Australia Day may not be until Thursday but Day Seven of the Australian Open shapes up to be one of the most compelling yet of the opening Grand Slam of 2012.
With the majority of singles matches being consigned to the Rod Laver Arena the Melbourne crowd will be treated to a feast of superb tennis. The day begins with the ladies third seed, Victoria Azarenka, playing Iveta Benesova.
The unseeded Czech is making her first appearance in the fourth round of a Grand Slam having dropped just one set in her campaign thus far that saw her claim the scalp of Shaui Peng, the 16th seed, in the second round. Benesova came to Melbourne with high hopes having beaten Sam Stosur in Brisbane en route to a defeat to Kim Clijsters in the quarter final but even so when the world number 46 walks onto court there would seem to be precious little hope of another victory.
Azarenka has been in superb form thus far in Melbourne dropping only eight games in her opening three matches and looking incredibly comfortable under the heat of the Australian sun. The powerful Belarusian has served well thus far, and played well on her second serve, and even though her best performance in Melbourne is reaching the quarter final stage she has always played well in this tournament, including making the doubles final twice.
Azarenka has long been known for her vocal exploits on court but with each passing match the 22 year old has shown that she can just as easily let her tennis do the talking.
Rafa Nadal on the other hand has always let his actions speak louder than his words and the Spaniard will face his compatriot, Feliciano Lopez, in the second match of the day.
Nadal, the 2009 champion, hasn’t dropped a set yet but had a challenging second round match against Tommy Hass and even though he has played with a heavily strapped right knee his movement has been as sharp as ever and he shouldn’t have too many issues in navigating his way past Lopez.
Lopez has reached the fourth round in Melbourne for the first time and has played well, particularly in his last match against John Isner. The Spaniard is ranked a career high 19th in the world at present but even playing in the form of his life he will require a subpar Nadal to have a chance of making further progress Down Under.
The final match of the afternoon session sees a repeat of last year’s ladies final with Li Na out for revenge against Kim Clijsters. Li became the first Chinese player to reach a Grand Slam final and followed that up with a French Open title last year before she lost form in the second half of 2011.
She has played well in her opening matches in Melbourne but with Clijsters once more proving that she is arguably the best woman on tour this match has the potential to go the distance and give the crowd an exciting match before cheering on Bernard Tomic.
The big serving Australian has come through two five setters, both against seeded opponents, to book a place against Roger Federer in the first match of the evening session. Tomic employs a neutral strategy that has in the past frustrated many opponents but armed with a huge first serve he is a tricky player to face.
Federer has barely been tested thus far, including receiving a walkover in the second round, but the Swiss superstar will take nothing for granted in this match. The most successful men’s player in Grand Slam history has seen his aura of invincibility removed in recent years and it has now been two year’s since his last title success at this level.
Even so there is little reason to believe that he will not maintain his incredible run of making the quarter final stage of every Grand Slam since the French Open in 2004. Federer came to Melbourne with injuries having marred his preparations but, as ever on the biggest stage, he has looked comfortable on court and has played well in his opening two matches.
Tomic should provide a challenge for Federer but the third seed should progress into the last eight. The final match of the day sees Caroline Wozniacki play Jelena Jankovic. Wozniacki, the world number one, has been plagued in the last year for reaching the summit of the rankings table without winning a major. If any player in the world can sympathise with the Dane it is Jankovic.
The Serbian rose to number one in the world in August 2008 but without a major title to her name she has faded in recent years and fallen to 13 in the world and for the most part an afterthought in the main draw.
This championship however has seen her play good tennis and return to form. Even though she is clearly no longer an elite level player there is also still the fire and determination that once made her a favourite in Melbourne. The light of her career is now flickering but, as with Lleyton Hewitt, nothing can be taken for granted during a Grand Slam when a once great player suddenly strikes a rich vein of form.
Until Wozniacki can win a Grand Slam in the eyes of many her ranking will always have an asterix attached to it. It is unfair to criticise her for showing the consistency needed to reach the top but without the weapons of a Serena Williams she can be outmatched against the leading ladies in the world.
Even so she has reached the pinnacle of the ranking system based on consistency and tenacity. These traits, that until the reign of Serena Williams, were valued highly in the ladies game but have since been replaced by more pertinent physical abilities. Wozniacki may not have the power of some other players in the draw but she is not an opponent to be underestimated.
Both players in the final of the evening session will take to the Rod Laver Arena with something to prove and even though fireworks will not illuminate the Melbourne sky until Thursday night the fans will be treated to fireworks on court on the middle Sunday of the Australian Open.