Australian Open update
It’s great to witness two British players at the quarter final stage of the Australian Open Grand Slam after such a barren spell of singles talent at the top of both the men’s and women’s games. Let’s hope they both make it to the semi-finals then we start to dream of two Grand Slam finalists.
Johanna Konta deserves a special mention as she’s transformed herself into a top class player in a short space of time based on a really sound aggressive game and most importantly a psychological cool that is vital to have when the pressure gets really intense.
Last night’s matches proved to be a bit of a damp squib in terms of the potential great match-ups but all the top favourites won comfortably in straight sets. None of their opponents could muster the desire or the deep reserves required to stand toe to toe with the world’s elite players over the best of five sets. Even Roger Federer had a fairly easy day at the office and is looking like a potential winner even though he’s fallen short on occasions in recent times.
Before the semi-finals are determined we have the small matter of the remaining two matches between Murray (2) and Ferrer (8) and Raonic (13) and Monfils (23). This will be the 19th meeting between Murray and Ferrer; Murray has won the last five in a row, including at the quarter-final stage at the French Open last year. They have met on hard courts and Murray leads the head to head 7-2 (not including indoors).
Ferrer’s best results against Murray have come on clay (4-1) so it’s hard to put up much of an argument for Ferrer winning this encounter on arguably Murray’s strongest service. Taking a look at their past Grand Slams, all of them have featured in at least one tie break and would have landed the Over the Games line. Murray definitely looks like the winner again given the statistics and his form this year and the best I think Ferrer can hope for is to win a set.
The other quarter final match to be decided between Raonic and Monfils has all the ingredients for an Australian Open classic. Surprisingly Monfils leads the head to head 3-0 (though one was a W/O) but the last did come back in 2013 when Raonic was still learning his trade. Raonic has looked in great form this week and is on an eight match winning streak after winning the Brisbane title at the beginning of the year, beating Federer in the final.
Both players have reached this stage in good condition (apart from the self-inflicted hand injury for Monfils) and one gets the feeling it’s going to come to down to a serve dominated encounter as they possess two of the best in the game. This week they are both in the top 10 for serve statistics (Raonic 3rd and Monfils 10th) while, in the return department, Raonic is 10th and Monfils is 13th. Raonic has improved his return skills and movement considerably but this can still be a problem for him at times due to his gangly frame.
Raonic overcame arguably the toughest test of his year so far knocking out (2014 Champion) Stan Wawrinka in a five set thriller. Raonic not surprisingly was dominant on serve, firing down 29 aces, compared to only 9 for Stan. Wawrinka’s ratio of winners to unforced errors also made a big difference and this is one of the key factors that won him the match. Stan was heroic in fighting back but putting together three top class sets against one of the best servers in the world was too much to ask for the Swiss number two in the end.
The women’s semi-finals will also be determined by the time you’re reading this and I’m sure we’ll all be hoping for a British women’s Grand Slam semi-finalist for the first time since Virginia Wade 32 years ago. This might be a good omen for the young Brit. Her opponent Shaui Zhang, a qualifier ranked 133 (will improve after this tournament), is a bit of an unknown quantity. She has the momentum, form and ability to mix it with the world’s best players this week beating Halep (2), Cornet and Lepchenko in straights sets. However, the icing on her cake was knocking out the 2015 semi-finalist Madison Keys coming from a set down, which was an amazing performance.
Neither women features highly in any of the statistical serving categories overall but they are both in the top ten for return statistics so expect plenty of breaks of serve and the match changing leads regularly. Expect this match to go to the wire most likely three sets and Over the Games line.