By Mike McIntyre
Time for fourth-round matches to get underway in Melbourne and there are some fantastic battles on deck for Sunday from the bottom-half of the men's and women's draws.
John Isner, Ivo Karlovic and Andy Roddick are proving that a big serve still goes a long way on the men's side. Karlovic leads the tournament with 93 aces through three matches, while Isner is second with 81 and Roddick in sixth position with 47. Karlovic and Isner have both played several more sets than Roddick which explains their elevated numbers. Sunday could be the day of the tie-break as it is going to be a challenge to break these serves for their opponents.
Karlovic and Isner face tough matches against Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray respectively. While Karlovic is in over his 6'10'' head in this one against Nadal, Isner has a chance to make his encounter with Murray a meaningful one. The American is playing the best tennis of his professional career and is fresh off an impressive victory over 12th seeded Gael Monfils. While I expect Murray will advance, Isner will provide him with his toughest test of the tournament thus far.
Roddick should be able to knock-off Fernando Gonzalez as the erratic Chilean just barely made it past Igor Korolev in five tight sets in the previous round. Roddick has been playing terrific tennis so far this season and is still undefeated in 2010.
The fourth round match to watch is between youngsters Juan Martin Del Potro and Marin Cilic and has the best odds for a five set match on Sunday.The two have only met twice before and both times were at Grand Slams in 2009. Each time, Del Potro dropped the opening set before prevailing in four. Cilic has yet to come into his own but expect him to remain a fixture in the top-twenty for years to come. Both are twenty one (in fact Del Potro is only five days older) and they each tower over most of their opponents at 6'6''. While Del Potro already has a Grand Slam title to his credit, nobody would have expected that from him a year ago. My point is that much can change within the frame of one year. With one title already in 2010, maybe this is Cilic's year to make a name for himself.
On the women's side, Sunday has the all-Belgian battle between Justine Henin and Yanina Wickmayer. While it might not be the all-Belgian match-up that we looked forward to when the draw was announced, it is still going to provide some fireworks. Wickmayer is undefeated so far this year after winning the title in Auckland and going through three rounds of qualifying action in Melbourne as well. She has more match-play under her belt in 2010 than anyone else on tour and is capable of giving Henin a real push. When Henin lost the first set of her match against Alisa Kleybanova, it showed that she is still shaking off some post-retirement rust. I think Wickmayer has a great shot at taking her out.
Aside from the Belgians, we have a couple of all-Russian matches on Sunday to look forward to. Nadia Petrova meets reigning French Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova while second-seeded Dinara Safina faces Maria Kirilenko.
Kuznetsova leads Petrova 5-1 in career meetings, but Petrova seems to be on a nice role in this tournament and her lopsided victory over Kim Clijsters has certainly given her a confidence booster.
Don't expect another upset out of Maria Kirilenko. While she played terrific against Maria Sharapova in the first round, I think she is in tough against a very fit Dinara Safina who seems to be keeping the mental aspect of her game in check lately. Kirilenko has matched her career-best result in a Grand Slam, as she also made the fourth round here in Australia in 2008. I don't see her going any further at the moment.
The remaining women's match on Sunday has Ukrainian Alona Bondarenko against Jie Zheng from China. Both are ranked in the top thirty and have played each other three times before. Zheng won the first two times back in 2003, while Bondarenko came out on top 7-5, 7-5 two weeks ago in Hobart en route to her second career title.
I have always thought that Alona's younger sister Kateryna was the one to watch between these two, however it is Alona who is on fire so far this year as evidenced by her title in Hobart and her straight-sets victory of Jelena Jankovic in the previous round. She doesn't have much power to her game, but it won't be needed against Zheng and I think she'll take her in two sets to advance to the quarter-finals.