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Novak Djokovic - Western & Southern Open - Day 7

First quarter:  On the top line of a Slam draw for the first time in his career, Djokovic should not test his ailing shoulder significantly against his first two opponents.  Not until the third round does the path become intriguing for the Serb, who then would face Nadal’s recent nemesis Ivan Dodig.  Of Djokovic’s seven victims in Australia, only Dodig claimed a set from him.  Also wedged into this section is former semifinalist Davydenko, a recurrent threat to Djokovic on hard courts although lately struggling to string together compelling performances.  As the second week begins, a pair of graceful, spectacular, and spectacularly erratic shot-makers in Dolgopolov and Gasquet will vie for the right to battle the top seed.  The towering serve of Karlovic and a revitalized Gonzalez might disrupt the Frenchman’s progress with styles perhaps better suited to the fast courts of New York.  But none of these competitors possesses the versatility, athleticism, and mental durability of the Djokovic who has burst to the pinnacle of the ATP in 2011.  Nor, most likely, do his most plausible quarterfinal opponents.  For the third consecutive North American tournament, Djokovic might meet Monfils in an entertaining quarterfinal.  When they collided her last year, however, the latter’s showmanship produced sporadic moments of brilliance rather than a competitive encounter.  His confidence boosted by a Cincinnati victory over Federer, Berdych could block Monfils in the fourth round.  Almost the opposite of the Frenchman in playing style and personality, the 2010 Wimbledon finalist could not challenge Djokovic in Australia and has dropped their last five meetings.  Among the dark horses in this section is Grigor Dimitrov, who delivered a promising effort against Tsonga at Wimbledon and could ambush a desultory Monfils in his opener.

Quarterfinal:  Djokovic d. Berdych

Second quarter:  Having knocked off Ljubicic in the first round of last year’s Open, rising American star Ryan Harrison aims to repeat the feat against another Croat, 2009 quarterfinalist Cilic.  If Harrison should score the mini-upset, a battle between future ATP champions could unfold when he duels with leading Australian hope Bernard Tomic.  Turning heads with his Wimbledon quarterfinal appearance, the Aussie shares the American’s competitive determination, which would serve either of them well against Federer.   Like Djokovic, the five-time champion should collide with no genuine threats in his first two matches and might well reach the quarterfinals without dropping a set.  No longer able to blaze through draws with sustained dominance, Federer could profit from the opportunity to gradually refine his shots as the tournament progresses.  In a similar situation with a comfortable Wimbledon draw, though, he lacked the necessary intensity to withstand Tsonga’s inspired charge when the competition suddenly spiked upward dramatically.  Aligned to meet Stepanek, Troicki, or perhaps Kohlschreiber in the fourth round, the Swiss legend would face a corresponding challenge at the US Open when he meets Tsonga or Fish a round later.  Lurking ominously near the top-ranked American is Thiemo De Bakker, a tall Dutchman with the overpowering serve-forehand combinations that could trouble even the elite on this fast surface.  As for Tsonga, the American’s projected fourth-round opponent, a host of neighboring qualifiers and the fading Verdasco.  The Spaniard did topple Federer’s recent conqueror during his sensational semifinal run at the 2009 Australian Open, but a rematch of this year’s Wimbledon quarterfinal looks likely.  Can Federer solve a foe who has lost serve just twice in their last eight sets?

Quarterfinal:  Tsonga d. Federer

Third quarter:  In his return to the scene of his greatest triumph, Del Potro hopes to reclaim his scintillating spring form and move past the disappointing US Open Series.  Already having defeated Soderling twice this year, the 2009 champion should reprise that meeting early in the second week.  Before that stage, the indefatigable Simon will probe Del Potro’s consistency and fitness by extending the Argentine deep into rallies.  Of the three Americans situated between the Argentine and the Swede, Alex Bogomolov has earned the greatest attention by catapulting from a Miami upset of Murray to reach his highest ranking to date.  Likely unimpressed by this counterpunching upstart, Soderling has not played on hard courts this summer and may open the tournament a few notches below his impenetrable self.  In fact, the two-time Roland Garros finalist has spent much of 2011 located between stagnation and regression as increasing numbers of opponents have exposed his one-dimensionality.  On the day that Soderling meets Del Potro, Murray might seek revenge for his loss to Wawrinka at last year’s Open.  The Swiss #2 chronically displayed skills that shine on any surface, but the Cincinnati title should have boosted the Scot’s confidence before his (alleged) favorite major.  Late in the first week, he might once again test his mother’s loyalties when he faces Wimbledon quarterfinalist Feliciano Lopez, routinely dispatched by Murray at the All England Club.  Navigating past Del Potro in a four-set quarterfinal three years ago, the third seed typically struggles against the type of opponent who can terminate points without warning from either groundstroke wing.  Nevertheless, the 2009 champion has not yet toppled one of the ATP’s top four since returning from wrist surgery, still searching for the effortless explosiveness that won him this title.

Quarterfinal:  Murray d. Del Potro

Fourth quarter:  Slipping outside the top 20 for the first time in a decade, Roddick could not have asked for a kinder draw at his home major, which he departed in the second round last year.  Ample talent but scant willpower looms to threaten the 2003 champion in the form of Winston-Salem finalist Benneteau or new top-10 inhabitant Almagro.  Hampered since Wimbledon by assorted injuries, Roddick did play four matches last week in North Carolina although faltering again once he encountered determined resistance.  Here, that resistance should arrive in the fourth round, when he attempts to avoid a second 2011 defeat to Ferrer after falling to him in straight sets during the Davis Cup quarterfinal.  Undeterred by the American crowd, the world #5 rallied from multiple deficits in that match as he slowly gnawed away at Roddick mentally and physically.  Familiar with such a feeling against Ferrer here, world #2 Nadal yielded to his compatriot at this tournament four years ago. After dismal performances in Montreal and Cincinnati, Nadal could lift his spirits (and thus his game) significantly by recording a series of uneventful victories en route to that quarterfinal.  Projected to encounter him before that stage is another notable hard-court nemesis of the Spaniard, 2010 Indian Wells champion Ljubicic.  The second seed should quell that aging menace before reprising last year’s semifinal here against Youzhny.  Once winning two sets from Nadal at Wimbledon, Youzhny might fall prey to the reinvigorated Gulbis in his opener.  Should the Latvian string together three wins to reach Nadal, a compelling test of Rafa’s nerve might lie ahead.

Quarterfinal:  Nadal d. Ferrer

Semifinals:  Djokovic d. Tsonga; Murray d. Nadal

Final:  Djokovic d. Murray

***

We return tomorrow with the companion article on the women’s draw.

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Maria Sharapova Maria Sharapova of Russia celebrates winning match point after her second round match against Lindsay Davenport of the United States of America on day three of the Australian Open 2008 at Melbourne Park on January 16, 2008 in Melbourne, Australia.

Determined to erase the memories of a year ago, Sharapova opens proceedings on Rod Laver Arena for the second straight season.  While the time and place remain the same, changes in her coach and equipment should help to quell the remembrance of things past, as will an opponent less imposing than 2010 nemesis Kirilenko.  A former doubles partner of the Russian, Tanasugarn asserted herself last year by winning Osaka and reaching the Pattaya City final, but this match lies on the Russian’s racket.  Consecutive second-round losses at Wimbledon caused Sharapova to wobble late in her second-round victory there last year, so one wonders whether similar events will unfold in Melbourne.  Moreover, she needed seven match points to dispatch first-round victim Brianti in Auckland, extending a pattern of mental frailty when victory lies just a point or two away.  Like fellow Slam champions Venus and Henin, the 2008 Australian titlist hopes to establish herself with a firm opening statement before the path grows perilous.  The path grows perilous quickly for another contender, though, with whom we open our first daily preview of Melbourne.

Wozniacki vs. Dulko:  Three years ago, the stylish Argentine collected just two games from a still-budding Dane in the first round at Melbourne.  Although Wozniacki has shown greater mercy to Dulko after that occasion, she has won both of their hard-court meetings and has developed immensely since their last collision in late 2008.  On the other hand, the former girlfriend of Fernando Gonzalez has emerged as one of the more underestimated upset artists in the WTA, bouncing Sharapova from Wimbledon in 2009, Ivanovic from the Australian Open in 2010, and Henin from Indian Wells just a few months later.  Currently the top-ranked doubles player, Dulko clearly lacks the firepower of most opponents who have troubled Wozniacki, and those three previous upsets came against wildly erratic shotmakers who dissolved in an ocean of errors.  The world #1 rarely succumbs to those error-strewn meltdowns, her US Open semifinal with Zvonareva an exception that proves the rule.  Yet the Dane’s light-hitting opponent will force her to take the initiative in rallies, not her preferred strategy, and this meeting represents her first Slam match as a #1.  Already sounding a bit defensive about her elevated stature, Wozniacki did little to justify it in Hong Kong and Sydney.  A sturdy performance in Melbourne, though, would stop the accelerating trickle before it becomes a tide; thus, she may have more at stake here than any other contender.

De Bakker vs. Monfils:   Among the most difficult tasks in any sport is preserving momentum from the end of one season to the start of its successor.  Such is the challenge that confronts Monfils, pedestrian in the first half of 2010 but one of the ATP’s most notable performers from the US Open onwards.  The Frenchman previously has left little imprint upon Melbourne despite the apparent congruence between his game and its surface, which should offer ample opportunities for him to strike those flashy jumping forehands.  Only a year younger than Djokovic and Murray, De Bakker rests far further down the evolutionary ladder but has developed a formidable serve that lifted him to victories over Tsonga, Verdasco, and other noteworthy foes.  Likely to become a threat on all surface, the Dutchman opened 2011 with consecutive losses and enters the Australian Open as a considerable underdog.  The far more experienced Monfils still suffers lapses at unpredictable moments, such as Slam encounters with Fognini and Kendrick.  And his irrepressible instinct to entertain can invigorate a first-week match more than the businesslike, slightly bored demeanor of the top seeds.

Riske vs. Kuznetsova:  Triggering minor headlines when she reached the Birmingham semifinal last year, the American eventually may join Oudin among her nation’s leading women in the post-Williams era.  To be sure, the standard for entrance to that group has sunk to a level just above Death Valley, and Riske opens against a game only somewhat less scorching than that California landmark.  The two-time Slam champion still owns one of the top forehands in the WTA, while her triumph over world #6 Stosur in Sydney should have lifted her confidence.  In a largely fruitless 2010, however, Kuznetsova fell to anonymous opponents on every surface and continent as her technique deserted her.  Although she should prevail over Riske here, the American’s above-average serve and assertive shotmaking may test the Russian sufficiently for observers to assess her chances of penetrating deep into the tournament.

Nikolay Davydenko of Russia celebrates victory over Rafael Nadal of Spain during the Final match of the ATP Qatar ExxonMobil Open at the Khalifa International Tennis and Squash Complex on January 9, 2010 in Doha, Qatar.

Davydenko vs. Mayer:  The only player with a winning record against Rafa after 10 or more meetings, Kolya nearly created a sensation at the 2010 Australian Open when he toyed with Federer like a puppet on a string early in their quarterfinal.  Offering fast-paced entertainment when at their best, his darting groundstrokes and imaginative angles more than compensate for the limitations of his physique.  Yet he confronts an opponent worthy of his steel in Sydney semifinalist Mayer, the architect of Del Potro’s demise there.  Not to be confused with his Argentine namesake, the lanky German stands just three places below his career-high ranking after a sterling fall that included victories over two top-10 opponents, Youzhny and Soderling.  Nevertheleses, Davydenko ousted him routinely in Beijing just before those eye-catching wins.

Fognini vs. Nishikori:  Under the tutelage of Murray guru Brad Gilbert, the Japanese star hopes to regain the momentum that he surrendered with an elbow injury in 2009.  His gritty, counterpunching style should match the personality of his coach, and their partnership already has borne results with a comeback victory over Cilic in Chennai.  Conquering Monfils at Roland Garros and Verdasco at Wimbledon, Fognini has unleashed first-week surprises despite careless technique and an indifferent serve.  Technically crisp himself, Nishikori should engage the Italian in a series of protracted that will display the traits that they share—exceptional fitness and consistency.  Fognini’s casually slapped forehand can generate deceptive power, as can the Japanese prodigy’s meticulously constructed backhand.  Will Italian improvisation or Japanese precision prevail?

Zahlavova Strycova vs. Rezai:  Curl up for the catfight du jour, which might offend the sensibilities of the sportsmanlike Aussies but could open a window onto Rezai’s mental resilience.  Vinegar rather than blood seems to run through the veins of Zahlavaova Strycova, more notable for her incorrigible gamesmanship than for anything that she does with her racket.  While seasoned champions like Sharapova and Clijsters have contemptuously flicked her aside, Rezai sometimes struggles to prevent her own combative streak from overflowing to her detriment.  Far more talented than the Czech, the Frenchwoman must stay focused upon forehands and backhands—and especially her serve.  She disgorged 11 double faults in her first-round victory over Jankovic in Sydney, a match more lost by the Serb than won by Rezai.

***

Wizards of Oz continues tomorrow with a selection of the most intriguing Day 2 matches.  Feel free to post any suggestions in the comments.

 

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On a Saturday afternoon a year ago, Sharapova succumbed to the steely challenge of a precocious American upstart.  In the 2010 US Open, she faces another home hope even more anonymous than was Oudin, for Beatrice Capra never has appeared in a major before this fortnight.  Stunning Aravane Rezai in a tightly contested three-setter, she earned her position in the third round with a mental resilience modeled upon…Sharapova.  Yet the confident, poised Maria of 2010 barely resembles the tentative, self-doubting Maria of 2009, who became the principal architect of her own demise with a record-breaking cascade of double faults.  With her serve and fortitude restored, the 2006 champion will seek to impose her presence and her willpower upon this match from the outset, overwhelming the teenager with a weight and depth of shot that she has not yet experienced.  Hampering Maria’s efforts, however, will be the high winds expected in the afternoon, a sharp contrast from the controlled conditions in which she typically thrives.  In the second round against Benesova, Sharapova never quite settled into a service rhythm as gusts swirled around Arthur Ashe Stadium, imperiling her towering ball toss and causing her first-serve percentage to sag.  Yet the glamorous Russian adjusted effectively to the circumstances as the match evolved, despite her trademark stubbornness.  Unfamiliar with her opponent’s game, Maria may need several games to acquaint herself with Capra’s strengths and flaws.  During the early stages, therefore, the American might thrill her local supporters with echoes of her startling performance against Rezai.  Once Sharapova finds the timing on her serve and the rhythm on her groundstrokes, though, her challenger will struggle to survive the Russian’s murderous barrage of high-precision missiles.

Jankovic vs. Kanepi

Having won consecutive matches for the first time since Wimbledon, the Serb hopes to gradually discover her form as she plays herself into the tournament.  In previous majors such as the 2008 Australian Open, Jankovic similarly shook off her rust and steadily improved her consistency and movement as the fortnight progressed; unlike most elite players, she struggles from playing too little more than from playing too much.  Within a point of the Wimbledon semifinals this summer, Kanepi captured her maiden title soon afterwards and has resurrected her career from a slump that forced her to qualify for Roland Garros.  Even then, however, she rigorously tested Jankovic in a three-set rollercoaster that awakened memories of her triumph over the Serb last year.  Not a factor in the US Open Series, the Estonian should find her mighty first-strike potential heightened by the fast courts here.  On the other hand, that advantage might be balanced by the sprawling dimensions of Arthur Ashe Stadium, which will allow the fourth seed to track down a few more balls than she could in more confined surroundings.  Suffering mid-match lapses against both Halep and Lucic, Jankovic must maintain her concentration against an opponent both physically and mentally capable of upsetting her.

Blake vs. Djokovic

As addicted to drama as Jankovic, Djokovic relishes the atmosphere of the night session arguably more than any of his rivals.  But Blake’s ardent fans also will relish the night session and will enter determined to secure victory for the home hope with whatever means available.  Contemplating retirement earlier this season, the American appears to have found new life at his home major, where he generally displays his finest tennis.  How will the Serb respond to the adversarial environment?  Two years ago here against Roddick in another night session, he delivered one of the most brilliant performances of his Slam career, suffocating the American with pinpoint groundstrokes on both wings.  Nevertheless, he has faltered perceptibly on several occasions since then when the crowd clearly favored his opponent.  While Blake still possesses a scintillating backhand and return, Djokovic possesses far more weapons and infinitely greater consistency at this stage in his career, so this match theoretically should be routine if not one-sided.  When the Serb had opportunities to convincingly slam the door on the overmatched Petzschner, however, he meandered purposelessly into a tiebreak and nearly an extra set.  If Blake can unleash a few blazing forehands early in his return games, he might rush Djokovic out of his rhythm and implant seeds of doubt in the Serb’s mind.

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Kuznetsova vs. Kirilenko

Reinvigorated over the summer with a San Diego title and a Rogers Cup semifinal appearance, Kuznetsova lost only to Sharapova and Wozniacki during the US Open Series.  In order to prove her return to the elite circles where she belongs, however, the 2004 champion in New York must conquer a compatriot who toppled her twice this year.  Although both of those wins occurred on a clay vastly divergent from Arthur Ashe Stadium, their recent history might imbue Kirilenko with confidence and Kuznetsova with uncertainty.  Better known for her doubles exploits, “the other Maria” can’t match Sveta from the baseline but can maneuver her expertly around the court with an array of spins and touch shots rarely witnessed in singles.  Similar to her doubles partner Radwanska, Kirilenko won’t bludgeon a higher-ranked opponent off the court with blistering shot-making; instead, she will give erratic shotmakers every opportunity to fall on their own swords.  Repeatedly flirting with disaster even during her San Diego title run, Kuznetsova will need to exercise her self-discipline and patience, carefully constructing points rather than indulging in reckless gambits.

Soderling vs. de Bakker

Mirror, mirror on the wall, which Soderling answers the call?  Will it be the slovenly Swede who nearly let his first-round match slip away against a qualifier, or the impeccably serving Swede who throttled Taylor Dent for the second time in three majors?  On the fast courts of Flushing, his massive first-strike potential should shine as it did during the latter stages of his quarterfinal against Federer there last year.  Not designed for consistency, Soderling won’t need to hit as many balls in order to terminate rallies with his customary brutality.  Like other sluggers, though, he would prefer a bit more time to set his sluggish feet before pummeling his groundstrokes, on which he can err wildly when off balance.  Fortunately for the Swede, he faces a relatively inexperienced adversary with no more stylistic versatility than himself, for de Bakker centers his game around a thunderous serve, a percussive forehand, and short points.  While the Dutch star seems destined to reach the top 20 or better, he has yet to overcome an opponent of Soderling’s magnitude.  Consider this match an intriguing glimpse of the ATP’s future, a paradigm set in part by Soderling himself:  tall, baseline-bound, and with point-ending power on both wings.

Gasquet vs. Anderson / Monfils vs. Tipsarevic

Achieving a mildly unexpected upset in the second round, Gasquet reminded New York audiences of how devastating his shotmaking flair can be.  Such reminders have been few and far between lately, which made his stunning display of all-court tennis all the more impressive; the Frenchman’s victory over Davydenko constituted perhaps the most impressive win of his post-Pamela career.  Happily situated in a comfortable district of the draw, Gasquet can reap substantial rankings rewards if he can capitalize upon this opportunity to capture a winnable match from South African giant Kevin Anderson.  Notorious for mental frailty, the Frenchman must summon self-belief and willpower in order to weather the avalanche of aces and unreturnable serves while protecting his own delivery and heightening his focus at key moments.  Possibly awaiting him on Monday is Roddick’s nemesis Tipsarevic, who achieved his own upset less from feats of uncanny athleticism than from fearless tenacity.  Unruffled by either his opponent’s massive serve or his self-absorbed tantrum, the Serb could profit from the peaks and valleys that invariably creep into Monfils’ vastly entertaining game.  While these two matches don’t feature any legitimate title contenders, their participants should feel galvanized by the chance to exploit this friendly section and might compete with more urgency than the marquee stars at this stage in the tournament.

***

On the middle weekend of the Open, intrigue often swirls as strongly as the breezes.  As much as we enjoy drama and suspense, though, we hope that the first half of our pseudonym earns safe passage into the second week for the second consecutive major.

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Emphatic for most of her second-round match against Ioana Raluca Olaru, Sharapova improved distinctly in two statistical areas that play an essential role on grass.  Maria connected with 71% of her first serves and converted 20 of 23 net points, thus dominating both the beginning and the end of most points on her serve.  Unfortunately for Sharapova, her potential fourth-round opponent Serena Williams was even more overpowering in a 48-minute rout of former top-10 denizen Anna Chakvetadze.  In eight total sets at the All England Club, the Russian and the American have conceded just eleven games, hurling three bagels and two breadsticks at their hapless victims.  Although tennis often defies prediction, one sense that Cibulkova and Zahlavova Strycova will find themselves taxed to the limit of their powers if they intend to forestall a marquee Monday meeting between these legendary champions.  The best ticket of the entire tennis calendar, Monday also might feature yet another edition of the melodramatic intra-Belgian rivalry that already has produced two final-set tiebreaks in 2010.  Write this potential collision in pencil for the moment, however, because a powerful Russian veteran has a legitimate chance to derail it.

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Henin (17) vs. Petrova (12) (Centre Court, 1st match):  Two Slams ago, Petrova scored a stunning third-round upset over a  member of Belgium’s dazzling duo, and she has an opportunity to repeat the feat on the grandest stage of all.  Typically tormented by Henin’s graceful, versatile style, the programmatic Russian dropped two tight matches to the seven-time major champion early this year in Australia, during which she revealed the mental frailties that have undermined her formidable game.  Nevertheless, Nadia has shone at Slams this year with consecutive quarterfinal appearances that will have boosted her confidence for a clash against Henin, whose comeback has slowed after an explosive start at Brisbane and Melbourne.  Effective but not overwhelming in her first two matches, Justine continues to struggle with her modified service motion; in this match, she can’t afford the chronic wobbles on serve that she suffered in her second-round clash with Barrois.  A quarterfinalist at last year’s Wimbledon, the Russian centers an outstanding grass-court style around a reliable serve and dexterous net play.  Just as Stosur relied on her massive delivery to defuse Henin’s shotmaking brilliance at Roland Garros, Petrova’s unglamorous but functional game might well end the Belgian’s Wimbledon campaign, as long as the Russian doesn’t ponder the situation too deeply.

Monfils (21) vs. Hewitt (15) (Centre Court, 2nd match):  Outstanding movers who reside almost entirely at the baseline, the Frenchman and the Australian showcase dramatically divergent styles beneath those superficial similarities.  The methodical Hewitt plays intelligent, careful tennis based on excellent technique and canny court sense, whereas the flamboyant Monfils favors jumping forehands, eye-popping slides, and spontaneous shot selection.  While the Frenchman will win more free points from his distinctly more potent serve, the Australian showcases more natural grass-court movement and far greater focus.  The veteran’s understated style belies his gritty determination to win at all costs, a trait absent from the function-follows-form Monfils.  Although this born entertainer will thrill the Centre Court crowd with improbable winners and retrievals, we expect the steadier, more experienced, and more tenacious Hewitt to take risks at more judicious moments.  His exceptional mental fortitude should allow him to weather his opponent’s barrage after various momentum shifts and navigate into a second-week duel with Djokovic.

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Kleybanova (26) vs. Venus (2) (Court 1, 2nd match):  In 2007, the ball-bruising Russian played a respectably competitive match against Venus at the All England Club that testified to her precocious maturity.  A more relentless competitor than most of her peers, Kleybanova scored a tense three-set win over the elder Williams on the relatively fast clay of Madrid last year.  Venus moves more fluidly than any of her rivals, yet Kleybanova covers the court extremely well and can match her from the baseline blow for blow.  Since both players will seek to play first-strike tennis, first serves and second-serve returns will be crucial factors.  Neither the Russian nor the American will want to start the point from behind, as they probably would if they miss their first deliver, and neither will want to donate points with reckless returning.  Accomplished in doubles, Kleybanova is exceptionally comfortable at the net and won’t shrink from the forecourt like many younger players.  Despite her impressive wins so far, Venus has become increasingly prone to the and few first-week opponents would be more ready to profit than the alert, opportunistic Russian. 

Kohlschreiber (29) vs. Roddick (5) (Court 1, 3rd match):  Not unlike Henin, the compact German compensates for his relatively unprepossessing height by unleashing his entire body into the ball.  Applying a boxing metaphor, he punches well above his weight and possesses an exquisite one-handed backhand that penetrates the court much more effectively than does the American’s matching groundstroke.  Consequently, Roddick should strive to orient cross-court rallies from forehand to forehand rather than backhand to backhand.  Armed with relatively short strokes, the fifth seed will find his less graceful but more efficient swings better suited to grass than the looping swings of his opponent, who needs more time to prepare his racket.  Similar to most bold shotmakers, the German sometimes struggles to control his aggression, oscillating between the sublime and the ridiculous with startling swiftness.  His opponents face the mental challenge of persevering through his scorching stretches while awaiting his lapses.  At the 2008 Australian Open, Kohlschreiber ignited his most fiery tennis at just the right moment against Roddick in perhaps the best match of his career, but it’s unlikely that lightning will strike twice. 

Lopez (22) vs. Melzer (16) (Court 2, 3rd match):  The winner of this clash earns a tilt with the titlist, a less unappetizing prospect than usual considering Federer’s indifferent form in his first two rounds.  Featuring two lefties with similar styles, the match should witness plenty of slicing wide serves and forays into the forecourt, since both of these aging veterans serve and volley expertly.  While Melzer hopes to extend the momentum from his unexpected Roland Garros semifinal run, Lopez seeks to validate his upset over Nadal at Queens Club.  Although the Spaniard and the Austrian favor their forehands, the latter possesses a sturdier backhand and will be forced to run around fewer balls; on grass, groundstroke symmetry (or relative symmetry) can be a vital advantage.  Since neither competitor will earn many break points, their relative success in converting the openings that do present themselves will prove vital.  Known for emotional volatility, Melzer retained his poise to rally from a two-set deficit in the preceding round, yet he may enter the match a step slow after his exertions.  Meanwhile, Lopez retired from Eastbourne last week with a shoulder injury that may drain a little velocity from his serve.  Remember those two potentially costly x-factors as the match unfolds.

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Wickmayer (15) vs. Zvonareva (21) (Court 12, 2nd match):  Highly impressive was the Belgian’s win over her surging compatriot Kristen Flipkens, which featured a marathon first-set tiebreak and a second set that stayed on serve until the final game.  Once again, we observed the psychological sturdiness for which Wickmayer has earned renown but that has faltered a little in past weeks.  On the other hand, psychological sturdiness is not a characteristic commonly associated with the often overwrought Zvonareva, whose volcanic temper can erupt at the most untimely moments.  At this phase in their respective careers, the Russian holds the shot-for-shot edge over the Belgian and is not notably inferior on grass, which hints that a mini-upset could occur.  The grander the stage, however, the greater the probability that Zvonareva will implode at the first sign of adversity.  In New York last year and Melbourne this year, Vera held Pennetta and Azarenka firmly within her grasp through a set and a half, then suddenly unraveled late in the second set and endured a third-set bagel.  Wickmayer must remember that the match is not over until the last point, no matter how bleak the situation may seem, and the Belgian’s natural tenacity will serve her well in these circumstances.

Briefly noted:  For the third consecutive Slam, Jankovic faces Alona Bondarenko  in the third round.  Once a perfect 9-0 against the Ukrainian, the Serb suffered a stunning upset in Melbourne before winning a tight two-setter in Paris.  Grass is probably the least comfortable surface for both players, so the quality of play should be rather indifferent, although the match itself might well be competitive.  Reaching the second week of both Slams thus far in 2010, Kirilenko attempts to score a notable upset for the third consecutive major when she confronts Clijsters, having defeated Sharapova at the Australian Open and Kuznetsova at Roland Garros.  Although the Russian’s punchless serve doesn’t aid her grass, her adroit volleying game and clever drop shots might cause the Belgian a headache or two.  Only the most ardent tennis fans will remember the 2002 Davis Cup final when Youzhny overcame Mathieu in a five-set fifth rubber, but the Russian and the Frenchman will attempt to reprise that scintillating pas de deux on Friday.  Having booked a place in history, what can Isner summon against another mighty server in Thiemo de Bakker?  Perhaps a better question would be:  will it end this week or next?

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Witnessing the first clashes between seeded players, Day 5 should provide the most compelling entertainment of the fortnight thus far.  As always, happy watching!