The first week of Grand Slams are often uneventful, but the 2014 Australian Open will have its fair share of early round memories. Besides the searing heat that made daily headlines, the fall of Serena Williams in the Round of 16 was a stunning conclusion to the opening week.
The second week is when the premier names go head-to-head, and with myriad permutations of potential star-studded matchups on the men's side, there should be some headline-grabbing matchups shortly. Likewise, the women's side is wide open without Serena, a truly free-for-all event. Here is where and when you can catch the conclusion to the year's first Slam:
|2014 Australian Open TV Schedule|
|Date||Time (ET)||Event||TV Station|
|Mon, Jan. 20||7-9 p.m.||Quarterfinals||Tennis Ch.|
|Mon, Jan. 20||9 p.m.- 2 a.m.||Quarterfinals||ESPN2|
|Tue, Jan. 21||3-5:30 a.m.||Quarterfinals||ESPN2|
|Tue, Jan. 21||7-9 p.m.||Quarterfinals||Tennis Ch.|
|Tue, Jan. 21||9 p.m. - 2 a.m.||Quarterfinals||ESPN2|
|Wed, Jan. 22||3:30-6 a.m.||Quarterfinals||ESPN2|
|Wed, Jan. 22||7-9:30 p.m.||Quarterfinals||Tennis Ch.|
|Wed, Jan. 22||9:30 p.m. - 2 a.m.||Women's Semis||ESPN2|
|Thu, Jan. 23||3:30-6 a.m.||Men's Semi 1||ESPN2|
|Thu, Jan. 23||11 p.m. - 3 a.m.||Mixed Dbl Semis, W. Dbl Final||Tennis Ch.|
|Fri, Jan. 24||3:30-6 a.m.||Men's Semi 2||ESPN2|
|Sat, Jan. 25||3-5:30 a.m.||Women's Final||ESPN2|
|Sat, Jan. 25||5:30-7:30 a.m.||Men's Dbl Final||Tennis Ch.|
|Sun, Jan. 26||12-2 a.m.||Mixed Dbl Final||Tennis Ch.|
|Sun, Jan. 26||3-6:30 a.m.||Men's Final||ESPN2|
So what should tennis fans expect from the Australian Open's conclusion? Here are a few predictions for upcoming matches and winners.
Federer vs. Nadal in Semis
The defining tennis rivalry of the 2000s has not occurred in a Slam in two years, but Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal appear on a collision course in the semifinals.
Federer appears to have the tougher challenge, facing Wimbledon champ and three-time Aussie Open finalist Andy Murray. However, Federer has been in vintage form this tournament, and some believe his straight-set romp over Jo-Wilfried Tsonga should put the rest of the field on alert:
Nadal, meanwhile, has yet to drop a set, though Ken Nishikori did push the top seed to two tiebreakers last round. Grigor Dimitrov is winless in three matches against Nadal, though the Bulgarian has pushed Nadal the distance in each meeting.
Nevertheless, with the roll these two are on, it's hard to imagine them not renewing their historic rivalry after a two-year hiatus.
Li Na Will Advance To Her Third Final
The former French Open champ has come close in Melbourne before, losing in two of the past three finals. With Serena eliminated, Li is now the top-ranked player in the top half of the draw, and the presumptive favorite to reach the finals.
At the same time, the fourth seed has certainly not been invincible. Li faced a match point against Lucie Safarova in the third round, eventually rallying to win the match 1-6, 7-6 (2), 6-3. As Justin Bergman of the Associated Press relays, Li realizes how narrow her escape truly was:
"I think five centimeters saved my tournament," she said, indicating with her fingers how close Safarova's shot at break point in the second set had been to sending her home. "If she hit in, I think, the whole team is on the way to the airport."
Li's coach, Carlos Rodriguez, was so frustrated at one point, he pointed to his head and mouthed to her emphatically, "Think!" She said the admonition was intended to help her focus better at critical times.
"You know, women's tennis sometimes is crazy, the tour, because I (am) sometimes thinking too much," she said, laughing about it later. "So I was like, OK, just focus here to see what happens."
Li rebounded emphatically in the Round of 16, however, dropping just two games to Ekaterina Makarova. Ana Ivanovic looms as a potential challenge in the semifinals, but Li did beat the Serbian in Toronto last year.
Upsets have wreaked havoc in the women's draw, with just three of the top eight seeds advancing to the quarterfinals. But Li is one of the steadiest veterans in tour, so expect her to reach her third Aussie final in four years.
Djokovic, Azarenka Win It All
Novak Djokovic and Victoria Azarenka have held a monopoly on the Australian Open crown, with Djokovic winning three in a row and Azarenka the last two. As the 2014 rendition winds down, the duo loom as the favorites to extend their respective streaks.
It's certainly no easy path to the championship for either, however, as both face stiff quarterfinal challenges. Djokovic will battle eighth-seed Stanislas Wawrinka, who pushed the champ to a five-set classic in last year's Australian Open. As the Daily Express notes, Djokovic is ready for another grueling epic against Wawrinka:
"I have to be ready to play another 12-10 in the fifth like last year," said Djokovic. "I know that he's playing the tennis of his life in the last 15 months.
"He's a top-10 player now. He's established himself at the top level. He won against some top guys in the big tournaments.
"He is confident. You can feel that mentally, when he comes to the court, he believes in himself more. He can win against the top guys in the later stages of events.
"So you cannot expect a clear favourite in that match."
Meanwhile, Azarenka faces fifth-seeded Agnieszka Radwanska in the quarters, a matchup of two of the three top-five seeds remaining. On hard courts, Azarenka has lost to Radwanska just twice in 10 meetings, and has had plenty of recent success in head-to-head meetings:
If Djokovic and Azarenka can survive their tough quarterfinal matchups, they should enter the semis (and perhaps the finals) as prohibitive favorites. In an open that will be remembered for its stifling heat, expect the two second seeds to persevere as their competition melts away.