On paper, the first two fourth round matches at the Rod Laver Arena could not have been more different. The first match between Caroline Wozniacki and Anastasija Sevastova was between two light weight players, both trying to be aggressive and pull the trigger but with not enough firepower to hit winners at will. The second one featuring Li Na and Victoria Azarenka was big, flat, clean heavy-weight hitting. Every short ball was dispatched with gay abandon, no corners were spared and the stadium echoed with shrieks of both the players—which only increased as the match went on.
And yet, both matches were equally exciting. Sevastova was doing exactly what Cibulkova did in Sydney to beat the world No. 1 and briefly unsettle her in Melbourne. She was being aggressive right from the start, trying to move Wozniacki from corner to corner, and going for a winner at the first available opportunity. She even tried to keep Wozniacki honest by approaching the net sporadically and attempting a few drop shots. What ultimately led to her downfall was her inexperience and inconsistency—the same reason why Cibulkova failed in the earlier round. Time and again, she pulled the trigger a little too early which resulted in unforced errors or attempted a volley without bending her knees, and drooped the ball at the net. Her inexperience showed while attempting the drop shots even when Wozniacki was pretty much on the baseline, and opened up the court by not following it up to the net.
In the end, she seemed to have all the tools to upset the counter punching top ranked Dane except for the consistency and experience.
In a similar way, Azarenka and Li Na looked similar players with heavy, high quality baseline bashing, yet Li Na was doing everything a little better. She moved faster, generated better angles on her two hander, and was the steadier of the two by committing much lesser unforced errors. Azarenka just fed to Li’s strengths by providing her enough pace to work with, and lacked variety. May be changing the pace through a slice backhand, may be testing her passing shots by approaching the net, even surprising her with drop shots. Li Na was comfortable knowing Azarenka’s strengths—and weaknesses—and was clinical on the day.
And this is why it will be intriguing to watch Wozniacki battle with Li Na in the quarters. Li Na has the pace and consistency to out power Wozniacki, while Li Na’s consistency will definitely be tested by Wozniacki’s variety and the change of pace on her shots, better movement and excellent retrieval skills.
Even though Wozniacki may have silenced the media after her excellent press conference on Friday, the questions may rise again should she fail against Li. The pressure on her is immense, and yet she has handled it extremely well till now. Should she continue her run at Melbourne with the same calmness, we will be in for a great encounter in the opening quarterfinals.