Sunday, January 25, 2009

Australian Open: Day 8 Fourth Round Preview

Matches of the top half of the round 16 draw will take place on Monday, to complete the 4 remaining spots in the quarterfinals. There is a chance that we can have the top 8 seeds competing in the quarterfinals this year, which is incredible.

Here are the 4 last-16 matches scheduled on Monday:

Rafael Nadal [1] vs Fernando Gonzalez [13]

Nadal leads the 2007 finalist, Gonzalez, 4-3 in their previous meetings. Their last match was the Beijing Olympics final last August, where Nadal won the Gold medal with a straight sets win over the Chilean.

Gonzalez' path to the fourth round this year at the Australian Open has been far rockier than Nadal's. Gonzalez had a tough five-setter against home favorite, Lleyton Hewitt, in the first round, which he won 6-3 in the fifth, followed by a straight sets victory over Guillermo Canas in the second round. The 13th-seed was then stretched to his limit in the third round where he endured a marathon five-setter against 24th-seed, Richard Gasquet, which ended 12-10 in the fifth.

Nadal on the other hand has spent way less time on court, winning his first 3 matches in straight sets and dropping less than 20 games altogether. This doesn't necessarily give the Spaniard an advantage over Gonzalez, since Nadal has not been really tested in his previous matches, compared to the level of tennis he can face in his 4th round match. Gonzalez however, will be playing Nadal with the a kind of mental toughness from the 2 five-setters he managed to pull through.

The two players have met once before at the Australian Open, 2 years ago, where Gonzalez ousted Nadal in the quarters in straights, en route to his first and only Grand Slam final appearance.

Gilles Simon [6] vs Gael Monfils [12]

These two Frenchmen have never played each other on the ATP tour before, but they grew up together and know each others games very well.

Simon's performance in the first 3 rounds was solid and he dropped only one set against Australian, Chris Guccione in the second round. His preparation for the Australian Open was not quite what he would have wanted, as he didn't reach the final of the Hopman Cup exo, where he was partnering Alize Cornet, and he also lost in his opening match against Richard Gasquet in Sydney. The 6th-seed however should enter this match with some confidence especially after easily defeating a dangerous Mario Ancic in the previous round.

Monfils could be considered a favorite in this match despite his lower seeding. The entertaining Frenchman, who like Simon dropped only one set en route to the 4th round, had an excellent preparation for Melbourne as he reached the Doha semifinals defeating Nadal along the way.

Andy Murray [4] vs Fernando Verdasco [14]

Murray, who has been endlessly tipped as a favorite for this tournament, is 5-0 against Verdasco in previous meetings, but Verdasco is playing tennis at a level he has never reached before.

Murray said he is used to playing lefties like Verdasco, since he grew up practicing with his left-handed brother, and the leadup to this match bodes nothing but good signs for the Scot, who not only won the Abu Dhabi exo title (defeated Federer and Nadal) followed by the Doha title (defeated Federer and Roddick), but has also shown some ruthless form in the first 3 rounds in Melbourne.

Meanwhile, Verdasco has reached the singles and doubles finals in Brisbane earlier this month, and has only dropped 12 games in his first 3 matches in Melbourne, including a crushing 6-4, 6-0, 6-0 win over 22nd-seed, Radek Stepanek. But still... None of his past opponents are even close to Murray. Sorry to say it, but I don't think Verdasco has a chance.

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga [5] vs James Blake [9]


These two have only met once before, which was late last season at the Paris Masters, where Tsonga beat Blake in straights, before capturing the title at home. Tsonga, a finalist in Melbourne last year, had a tough 2nd round encounter with Ivan Ljubicic, which he won 6-7, 7-6, 7-6, 6-2, and he also dropped a set against Dudi Sela in the third round.

The good news for Tsonga is that there are no signs of his back injury that forced him to withdraw from the Sydney quarterfinals right before the Australian Open. He also reached the quarters in Brisbane before he lost to Gasquet.

Blake on the other hand is playing rather well and has dropped only one set so far, which was against Igor Andreev in the 3rd round. This match will definitely be a toss-up and could go either way.

What the players have to say

Nadal on playing Gonzalez:

"This match going to be a very tough match. He's coming with big confidence after two big wins against Hewitt the first round, and right now against Gasquet with unbelievable comeback, two sets down. He's coming with confidence. Going to be a very tough opponent."

"He beat me very easy two years ago here. So it wasn't play one of my best matches. He played well."


"He's tough. He's very good player. He can beat me, for sure, another time. Hopefully not. But I gonna try my best for try to change the situation from two years, for try to play the same level like last year in Olympics."


Simon on playing Monfils:

"He's really hard to defeat because he doesn't do any mistakes. Also he can have a huge serve, too... So it won't be easy. But I know him very well. So it will be a special match for both of us, I mean. It's the first time we are meeting each other on the tour. I don't know what to expect. I mean, I'm pretty happy to play this match because he's really a good friend of mine. So I hope we're gonna enjoy this match."

Verdasco on playing Murray:

"He's a very good player. So complete in all the aspects in the game. He serve good. He have unbelievable backhand. I think physically he's one of the best right now also. He has so good hand also for slice, to defend. So he's pretty complete in all the aspects of the game."

"But, you know, I think I need to do my game anyway and try to beat him like this. Don't change my game because he's one player, you know, one kind of player of another one."

Murray on playing Verdasco:

"Against Verdasco, it's very important to use my head. I have a very good record against left‑handers. The only one I've lost to on the tour has been Nadal. I need to use my head, make him do a lot of thinking and moving. If I play like I did tonight [against Melzer], I can definitely win that one."

Blake on playing Tsonga:

"He played really well there in Paris. He kind of just overpowered me a little. He was serving unbelievable, didn't give me too many looks, just was taking rips and feeling loose on my serve."

"If he does that and plays just as well as he possibly can, it's going to be tough for me to get looks. But I have a feeling this time in a three‑out‑of‑five‑set match, I'll get my chance, I'll get some opportunity, maybe looks at second serves, get an advantage. "

"He's obviously been playing some pretty good tennis to beat guys like Ljubicic. I didn't see much of his match today because I was out there today. Must have played well. Pretty convincing score line at the end. I know it will be tough."

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