By Ros Satar, in Indian Wells
- We pick our three must-see matches as the women’s quarter-finals get underway and the final fourth round matches on the men’s side conclude.
- It is all about THAT quarter on the ATP side.
INDIAN WELLS, USA – The schedule was stacked as the blistering desert sun set on the last of the women’s fourth round action.
Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova v Svetlana Kuznetsova  – Kuznetsova leads H2H: 5-3
First to book their spots in the quarter-finals, we will see an all-Russian battle for a spot in the semi-finals.
Svetlana Kuznetsova was in impressive form against Caroline Garcia. The Frenchwoman mounted a comeback against Britain’s Johanna Konta but came up short against the No. 8 seed. The Russian dominated her completely in the first set, breaking her four times and the only game the Frenchwoman gained was at Kuznetsova’s expense.
It was a slightly more competitive affair in the second set with Garcia striking first but Kuznetsova was not in the mood to let her keep the advantage, breaking straight back, and then breaking twice at the end of the set to book her spot in a fifth quarter-final, and her first since 2008.
Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova was equally impressive weathering a longer battle with WTA Finals champion Dominika Cibulkova. The Slovakian was in her third three-setter here in the desert, but this time the victory would elude her as the Russian contained her usually aggressive play, coaxing errors from the fifth seed.
It did look for a time like the comeback was in the cards for Cibulkova, as she raised her game significantly in the second set, but Pavlyuchenkova jumped out to a 3-0 lead at the start of the decider, and despite Cibulkova scrapping for all she was worth, it was too good and landed Pavlyuchenkova her first quarter-final spot since 2009.
There has been plenty of water under the bridge for the pair, who have seen their careers go up and down, but are both enjoying a resurgence of sorts with fair starts to the year.
Pavlyuchenkova may have the edge on match-play and indeed despite trailing Kuznetsova on their head to head, she has won the last three games against her compatriot.
While Pavlyuchenkova has a good serve and powerful ground-strokes, on her day, Kuznetsova can frustrate with her court speed, agility and variety, although in their last three matches, the younger Russian has found a way to nullify Kuznetsova and maybe capitalise on her inconsistency.
Prediction: Kuznetsova in three sets.
Karolina Pliskova v Garbiñe Muguruza – H2H: Pliskova leads 5-1
Meanwhile Garbiñe Muguruza was made to toil for her win over Elina Svitolina. While the pair had a magnificent tussle for the first set, the second and third set score-lines were a little topsy-turvy as Svitolina, coming in to the match on a 15 match winning streak kept the pressure on, stifling Muguruza effectively, before dropping off the pace herself as the Spaniard advanced to her best performance in this tournament.
Pliskova came into the tournament perhaps the most in form of the four top seeds, once Serena Williams had withdrawn, but she has made things hard for herself. She had to come from a set down against an inspired Monica Puig, and although she coasted past Irina-Camelia Begu in straight sets, the Romanian put up a fight in the second set forcing a tie-break.
Muguruza has also been on the receiving end of a battle – she was pushed hard in the third round by US wild-card Kayla Day, and had to use every ounce of her experience to grind out that win.
Her only win over the Czech has been on the clay, and Pliskova has dominated their head to head since then on hard courts. They have gone the distance a couple of times, and both have had some issues here.
The favourite has to be the Czech – right now she looks to be the more consistent for sure. Both players hit a hard ball and perhaps Muguruza’s movement may be a little more fluid than Pliskova.
Prediction: Pliskova in three sets.
Roger Federer v Rafael Nadal – H2H: Nadal leads 23-12
From the moment THAT draw was announced, this was the match-up that everyone wanted to see. That we saw them at all at the Australian Open in a Slam final was nothing short of miraculous as the men’s draw fell apart quite spectacularly.
A lot can (and probably will) be made of the head to head for the Spaniard, but those days were long ago, when he was still very much a brutal force in the sport. Repeated injury issues have taken their toll and the last two encounters have gone the way of the Swiss.
Federer has said he wants to focus on playing free, and that may be the key for him as in his mind he is still working his way through a come-back. That is not to say though that all the expectations will be on Nadal. He does have a commanding head to head, and was many people’s favourite to scoop another Australian Open.
Nadal still has a sense of weight to his shots, even if that raw brutality of his youth has dimmed somewhat, but the edge ought to go to Federer who can still glide and gad about the court with ease. He knows he is unlikely to come out on top of a gruelling slugfest from the baseline.
Tough one to call and either way it ought to be a real crowd-pleaser if not the match of the tournament on the men’s side so far.
Prediction: Federer in three sets.
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