The heat has been the primary storyline of the Australian Open, and for good reason, but very quietly it's been an excellent tournament that has seen just about every favorite and top-ranked player advance to Round 4.
That has set up some truly excellent matchups for this round and beyond, with several highly regarded players doing battle perhaps a round or two earlier than you might expect. Let's break down three of those matchups below.
No. 6 Roger Federer vs. No. 10 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
It wasn't so long ago that you would have expected this matchup to take place in the semifinals, not in Round 4. But these days, we get it in Round 4, and it's the highlight match of the Australian Open heading into the quarterfinals.
Roger Federer holds a significant edge in head-to-head matchups, at 9-4. He's also gone 8-3 on hard courts against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, though really he's 8-2, since one of those losses came after Federer had to withdraw. In both of their previous Australian Open matches, Federer had emerged victorious, including in last year's quarterfinals.
Federer isn't the player he once was, sure, but Tsonga was never quite able to turn his potential into a spot among the top players of his generation. Look for Federer to remain perfect against Tsonga Down Under.
No. 2 Victoria Azarenka vs. No. 13 Sloane Stephens
Victoria Azarenka has won the last two Australian Open titles, but she finds herself with a very difficult Round 4 match against Sloane Stephens on tap.
These players have met just once, and it came in the semifinals of last year's Australian Open. Azarenka won that match rather easily, 6-1, 6-4, but she certainly won't take burgeoning star Stephens for granted.
Stephens was quite good at Grand Slams in 2013, reaching Round 4 in every tournament and going as far as the quarters at Wimbledon. But she'll be looking to build on those results in 2014, and should she get past Azarenka, she could see her way right into the final.
Azarenka is excellent Down Under, however, and should be expected to advance.
No. 8 Jelena Jankovic vs. No. 11 Simona Halep
This match may not have the name recognition of the first two, but it should be an excellent and even contest.
Simona Halep is 2-1 in the series, including holding the lone hard-court victory between these women at the 2010 US Open. Still, you could basically flip a coin to project who might win this match—not a lot separates these two on the court.
And the road won't get much easier for either should they advance. No. 3 Maria Sharapova likely will await in the quarters, while either Azarenka, Stephens or No. 5 Agnieszka Radwanska will likely be the opponent in the semifinals.
Look for Halep to advance but lose out to Sharapova in the quarterfinals.
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