January 25, 2011

Opportunity for the Underdog

By the time most of us wake up in the morning, the final eight at the Australian Open will have been decided. Some know what it's like to be here, while others are treading on unfamiliar ground. And a very select few have the opportunity to do something great.

Half of the field has already been decided. Current world #1 Caroline Wozniacki has marked her best-yet performance in Melbourne and earned a chance to meet one of last year's surprise semifinalists for a spot in the championship match. And defending titleholder Roger Federer advanced in solid form and will face 2008 winner Novak Djokovic in the semis.

And while you have to give the advantage to the more-experienced players left to fight it out, their opponents are not athletes to be overlooked.

Petra Kvitova has played on the big stage before, making the semis at Wimbledon last year with wins over Wozniacki and Victoria Azarenka on the way. She followed up a title in Brisbane with big wins over Sam Stosur and Flavia Pennetta here. She's split her past two meetings with current opponent Vera Zvonareva, and though she began her match with two straight service breaks, she seems to have rebounded nicely and could do some damage if she pulls herself together.

Former top-ten player Aggie Radwanska was one of my picks to prevail in New York last year, but injury kept her from doing the damage I hoped for. Still reeling in recovery, she has been playing better tennis with each round Down Under and though she was taken to three sets in her last match, was only really tested in her opener versus Kimiko Date Krumm. She'll have to raise her game against Kim Clijsters today, of course, but for a girl who's probably desperate to display her potential, she might be able to do it.

It get's a little more interesting for the men. World #46 Alexandr Dolgopolov has beaten one favorite after another en route to his first career quarterfinal, including fourth-seeded Robin Soderling in a long five setter on Monday. He's lost his only match against Andy Murray, who he'll face next, but that was nearly five years ago -- and if the Ukraine has proven anything it's that he's not going to be intimidated by experience.

The player with the best chance at causing an upset, though, might be David Ferrer who last reached the quarters in Melbourne back in 2008. He faces compatriot Rafael Nadal, the top seed here, a man who's won eleven of their fourteen previous matches, but two of Ferrer's wins have come on hard courts -- one at the U.S. Open. He's also coming off a title run in Auckland, a tournament of which he doesn't seem to be feeling any negative effects.

Of course experience will be on the side of each of their opponents, but all these guys have done their part to prove they deserve what they've achieved so far -- I wouldn't be surprised if at least one of them pulled off the unlikely win today.

And who knows what that could lead to?

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