A look at the Day 8 highlights:
-Milos Raonic pulled off what might be the most significant victory of his career in defeating Stan Wawrinka in five sets. With the best volleying display he’s ever shown, a confident and assertive Raonic took the first two sets rather easily off of the 2014 Australian Open champ. Wawrinka, notoriously hot and cold mentally, finally got the ignition to turn in the third set, breaking just before the breaker at 5-all, and then taking the fourth set as well.
If Raonic had blown a two-set lead, it would have a major letdown, but also understandable: he’s made significant progress in his game, reestablished himself as a top 10 player, and Wawrinka entered as a moderate favorite. Instead, Wawrinka’s serving continued to let him down with Raonic claiming the only break of the set and coolly finishing it out on his own serve at love. Gael Monfils awaits in the next round (with a bruised hand to boot), so Raonic has a golden opportunity to reach the semifinals and maybe even the final.
-Andy Murray and David Ferrer took out tricky opponents in straight sets to clinch their quarterfinal matchup. Murray took Bernard Tomic and Ferrer, despite dismal serving, quashed the popular upset pick of John Isner.
-Victoria Azarenka took on Barbora Strycova’s best effort and still only dropped six games, while Angie Kerber overcame some early struggles on serve to win going away against fellow German Annika Beck. They’ll face each other next, and Kerber claims she has a new strategy to finally beat her nemesis…
-With three matches between top 10 players set in the other women’s quarterfinals, the fourth was blown to smithereens as a pair of 2015 semifinalists fell to unseeded players. Johanna Konta took a physical three-setter from Ekaterina Makarova and Madison Keys tried to play through a leg injury, but lost in three to Zhang Shuai, who is now in a Grand Slam quarterfinal after previously going 0-14 lifetime at majors.
-Bob and Mike Bryan continued their slide, falling in the third round. They’ve only claimed one of the last 10 majors and lost their spot atop the rankings last year. The team that took their spot, Jean-Julien Rojer and Horia Tecau, remain alive, as do Jack Sock and Vasek Pospisil. On the women’s side, it’s still Martina Hingis and Sania Mirza versus the field.
Day 9 Predictions
Serena Williams (1) vs Maria Sharapova (5)
Sharapova’s always aggressive, willing to go for winners from any part of the court, but she was even more determined to play first strike tennis against Belinda Bencic, and perhaps that’s an indicator that she knows she’ll have to dial up the shotmaking more than she ever for this match. Williams has famously not lost to Sharapova since 2004, and arguably more astonishing is that Serena has won 26 of the 27 sets they’ve played this decade. Williams in 2.
Aga Radwanska (4) vs Carla Suarez Navarro (10)
Radwanska shook off a rough start to 2015 that saw her fail to reach the quarters in Australia for the first time since 2010, followed by a first round loss in Paris. From there, she made the Wimbledon semifinals and won the year-end championship (despite going 1-2 in round robin play). Now she’s back in the late rounds down under looking to move to No. 3 in the rankings with a win. Suarez Navarro has had far less success at Slams but also improved on 2015, as she hadn’t made it past the third round at a major since the 2014 French Open. Radwanska’s coming off a narrow escape in the previous round, but she has to be considered the favorite. Radwanska in a close 2 sets.
Novak Djokovic (1) vs Kei Nishikori (7)
Djokovic has thumped Nishikori since suffering a shocking loss to him at the 2014 U.S. Open. Nishikori has forced a third set in two of the five meetings since, but the third sets in both went decisively to Djokovic (6-0 at the 2014 World Tour Finals and 6-1 last year in Rome on clay), and the underdog won’t have the benefit of playing in the afternoon heat as he did back in New York. That this is a night match is a big blow to Nishikori’s upset chances. Unless Djokovic is as stunningly awful as he was against Gilles Simon (doubtful), Kei needs to avoid his stubborn backhand-to-backhand rallies and take his chances with deep, aggressive groundstrokes. Djokovic in 4.
Roger Federer (3) vs Tomas Berdych (6)
Berdych was once a significant foil in this rivalry, scoring wins at Federer’s most dominant events (Wimbledon, U.S. Open, Cincinnati), as well as the 2004 Olympics. Since Federer’s 2014 revival though, it’s been one-sided. The former World No. 1 is 5-0 since then, and has won the last eight sets, none closer than 6-4. Raonic’s win over Wawrinka was a reminder that Berdych has underachieved due to his unwillingness to simply smack the ball around the court. He’s a good enough baseliner to beat most players and that hurts him against the game’s elite, as he’s far too content to rally against all-time greats. Unless he mimics Federer’s all-out offensive assault and prevents Federer from dictating, this one could be rather straight-forward. Federer in 3.