Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Same dance, different partner

There was a time in Martina Hingis' career when all that stood between her and an Australian Open title was Jennifer Capriati. In 2001 and 2002, Hingis made the final, and lost both times to the American. Particularly memorable was the 2002 final, where both players were barely standing after playing under that famous Australia heat.
Five years later, Capriati is languishing in semi-retirement and Hingis, having had retired herself, has bounced back to the top of the game. For the second year in a row, Hingis has made the quarterfinals. And for the second year in a row, she draws Kim Clijsters.
Clijsters, continuing the familiar retirement theme, is calling it quits at the end of the year. (Ah, to be 23 years old, and be facing the promise of never having to work again ... ) It's her self-imposed last chance to win this championship.
In 2006, she stopped Hingis' comeback train, and this year, she's favored to do it again. In her three years away from the game, Hingis never did come up with a weapon against her own biggest weakness -- the power game.
The other quarterfinal casts top seed Maria Sharapova against Anna Chakvetadze, seeded twelvth. Chakvetadze (say it, don't spray it) is toward the conclusion of her best run at a Grand Slam. On paper, she has a win against Sharapova, by way of walkover in 2006. The bad news is that Sharapova has two very real wins against her fellow Russian, and she'll probably make it three.
The men's quarterfinals will feature world No. 2 Rafael Nadal against Fernando Gonzalez, who did Nadal a solid by doing something Nadal's never been able to do -- beating James Blake in the previous round. Gonzalez has an explosive, high-risk game, and when he's on, it's pretty impressive. When it's not, well, just look away. Nadal is recovering from a rough end to 2006, but looks to be playing himself back into condition. This one could go either way. Break out the popcorn.
The winner, of course, advances to the semifinals, and will face the winner of the Nikolay Davydenko/Tommy Haas match. Haas has been climbing back from injury for the past year or so. He's having his deepest run at a Grand Slam in a long while, but he'll have to be inspired to beat Davydenko, whom he holds a career 0-2 record against.

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