Vera Zvonareva - Sony Ericsson Open

Radwanska vs. Zvonareva:  Despite their crowded schedules over the last several years, they have met on only one prior occasion, a 2007 meeting that the Russian routinely collected.  Since both players have developed so substantially since that moment, the outcome bears little relevance to Wednesday’s collision.  While Radwanska has spared no efforts in amplifying her meager serve and developing a more penetrating backhand, Zvonareva finally has learned how to channel her emotions in a positive direction—at least more often than not.  The third and ninth seeds have traced contrasting routes to this stage, for the former twice has rallied from one-set deficits whereas the latter remains the only player who has not lost a set in the tournament.  Bageling both Kirilenko and Schiavone, Radwanska cruised past two opponents who have troubled her before.  But Zvonareva defused arguably more challenging opponents in Safina and Bartoli, finishing both of those matches in resounding fashion by sweeping the last four games of the final sets.  A few degrees less than bulletproof on her serve, however, she may offer the Pole an opportunity if a break-riddled encounter evolves.  On the other hand, Zvonareva enjoys both the power to outhit Radwanska from the baseline and the tactical poise to outmaneuver her.  Unless her technique deserts her, she also possesses too much consistency to donate the unforced errors upon which the Pole feasts against opponents who engage in risker gambits.  Perhaps Radwanska can gain a mental advantage if her canny drop shots can lure Zvonareva forwards from her baseline comfort zone towards the net, where the ninth seed excels.  Otherwise, she lacks an edge over the world #3 in any of the game’s physical components and will struggle to find loopholes in one of the WTA’s most complete players. 

Azarenka vs. Clijsters:  Twice erasing first-set setbacks like Zvonareva, the 2009 champion doggedly battled past two of her generation’s most resilient competitors in Cibulkova and Pavlyuchenkova.  Also dragged into third sets during her last two matches, Clijsters must count herself fortunate to have survived five match points in a fraught duel with Ivanovic that extended into Tuesday evening.  Amidst 11 double faults and 22 break points, the Belgian carved (or rather hacked) her path to victory by the narrowest of margins and cannot depend upon the pugnacious Azarenka to let her escape from a similar quagmire.  But nor can Vika expect Kim to conveniently falter as did Cibulkova when she led the Belarussian by a set and a break.  Should her questionable shoulder have survived Tuesday’s exertions intact, Clijsters may enter their clash relaxed by her brush with disaster and finally free from the tension that has beset her throughout much of the tournament.  In order to disrupt Kim’s title defense, the preceding champion must steel herself to preserve her patience and concentration in adversity more effectively than she did against Clijsters here a year ago.  Then, Azarenka competed resolutely through a series of repeated breaks before surrendering the first set with a few untimely errors—which she allowed to poison her mind thereafter and lead to a second-set bagel.  Not for many months has she conquered a player of the Belgian’s level at an event of this magnitude, so a victory could signal a significant breakthrough.  The steadier player of the two this week, Azarenka should place herself in position to issue that signal if she can master the moment more maturely than in the past. 

Ferrer vs. Fish:  A tribute to his improved fitness, the American’s unexpected victory over Del Potro edged him within one win of becoming his nation’s top-ranked man for the first time in his career.  On a humid Miami morning, Fish moved fluidly through the thick air and stayed in rallies longer than he could have a year ago.  Delivering crucial free points for him was his versatile first serve, which struck all four corners of the box.  In order to stifle one of the ATP’s finest returners, Fish will need that shot to prevent Ferrer from sinking his teeth into too many rallies.  Armed with balanced, consistent groundstrokes from both wings, the world #6 will outmaneuver and outlast the American once extended exchanges develop.  Even the less trim version of Fish has troubled Ferrer in the past, however, defeating him at the 2007 Australian Open and winning sets from him on earlier occasions.  Despite not intersecting for more than three years, these two veterans still possess essentially the same weapons that they have in the past, although both have honed those weapons in the intervening time.  Buoyed by the home crowd as well as the stirring victory over Del Potro, Fish should test Ferrer much more vigorously than his previous, less powerful opponents.  Among the most intriguing elements of the match is the potential duel between the Spaniard’s inside-out forehand and the American’s down-the-line backhand, two of their most reliable strokes.  If Fish can track down the former shot with sufficient time to redirect him, he could fluster Ferrer by transitioning into offense from a neutral position.  Although he will cast himself as the counterpuncher for most of the match, meanwhile, the Spaniard should not neglect the opportunity to finish points when he can.  Opponents cannot permit a player infused with as much momentum as Fish to constantly dictate rallies, for he may well strike his targets once too often. 

Anderson vs. Djokovic:  Having doled out various types of pastries from a fully functioning bakery over the past few weeks, the last remaining undefeated player in 2011 has broken opponents more often than they have held while not dropping his own serve throughout the tournament so far.  Such a recipe results in a championship more often than not, but Djokovic first must blunt the serving might of a relatively unheralded ATP giant.  Capitalizing upon a vacuum in his section of the draw, Anderson has navigated through an area once populated by Murray and Verdasco.  A champion in Johannesburg earlier this season, he complements his serve with a creditable inside-in forehand and serviceable touch at the net.  Beyond his massive delivery, however, Anderson will find his offensive potential thoroughly contained by the Serb’s lithe movement and explosive counterpunching.  Moreover, once Djokovic takes command of a rally, the South African probably cannot recover from a defensive position because his gangly limbs will hamper his movement.  Likely to hold serve more regularly than most of the second seed’s previous victims, Anderson must hope to stay within range early and hope that his opponent grows frustrated by his inability to dominate as comprehensively as in the resounding triumphs to which he has become accustomed.  Considering Djokovic’s current confidence in every element of his game, however, such a hope looks slim indeed.  

Novak Djokovic - Sony Ericsson Open