The bottom half of the women’s draw will take centre stage on Monday with the final four fourth round matches to be played. This post covers the two matches from the fourth quarter of the draw including Ekaterina Makarova against Johanna Konta and Madison Keys playing Shuai Zhang.
1. Ekaterina Makarova v Johanna Konta (AO, R4)
And the Bourne-GOAT lives on… Ekaterina Makarova is having another successful tournament at the Australian Open. While I was having second thoughts over the Makarova-Pliskova match, the Russian player once again came through in flying colours, defeating Pliskova in their most one-sided encounter to date, 6-3 6-2. Makarova is yet to drop a set all week and is looking mightily good heading into the second week.
Makarova now plays Johanna Konta who has reached back-to-back Grand Slam second weeks having made the fourth round in New York. I put my hands up that I was already beginning to question whether Konta could back up her tremendous second half to 2015 after two early losses to start the year. Konta has rebounded since then with a first round upset of Venus Williams, followed up with convincing wins over Saisai Zheng (6-2 6-3) and Denisa Allertova (6-2 6-2). Konta failed to serve out her matches against Venus and Saisai Zheng at the first time of asking but faced no such problems in her 64 minute victory over Allertova.
Head-to-head record: In their only previous match, Konta beat Makarova in Eastbourne last year, 6-2 6-4.
Interesting stat: In the last five years, Makarova has reached at least the fourth round with two quarter-final appearances (2012 and 2013) and one semi-final showing last year.
Analysis: I’d take Makarova, based on how reliable she has been at this tournament and that she’s looking fit and healthy after being out of action after the US Open last year. I fancy it to be close though and certainly wouldn’t be surprised to see Konta keep in winning.
Prediction: Makarova d. Konta in 3 sets
2. Madison Keys v Shuai Zhang (AO, R4)
What a story… i’ve been blown away with Shuai Zhang this week who has been one of the big talking points from the 2016 Australian Open. Arriving in the main draw after coming through the qualifying, Zhang won her first ever Grand Slam main draw match having previously gone 0-14. Just to add the occasion, Zhang took out none other than the world number two, Simona Halep. Zhang’s reaction and post-match interview was pretty awesome to watch. I wondered whether the emotion of that situation may be too much to handle but Zhang has backed it up with comprehensive wins over the in-form, Alizé Cornet (6-3 6-3) and Varvara Lepchenko (6-1 6-3).
Zhang is now unbeaten in 2nd round and 3rd round main draw matches at the Grand Slams! I think it shows how much of tennis is mental these days. Relieving the mental baggage from losing so many first round Grand Slam matches seems to have freed up Zhang and now the confidence is well and truly flowing… to hear more from Zhang, I couldn’t recommend more listening to the No Challenges Remaining Podcast from Zhang’s first press conference. Her quotes were great but hearing it in audio adds extra weight to the struggles she went through and how she contemplated retiring from the game.
Zhang gets last year’s Australian Open semi-finalist, Madison Keys in the fourth round. The American player came from a set and a break down, and then 0-3 down in the third set to secure an impressive win against Ana Ivanovic, 4-6 6-4 6-4. The match featured a lengthy delay in the second set when Ivanovic’s coach, Nigel Sears collapsed in the crowd. It was such a tough situation all round and I was surprised the match continued. Based on these circumstances, I think Ivanovic’s performance was encouraging. While her tennis hasn’t always been there, Keys’s mental fortitude has been strong in all three of her matches.
Head-to-head record: This will be a fifth encounter between Keys and Zhang with the pair splitting their first four matches. Zhang won their last match in 2014 in Acapulco, 4-6 6-1 6-4.
Interesting stat: Currently ranked at number 133 in the world, Zhang has been as high as 30 in 2014 after a run to the quarter-finals in Birmingham. 2015 was a tough year but it is worth pointing out that Zhang did end the season by winning a $100k ITF event in Tokyo where she beat Kurumi Nara and Nao Hibino in the final two rounds.
Analysis: Ain’t got a clue on this one hahaha… who knows what Zhang is capable of?! She’s playing with a supersonic injection of confidence. I’m constantly wondering if/when it will all catch up with her. The level she produced against Lepchenko was pretty fantastic. Keys’s form hasn’t been as impressive, but I have admired the way she has battled this week. I’d written her off during her match with Ivanovic on multiple occasions but she kept coming back. Honestly on the fence with this one but i’ll go with Madison…
Prediction: Keys d. Zhang in 3 sets