Maria Sharapova and Li Na already punched their tickets to the Australian Open semifinals with straight-set victories on Day 9. Two more players will join them on Day 10 as crunch time has arrived at the season's first Grand Slam event.
There are two terrific matchups on tap. First, top seed Victoria Azarenka will take on veteran Svetlana Kuznetsova, who's back in form after a rocky 2012. It will be followed by a battle of Americans as Serena Williams faces rising star Sloane Stephens.
Here's a preview of both matches and predictions for which players will join Sharapova and Li among the final four in the women's draw.
Victoria Azarenka vs. Svetlana Kuznetsova
The Australian Open has featured some great battles, marathon matches and tremendous tennis, but the one thing it has lacked is a major upset. The top seeds on both sides are still alive, and if the seeds hold on Day 10, nobody outside the top six will make the semifinals in either draw.
Enter Kuznetsova. She fell off the radar during the second half of last season, but is clearly back on track. She tallied 52 winners to upset Caroline Wozniacki in the last round and has played aggressive tennis all tournament, which is when she's at her best.
At the same time, it's been tough to get a read on Azarenka because she hasn't faced a truly challenging opponent yet. It's a big jump from Elena Vesnina to an in-form Kuznetsova, regardless of what the rankings say.
Kuznetsova has won four of their seven previous meetings, but Azarenka won the only two last season. All told, it's a closer match than it probably looks on paper, and the tournament is due for an upset after nine days of mostly chalk.
Prediction: Kuznetsova in three sets
Serena Williams vs. Sloane Stephens
Stephens is just starting to get her feet wet at the Grand Slam level, but it's hard not to be impressed. She has reached at least the third round in four straight majors and now gets to battle the face of American tennis for a trip to the semifinals at age 19.
More than anything else, it's a learning experience. It's the biggest match of Stephens' career so far and it will be interesting to see how she handles the moment. The quicker she can settle in, the better her chances of at least making it a competitive match.
That's easier said than done against Williams, who puts pressure on her opponents right from the opponent serve. She hasn't lost more than three games in any set in the tournament and totally overpowered No. 14 seed Maria Kirilenko.
The Americans met in the Brisbane warm-up event, with Williams earning the 6-4, 6-3 victory. Expect a similar result in their quarterfinal match. Stephens is definitely a player on the rise, but she's not on Williams' level quite yet.
Prediction: Williams in two sets
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