The first week of Grand Slam tournaments are brutal – weeding out the chaff to get to the genuine championship contenders.
Simple math tells the tale: of the 128 men who started in the Australian Open six days ago, just 12.5 per cent are still in the hunt.
There have been no surprises in the top half of the draw with No. 1 seed and defending champion Novak Djokovic fairly coasting to the round-of-16 with three straight-set wins.
Only No. 11 seed Juan Monaco, bothered by a hand injury, failed to reach his appointed spot in the fourth round.
Djokovic, who danced Gangnam Style with teammate Ana Ivanovic during Hopman Cup and joked with Belgian reporters last week that the fact he doesn’t drink beer doesn’t mean he hasn’t actually tried their renowned brews, is all ‘eye of the tiger’ on court. There was occasional good-humoured byplay with Radek Stepanek during Friday’s match, but Djokovic was quick with a disclaimer; “even though we enjoy, there is no exhibition here. You want to win.”
He has done a lot of that over his career, especially a lot against his next opponent, Stanislas Wawrinka. Djokovic is 11-2 versus Roger Federer’s Swiss wingman and has won 10 in a row since 2007.
Djokovic’s Serbian mate Janko Tipsarevic has travelled a different path to the ‘sweet 16.’ After a clinical 7-6(4), 7-5, 6-3 dispatching of Lleyton Hewitt on the opening night, he has been entangled in five-set ordeals – Lukas Lacko and Julien Benneteau – in the past two rounds.
He said he feels it in his legs and could be vulnerable Sunday afternoon against Nicolas Almagro in Hisense Arena.
The talkative Tipsarevic discussed meteorology on Friday. “The weather in Australia, I have to say it’s crazy. You don’t know what you are going to get. Three days ago it was really cold when I played Lacko. Two days ago it was like 70 degrees Celsius on the court. Today was beautiful but it was really, really windy. Who knows what’s going to happen tomorrow? Probably we’ll have rain and we’re going to end up playing indoors.”
Probably happy to play indoors would be two giants, 6-foot-5 Tomas Berdych and 6-foot-8 Kevin Anderson, the only interloper among the seeds projected to be in the round-of-16. Berdych has won his four meetings with the South African, all in 2012. That included a 7-6(5), 7-6(1), 6-1 match at Melbourne Park.
In the final fourth-rounder, 5-foot-9 David Ferrer faces 5-foot-10 Kei Nishikori. The Japanese, 23 and looking as if he has a little more beef on his bones, leads their head-to-head 2-1.
Women’s round-of-16 matches include Julia Goerges hoping to make it consecutive wins over China’s two best-known players. She beat Zheng Jie on Friday and now plays Li Na.
Ana Ivanovic, after defeating fellow-Serb Jelena Jankovic, will try to get the ball past one of tennis’ finest goalkeepers, acrobatic 4th seed Agnieszka Radwanska. Fifth seed Angelique Kerber meets fellow lefty Ekaternina Makarova while Kirsten Flipkins, surely with tips from her pal Kim Clijsters at home in Belgium, engages in a death-defying act – attempting to stop that human freight train Maria Sharapova. The Russian has lost but four games in three matches.
TOM’S INTREPID TIPS:
Radwanska def. Ivanovic in two: ‘Aga’ leads the head-to-head 4-3 and has won the last four. She will wear down the lean, elegant Ana.
Li def. Goerges in three: The German looked beaten and lost trailing Zheng 5-3 in the third set Friday. It’s close but Li’s overall superiority wins out.
Berdych def. Anderson in four: Three matches and no sets lost for the Czech. As usual, he rolls inconspicuously toward the business end of the event.
Ferrer def. Nishikori in four: Ferrer feasts on the slightest of advantages. Maybe that knee niggle before the tournament catches up with Nishikori.
Almagro def. Tipsarevic: Almagro, a great ball striker, is known to lack competitive acumen. Still, from 1-0 versus a tired Tipsy, he moves to 2-0.