Australian Open: Day 10 Preview

Victoria Azarenka aims to cut short Svetlana Kuznetsova's comeback and book a place in the Australian Open semifinals.

Published January 22, 2013 10:49

Australian Open: Day 10 Preview
Victoria Azarenka

MELBOURNE, Australia - The identity of the final two semifinalists at the Australian Open will be confirmed on Wednesday as Serena Williams locks horns with Fed Cup teammate Sloane Stephens and defending champion Victoria Azarenka takes on a resurgent Svetlana Kuznetsova.

Wednesday, Quarterfinals

Rod Laver Arena
[1] Victoria Azarenka (BLR #1) vs. Svetlana Kuznetsova (RUS #75)
Kuznetsova leads 4-3
After an almighty struggle against Jamie Hampton, Victoria Azarenka looked back to her imperious best against Elena Vesnina in the fourth round. Now she takes on another in-form Russian, Svetlana Kuznetsova, who is making a welcome return to the business end of a Grand Slam.

Kuznetsova's last appearance in the quarterfinals of a major came back at the 2011 French Open, but refreshed after an injury-prompted break from the game, she has looked as good as ever in Melbourne. Victories over Hsieh Su-Wei, Carla Suárez Navarro and Caroline Wozniacki have made a mockery of her lowly ranking and with six wins against World No.1s - and four over Azarenka - she will certainly not be lacking in belief when she steps on Rod Laver.

Which is just as well, because, in Azarenka, she faces a player who has won her last 18 matches on Australian soil. Both players have excellent movement and well-rounded all-court games, and in a match that will be subjected to the worst of the midday sun, it could end up being as much about will as skill.

[3] Serena Williams (USA #3) vs. [29] Sloane Stephens (USA #25)
Williams leads 1-0
In the post-match interview following their quarterfinal meeting in Brisbane a few weeks ago, Serena Williams earmarked Sloane Stephens as a future World No.1. Williams put no timeframe on her prediction, but judging by Stephens' performances Down Under it could be sooner rather than later.

Defeat against Williams in Brisbane was followed by a semifinal in Hobart and now a maiden Grand Slam quarterfinal appearance. Already the highest-ranked teenager in the world, Stephens will make her Top 20 debut next Monday and has the youthful confidence to believe that her Australian Open run does not have to end here.

If she is to continue into the semifinals, though, she will need the performance of her young career. Williams is currently on a 20-match winning streak - just one off her all-time best of 21 - and the manner in which she sauntered past her fourth round opponent, Maria Kirilenko, suggests she has her eyes firmly set on not only a sixth Australian Open title but also the No.1 ranking.

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