Australian Open Day 5 Preview

Kim Clijsters continues her title defense with a third round match against Daniela Hantuchova.

Published January 19, 2012 03:23

Australian Open Day 5 Preview
Li Na

Friday, Third Round

Rod Laver Arena
[26] Anabel Medina Garrigues (ESP #28) vs. [5] Li Na (CHN #6)
Medina Garrigues leads 4-0
Although Melbourne lies more than 5,000 miles away from China, the Australian Open is the closest thing to a home slam for Li Na. And over the past few years the Chinese No.1 has made Melbourne Park her home away from home, finishing runner-up 12 months ago and reaching the semifinals in 2010. Li has resumed this romance in 2012, dropping just eight games en route to the third round. Sterner challenges lie ahead, though, and next up is experienced Spaniard Anabel Medina Garrigues, who has been similarly impressive in the first week. Although Medina Garrigues holds a 4-0 head-to-head advantage over her higher-ranked opponent, the most recent of these came back in 2008 and Li's early season form, allied with her ability on hardcourts, ensures she starts as clear favorite.

Hisense Arena
[1] Caroline Wozniacki (DEN #1) vs. [31] Monica Niculescu (ROU #32)
: Wozniacki leads 2-0
Another player with the odds stacked against her is Monica Niculescu. The 24-year-old Romanian enjoyed a breakthrough season in 2011 - reaching a first WTA final in Luxembourg and achieving a career-high ranking of No.29 - but this year has struggled for form, losing early in Auckland and Hobart. Her opening two matches in Melbourne have both gone to three sets and things are unlikely to get any easier: next up is top seed Caroline Wozniacki. However, Wozniacki has been beset by troubles of her own, having lost early in Sydney last week and facing renewed pressure on her coveted No.1 ranking from Petra Kvitova and Victoria Azarenka. Early defeat in the year's first major would likely spell the end to her 66-week residency at the ranking's summit and Niculescu will hope this added pressure can help her spring the upset.

[11] Kim Clijsters (BEL #14) vs. [20] Daniela Hantuchova (SVK #21)
Clijsters 9-1
Although Thursday saw the departure of the last Australian representative in the singles draw, while Melbourne's favorite adopted daughter, Kim Clijsters, remains in the tournament the crowd will remain unashamedly partisan. Clijsters, the defending champion, gets the evening session on Hisense underway on Friday with a rematch of the recent Brisbane semifinal against Daniela Hantuchova. On that occasion, Hantuchova came out on top when the Belgian was forced to retire with a hip injury midway through the second set. However, judging by Clijsters's performance in the second round - she took just 47 minutes to defeat Stéphanie Foretz Gacon - the injury has left no lasting damage. Hantuchova, on the other hand, has already spent nearly five hours on court in the opening week and will face an uphill battle subduing both the crowd and an opponent she has taken just one set from in 10 previous encounters.

Around the grounds...
Preceding Wozniacki and Clijsters on Hisense is the WTA's form player, Victoria Azarenka, who faces unseeded Mona Barthel. On the neighboring Margaret Court Arena, Agnieszka Radwanska meets Galina Voskoboeva, and Jelena Jankovic takes on Christina McHale.

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