The fourth round of the Australian Open is set. Now the real action will begin as the best players in the world fight for a spot in the quarterfinals and beyond.
While there have been plenty of upsets to this point, this round begins matchups between Top 20 competitors who each have a chance to make a run at a title. This will create a few even contests that could go all five sets and be a thrill for everyone watching.
Of course, this also means that not just the middling seeds are in danger of losing. Even the best in the world are susceptible to an upset in what should be an exciting Round 4.
No. 3 David Ferrer vs. Florian Mayer
Both Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic will face highly ranked competitors in Round 4, but David Ferrer is the highest seed who will struggle the most despite facing an unseeded opponent.
Florian Mayer has performed well against top competition so far this year, already notching wins over Jerzy Janowicz, Mikhail Youzhny and Andy Murray. He has been successful with his service game and is avoiding mistakes.
As good as Ferrer is defensively, it will be difficult to slow down a player who has 36 aces and three double faults in his last two matches. Mayer has also won at least 75 percent of his first-serve points in every match this tournament.
The veteran has been accurate with every hit, and it is leading to the best tennis of his career.
Ferrer has loads of talent, but anything can happen in this extreme heat. With the way Mayer has been playing lately, he can continue his impressive run into the quarterfinals.
No. 2 Victoria Azarenka vs. No. 13 Sloane Stephens
A year ago, Sloane Stephens used the Australian Open as her coming-out party, reaching the semifinals thanks to a win over Serena Williams. However, Victoria Azarenka stopped her path to the finals.
This matchup is now a round-of-16 battle between one of the biggest stars in the sport and another who could get there one day. Although Stephens is only 20 years old, she has shown plenty of potential over the past couple of years.
Interestingly, this response during an interview shows that Azarenka does not see her next opponent as a threat, via Ben Rothenberg of The New York Times:
Q. Learn anything from the aftermath of that match? [vs Sloane last year] VICTORIA AZARENKA: No. What is there to learn? #AusOpen— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) January 18, 2014
That match ended in controversy after the eventual champion took a medical timeout to halt Stephens' momentum. Douglas Robson of USA Today does not think this will be a problem this time around:
Azarenka blitzes Meusburger 61 60 in 1 hour to set up anticipated AO rematch with Sloane Stephens. Prediction: No MTOs. #ausopen— Douglas Robson (@dougrobson) January 18, 2014
Stephens' power can cause Azarenka problems, and her determination for a rematch could be enough to put her over the edge in this matchup.
Although this would not be much of an upset, Roger Federer has still reached the semifinals of the Australian Open 10 years in a row with four titles in that stretch. Despite his recent struggles, he is not ready to stop this streak.
However, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga has made this match personal. According to Jake Niall of The Sydney Morning Herald, the No. 10 seed said of his next match:
For me, it's the possibility to take revenge because last year I lost to him in a quarter-final.
It's a good opportunity to play him again and, you know, it's always nice to play against such a good player.
Federer barely escaped against Tsonga at Melbourne a year ago, winning a five-set match that featured two tiebreaks. All told, the match lasted more than 3.5 hours.
Of course, Tsonga did get his revenge the next time they met at Roland Garros, winning in straight sets. Still, it is clear the French star wants to prove himself at the Australian Open. After dominating his first three opponents in straight sets, there is little reason to doubt him.
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