For the third consecutive Grand Slam, Ekaterina Makarova is into the last eight. The 26-year-old Russian has become one of the most consistent performers on the WTA tour and she maintained her marvellous record in Australia by reaching the quarter-finals of the Australian Open for the third time in her career. Makarova’s best win of the week came in the third round against Karolina Pliskova. On Sunday, she overcame Julia Goerges in straight sets, 6-3 6-2. The big difference in the stats was Goerges winning just 19% of her second serves (4/21). Makarova was the better server, winning 85% of her first serves and maintaining a positive winner to unforced error differential.
Makarova’s quarter-final opponent is Simona Halep. On both previous occasions, Makarova got thrashed by Maria Sharapova in the quarter-finals so i’m sure she will be thankful of a different opponent. It’s still going to be a very challenging match though if Halep’s fourth round performance is anything to go by. Halep defeated Yanina Wickmayer, 6-4 6-2. To add to the two terrific men’s matches on Sunday evening in Australia, the Halep v Wickmayer match was a joy to watch. Played in fine spirits, it was high quality tennis from the outset and one of those matches that just puts you in a good mood.
I love Wickmayer’s atttitude on the court and she is a real fighter. Chris Bradnam actually made a rather good point in regards to Wickmayer that she never really mixes up the pace of her shots, which can allow players to get into a rhythm against her. She has powerful groundstrokes that did cause Halep a few problems, but it’s normally at one level. She’s soo much better than her current ranking of 80 (!) and now fully fit after realising in the off-season that she had been playing with Lyme Disease, I hope she uses this week as a platform to keep improving. She seems to have mellowed in recent years as I remember she gave some awful handshakes a few years ago. It was great to see her smiling in the first set and obviously loving the experience of playing against a top player on the big stage again.
Halep played an excellent match, producing a couple of special backhand down-the-lines. The one in the vine below was an absolute WHOA moment. Another aspect to her game that continues to improve is her serve, which i’d regard as a weapon. Wickmayer kept the match close, breaking Halep’s serve for the second time in the second set to level up at 2-2… after that, Halep rolled through the last four games to seal the win in one hour and nine minutes.
Halep and Makarova have met just once before on tour with Halep winning in the quarters of New Haven, 6-1 7-6(6). I’ve always liked Makarova and I had her to the quarters in my original draw. She’s certainly not a player that makes up the numbers and I wouldn’t be shocked if she won this. However, Halep won me over with her performance against Wickmayer. She has improved every round and is going to be tough to stop.
Prediction: Halep d. Makarova in 2 sets (1 tight, 1 easy)