kvitova:  Defusing the sporadically dangerous Dushevina in the second round, the fifth seed has lost just seven games during her first two matches.  Much more convincing in Melbourne than in her preliminary tournaments, Stosur now braces her serve and her nerves for a battle with the inflammable Kvitova that should test her lateral movement.  The Brisbane champion should alternate between hammering her forehand down the line and curling it cross-court to expose the Australian’s indifferent backhand, although the medium-speed surface will allow the world #6 to run around her weaker wing relatively often.  As explosive as the Czech lefty’s game are her emotions, which contrast with Stosur’s unruffled demeanor.  The home hope might chip away at Kvitova’s brittle façade if she can hold serve comfortably and unsettle her foe with confident returns.  Across the net, the former Wimbledon semifinalist must keep Stosur pinned behind the baseline rather than permitting her to exercise her scintillating forecourt skills.

Nadal vs. Tomic:  Showing a precocious maturity, the highly anticipated teenager outlasted the far more experienced Lopez in two tiebreaks a round ago.  The second straight Spanish lefty to confront Tomic, Nadal has surrendered just four games in the five sets through which he has cruised here, threatened more by focus lapses than by his lackluster victims.  Despite his lanky stature, the Aussie projects less power behind his serve than one would expect, so Rafa can construct rallies at his leisure without fearing a terminal first strike from his opponent.  While the home crowd on Rod Laver Arena will champion their future star vociferously, Tomic should approach this match as a valuable learning experience upon which he can build, measuring himself against the gold standard of the game.

Pennetta vs. Peer:  For the second straight major, the balanced styles of the Israeli and the Italian collide in an encounter that should feature more elongated rallies than the ball-bruising clashes sketched above.  Since neither Pennetta nor Peer possesses thunderous serves or the raw power to hit her opponent off the court, they must construct points with their symmetrical groundstrokes and meticulous movement.  The routine scoreline that unfolded in their US Open encounter cloaked the intrigue that heightened through several deuce games late in the first set, even more excruciating because both lacked the means to swiftly terminate the suspense.  While Jovanovski abruptly halted Pennetta’s momentum in the second round of Sydney, Safarova ambushed Peer in an epic Brisbane encounter during which this second Czech lefty saved a match point.  Who will banish those recent disappointments by extending their week into a fortnight?

Melzer vs. Baghdatis:  Among the key breakthrough performers of 2010, the veteran lefty defied the inexorable march of time to record victories over Djokovic and Nadal.  Those startling upsets elevated him within sight of a coveted penthouse in the top 10, which he could reach with a creditable result at the season’s first major.  Mustering his Melbourne magic to halt Del Potro’s comeback bid in four sets, Baghdatis has notched his most memorable successes on a high-bouncing surface seemingly hostile to his low, lasered groundstrokes.  Firmly lodged in his corner, however, are legions of full-throated Cypriots, whose exhortations to their compatriot may unnerve the easily flustered Melzer just as they once rattled Soderling.  But the contrast between the baseline-moored Baghdatis  and the net-rushing Austrian should provide an entertaining counterpoint pitting the conventional modern style against its ebbing predecessor.

Halep vs. Radwanska:  Upsetting the potent Kleybanova in the second round, the rising Romanian perhaps has begun to outshine her off-court notoriety with her on-court accomplishments.  A contrasting challenge awaits against Radwanska, whose distinctively nuanced style has unhinged so many of the WTA’s monochromatic baseliners.  Narrowly eluding Date in a suspenseful opener, the Pole brushed off the rust that had gathered on her game during an injury-enforced period of inactivity.  With no massive ball-strikers in her section, Radwanska has become an improbable favorite to reach her fourth Slam quarterfinal and second in Melbourne.

Dolgopolov vs. Tsonga:  Already scarred by a five-setter in the first round, the world #13 hopes to avoid a reprise of his Wimbledon meeting with the Ukrainian if he seeks to surge deep into the draw.  At the All England Club, Dolgopolov fearlessly rallied from a two-set deficit against Tsonga before prolonging the fifth set well into tennis overtime.  Battling not only his opponents but a draining health condition, this reckless ball-striker rarely sees a forehand that he doesn’t seek to obliterate.  Only slightly more subtle, the Frenchman allowed untimely errors to infuse a routine match against Seppi with unnecessary suspense.  If his focus waxes and wanes again, he might not escape Dolgopolov in straight sets and conserve crucial energy for later rounds. 

Isner vs. Cilic:  Two players with a handful of notable first-half accomplishments hope to erase an unimpressive second half with a victory that would impressive for either of them.  Undeterred by a one-set deficit against Stepanek, the towering American displayed not only his serving talent but patient optimism as he comfortably collected the next three sets.  Since Cilic can (almost) equal him from the service notch, breaks of serve in this match will resemble oases in a desert of nondescript holds and truncated exchanges.  Although both players possess mighty forehands, questionable technique undermines the consistency of those weapons.  A semifinalist in Melbourne last year, the Croat wallowed through a disappointing season thereafter but stirred occasional memories of his former self during a victory over the dangerous Giraldo.  Seemingly a calm, understated personality, Cilic will find his confidence tested by the stern challenge of breaking Isner’s serve.  The enormity of that task in turn will place pressure upon his own serve, especially if tiebreaks play a role, and further pressure flows from the rankings plunge that the Croat will suffer if he falls early here.  Will the American’s greater positivity overcome Cilic’s superior overall talent?

Petrova vs. Makarova:  Not content with an epic first-round victory over Ivanovic, the Russian lefty advanced less eventfully to the third round and now eyes a recently formidable but historically fallible compatriot.  After dropping their first two meetings in 2008, Makarova comfortably upset Petrova once in each of the past two seasons, conceding just three games in the last three sets that they have played.   These two volatile Russians share a tendency of erupting for remarkable triumphs while struggling to maintain their momentum throughout an entire week or fortnight.  Unlike the baseline juggernauts who largely populate the WTA, both Petrova and Makarova capitalize upon opportunities to approach the net even when a complicated volley awaits them.  Perhaps a product of their inconsistent technique, their rush to finish points inflates their winners and unforced error totals while preventing opponents from settling into a rhythm.  If Makarova can craft the clever angles with which she wearied Ivanovic, her fellow Russian might seethe with ill-concealed frustration.


As always, we welcome your suggestions for matches to preview, already having answered two of your requests.  During the second week, however, we generally share our thoughts on the vast majority of the contests that develop.