The legendary Roger Federer takes on the brilliant non-seeded Mischa Zverev. The ever-dangerous Stan Wawrinka takes on the extremely underrated Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. This Australian Open quarter-final line-up greatly appeals to me. Here are five things you might want to know (or might not) ahead of the action!
1. Court allocation is an underrated factor
Back in June, five-time Wimbledon champion Venus Williams reached her first major semifinal since 2009. The 36-year-old had been sentenced to a stage as inferior as Court 18 en route to the achievement, and was playing her first match on Centre Court in the biggest clash of her season. Tightened by nerves, she went down 6-4 6-4 to eventual runner-up Angelique Kerber.
No. 12 seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, a former finalist in Melbourne, is into the quarter-finals in Oz. But the Frenchman is yet to play a match on the court where he will face off with Stan Wawrinka in the quarter-finals. In four rounds, Tsonga has played once on Show Court 3, appeared on Show Court 2, taken a fleeting visit to Margaret Court Arena, and clinched his final eight appearance Hisense Arena.
Meanwhile, Wawrinka has not left the event’s two biggest show-courts throughout the tournament thus far. While he has played three of his matches on Margaret Court Arena, he bagged a highly beneficial Rod Laver outing in round three. In addition, he was the third match on that court – as he will be once again when he faces Tsonga.
Throughout the fortnight, there have been many conversations over the differing atmospheres on different courts at various times of the day. If Jo-Wilfried Tsonga goes down on Tuesday, this may factor.
2. Roger Federer scored a meaningful double bagel in 2013…
It came over forthcoming (and awesome) opponent Mischa Zverev, on the slick and speedy surface of grass. It also came in a quarter-final: in Halle, a place of many victories for Federer. As it happens, the Swiss was enduring one of his most tumultuous seasons of recent times at this point, and the German event was the only title he claimed that year.
3. … but Federer does not have great Grand Slam memories of serve-and-volleyers
Flashback to Wimbledon 2013 – just a couple of weeks after his defeat of Zverev. Sergiy Stakhovsky – the man who famously told of having to beat three opponents, “Federer, his ego and his Centre Court history” – served and volleyed as though his life depended on it to hand the legend a shock second round Wimbledon loss. The world watched in amazement as the Ukrainian hugged the net, executing with spellbinding variation, meaning that Federer was unable to find a way over or around him consistently. The 6-7 7-6 7-5 7-6 result was unmatched for the shock of the tournament.
Mischa Zverev may be on the rise once more, but he first entered the top 50 back in July 2009. He has been on tennis circuit for more than twelve years, carefully observing the progress of the likes of Andy Murray, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer – whilst they have seen little of him. And his stunning upset of Murray in the Melbourne fourth round suggests that he is the best serve and volleyer in the current game.
Do not write off this immense talent. Roger Federer is not in the semifinals yet.
4. Stan Wawrinka is at his best when the spotlight is off him
Despite the absences of Djokovic and Murray, Wawrinka – although the second-highest ranked player remaining in the draw – is not making headlines. As long-time fans dream of a Federer versus Rafael Nadal final showdown, Wawrinka has progressed through his rather empty quarter with little fuss since round one.
This discreet progress is what the three-time Grand Slam champion thrives on. Here in Melbourne, three years ago, the no. 7 seed stunned the world by beating Djokovic and Nadal en route to major glory – becoming the first man outside of the Big Four to win a Slam since 2009. One year later, the one-handed-backhander was not even mentioned among the contenders when he swept to Roland Garros triumph – and he was given a chance by few even as he faced a hungry Djokovic in the final. The 2016 US Open? It was the same story, giving the Swiss star three for three wins in major finals.
It would be so typically Stan Wawrinka to win back-to-back majors when few mentioned him among the leading Melbourne contenders. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga supporters might want to start pointing this out in an effort to put the pressure on…
5. If Roger Federer plays it right, he can still swing freely
It’s a tricky position. World no. 17 (yes, laugh) Roger Federer is in a quarter-final against an opponent ranked world no. 50. Therefore, the 17-time Slam champion is widely expected to make the final four. Yet, as everybody now knows, the elder Zverev brother possesses a mentality and set of skills that outstrips his current ranking.
Nevertheless, a rusty Roger came into this event with no expectations. If the 35-year-old can continue on his way in this same manner – playing with nothing to lose and everything to gain – then the odds are in his favour on Tuesday night.
One wonders if the former champion has managed to avoid hearing those now calling him title favourite.
Thanks for reading! Let me know in the comments section who you think will make the semifinals…