Australian Open: Nadal Over Wawrinka, Li Over Azarenka
The Australian Open is about three hours away AS I TYPE. Talk about Tennis Hate. I'm hating 16 hour time zone differences and draw sheets. I'm scrambling to submit mine by 7:00 PM Eastern Time for Tennis Channel's contest. Every day, at WNYC, I work under deadline pressure. Why should my Sunday afternoons at home be any different?
Serena Williams seems likely to pick up her 18th Grand Slam title, which would put her in the same company as Chris Evert and Martina Navratalova. Yeah, she has to beat Victoria Azarenka, but she can do that. She just did in Brisbane, and Williams' last take-down of Azarenka was for the US Open title in September. It won't be easy, though. Both of those matches were close, with Serena needing three sets to beat Vika at Flushing Meadows.
But there's Li Na lurking in the semifinal, to spoil it all for Serena. Haters, you know how I love that. If Li gets past Serena, she could see a rematch with Vika in the championship round. Azarenka is going for her third consecutive Australian Open trophy.
Li Na could upset the conventional narrative of this tournament in so many ways. It would be awesome.
I want Li Na to beat Vika Azarenka in a go-for-broke three-set chamionship match.
What I'll be looking for to entertain me in the interim: an early exit for 7th-seed Sara Errani, who suffers from Tennis Hate and doesn't think she belongs in the Top Ten.....an upset of Azarenka by young gun Sloane Stephens in the Round of 16, just like she last year to Williams in the quarters...a Kerber/Kvitova nailbiter in the Round of 16.....and, in third round action, Jersey girl Christina McHale besting 10th seed and former world number one Caroline Wozniaki, who's too distracted by plans for her upcoming wedding to Rory McIlroy.
On the men's side, I'm actually predicting more unpredictability than on the women's half of the draw. Unconventional, I know. I don't think Andy Murray is going to go very far. He's recovering from back surgery. Philip Kohlschreiber can take him in the quarters, after he confounds John Isner, who will suffer a letdown from his skin-of-his-teeth 7-6(4), 7-6(7) victory over Yen-Hsun Lu (who?) in Auckland.
I'm making a sentimental pick, by-passing a world number one Rafael Nadal/world number 2 Novak Djokovic dream final, for a championship match between Nadal and 8th-seed Swiss Stan Wawrinka.
Stan will have to upset Djoko in the process. He came close last year in the fourth round in Melbourne, leading at one point 6-1, 5-2 (ah, the Tennis Hate that ensued!). It was one of the best matches of his life and in tennis. Stan's no longer languishing in the fading Federer's shadow. He stepped up his game in 2013. He climbed back into the top ten for the first time since May 2008 -- reaching his current spot of 8th in the world in July, a career best -- and collected his fourth ATP World Tour title at Oeiras, his first since 2011.
So, payback time for Stan when he meets Djokovic in the quarters. I think he can do it, and defeat Berdych, too, in the semis. But he won't get Rafa.
What I'll be looking for to entertain me in the interim: Ryan Harrison, losing his cool and busting some racquets over the shots of quicksilver trickster Gael Monfils in the first round....16th seed Kei Nishikori, newly empowered by advice from Hall of Famer Michael Chang, giving Nadal a scare in their fourth round match....the battle of the beautiful one-handed backhands in the fourth round between Wawrinka and 9th seed Richard Gasquet....a first-round battle of the old-timers, American Michael Russell and might-as-well-be-American Dmitry Tursunov (Russian, seeded 30th)....and how quickly the Greatest of All Time, Roger Federer, will get sent home to his pregnant wife and twin daughters.