AO Monday: Vika & Sloane Square Off
Published January 19, 2014 12:11
Monday, Fourth Round
Rod Laver Arena
 Victoria Azarenka (BLR #2) vs.  Sloane Stephens (USA #13)
Head-to-head: Azarenka leads 1-0
Sloane Stephens emerged as a WTA star with her run to the semifinals at last year's Australian Open, a run that ended at the hands of eventual champion Victoria Azarenka. Since that time, Stephens has continued to be a force in majors - never failing to reach a fourth round in improving to 18-4 in Grand Slam play since the start of 2013. If she is able to avenge last year's loss to Azarenka, it would be the best win of her career - with wins over No.3 Serena Williams here last year and No.3 Maria Sharapova at Cincinnati last year her best so far.
Azarenka is riding a 17-match Australian Open win streak as she seeks to become the first player to win this tournament three straight years since Martina Hingis from 1997 to 1999. The Belarusian is looking to improve to 12-5 in Grand Slam fourth rounds and is coming off a third round rout of Yvonne Meusburger that saw her drop just one game.
"She's a great player, and I like to play against great players," Azarenka said of Stephens. "It's a great challenge for me to have. A tough fourth round, but that's what you get going into the second week in a Grand Slam."
 Maria Sharapova (RUS #3) vs.  Dominika Cibulkova (SVK #24)
Head-to-head: Sharapova leads 3-2
Though they will be facing off for the sixth time, Maria Sharapova and Dominika Cibulkova have surprisingly never played on hardcourts and not on any surface for the last two and a half years. Cibulkova has had the easier path into the fourth round, surrendering just nine games through three rounds - best of the field. She is coming off an especially impressive 61 60 rout of fellow Top 20 player Carla Suárez Navarro, and while she has spent just three hours and 33 minutes on court, Sharapova has nearly doubled that with six hours and 58 minutes spent on court.
Cibulkova takes an impressive 4-1 fourth round Grand Slam record into this contest, while Sharapova is 20-8 - including 6-1 at the Australian Open. Two of Cibulkova's 10 Top 5 wins have come at Grand Slams, including defeats of No.1 Caroline Wozniacki at Wimbledon in 2011 and No.1 Victoria Azarenka at Roland Garros in 2012.
"She's a great retriever of the ball," Sharapova said of Cibulkova. "She likes to make it physical. That's when she plays her best. Obviously I don't want to go there with her. She plays a lot of top players extremely well and has nothing to lose, so I'm expecting a tough one in the next round."
 Jelena Jankovic (SRB #8) vs.  Simona Halep (ROU #11)
Head-to-head: Halep leads 2-1
Expect a treat if Jelena Jankovic and Simona Halep's Monday showdown is anything like their first three, each of which was a very tight three-setter. In fact, Jankovic had match points in her two losses. A third straight triumph over the Serb would give Halep her sixth Top 10 win and her first Grand Slam quarterfinal berth. The first Romanian to reach the fourth round at the Australian Open since Ruxandra Dragomir Ilie in 1998, Halep has a chance to become the first Romanian in the Top 10 since Irina Spirlea in 1998.
Jankovic is just 1-3 in the fourth round of the Australian Open, but if she is able to get past that stage for the first time since 2008, she will have her 100th Grand Slam win under her belt. That would make her one of seven active players to achieve that milestone. She comes into this tilt in good form, having yet to drop a set this fortnight.