Australian Open Sunday Preview
Published January 23, 2010 12:00
MELBOURNE, Australia - Two all-Russian affairs, plus a new twist in the Belgian tale headline the fourth round clashes in the bottom half of the draw.
[WC] Justine Henin (BEL NR) vs. [Q] Yanina Wickmayer (BEL #16)
If Wickmayer beats Henin, she'll be the first qualifier to reach the Australian Open quarterfinals since Mexican Angelica Gavaldon in 1990. But given she is actually the world No.16 that is something of an empty statistic, and Henin certainly won't be taking her young compatriot lightly. Both Belgians arrived in Melbourne on great form, Wickmayer winning her third title at Auckland and Henin playing a spectacular final against Kim Clijsters in Brisbane. A lot of pride will be at stake on both sides in this night match; coupled with Wickmayer's aggressive all-court style and Henin's general brilliance, fireworks are surely in store.
 Alona Bondarenko (UKR #30) vs. Zheng Jie (CHN #35)
Zheng leads 2-1
Is it just coincidence that Bondarenko is making her Grand Slam fourth round debut just months after younger sister Kateryna reached the quarters at Flushing Meadows (and indeed overtook the older Alona in the year-end rankings)? Whatever has clicked for Alona, she should run with it. She hasn't dropped a set this week - including her maiden win over Jelena Jankovic in 10 tries - and indeed is undefeated this year, having collected her second Tour title at Hobart. The 25-year-old's strong groundies and great movement seem to be backed by a new confidence and consistency - which she'll need against wily Zheng, who has battled harder this week but knows what it takes to go further at a major.
 Nadia Petrova (RUS #19) vs.  Svetlana Kuznetsova (RUS #3)
Kuznetsova leads 5-1
Kuznetsova has reached the quarterfinals here twice before but never gone further, and with US Open and Roland Garros trophies to her name, doing better in Melbourne is understandably one of her stated goals for the year. In theory she is well placed to do that, holding a definite edge in this Russian rivalry so far. But Petrova was rather sublime against Kim Clijsters in the third round, losing just two points behind her awesome first serve, and can take her share of the credit for the Belgian's lackluster performance. By contrast Kuznetsova struggled past Angelique Kerber; she'll need to hit the ground running against her industrial strength compatriot.
Maria Kirilenko (RUS #58) vs. (2) Dinara Safina (RUS #2)
Safina leads 2-0
For a player with five Tour titles to her name - evidence she can win a handful of matches in a week - Kirilenko's Grand Slam record has been a bit ordinary to date. But in reaching the fourth round she has equaled her best effort at a major, and certainly deserves credit for avoiding a letdown after her first round upset of Maria Sharapova. Is this her time for a breakthrough on the big stage? On the face of it she doesn't have the weapons to dent Safina, who has so far progressed through the draw without too much drama. However if this becomes a mental match then Kirilenko, who turns 23 on Monday, will be the one playing with nothing to lose.
More to watch…
In third round doubles, the second-seeded Williams sisters play Czech duo Andrea Hlavackova and Lucie Hradecka on Margaret Court Arena, followed by wildcards Laura Robson and Sally Peers against Vera Dushevina and Anastasia Rodionova. The mixed doubles competition is also underway, with No.2 seeds Daniela Hantuchova and Daniel Nestor playing their opener against Anabel Medina Garrigues and Andre Sa on Court 6.