By Ros Satar
- Simona Halep  v Anett Kontaveit 
- Garbiñe Muguruza v Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 
- Stan Wawrinka  v Alexander Zverev 
- Rafael Nadal  v Dominic Thiem 
MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – Getting to the business end, we will see the semi-finals set as we break down the four quarter-finals.
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Simona Halep  v Anett Kontaveit  | Halep leads H2H 2-0
2018 finalist Simona Halep has been in some pretty impressive form on the way to the quarter-finals. Despite taking what seems to be an annual tumble in the first round, hurting her wrist, there has been no ill-effects as she has reached this stage without dropping a set.
Anett Kontaveit is treading new ground as she reached the quarter-final stage at a Slam for the first time, coming through a challenging three setter against Iga Swiatek. She was knocked for six at the end of last year with a viral illness that saw her withdraw from the US Open third round and closed her season down.
She told reporters, after her fourth round victory: “It was really hard, so tough to retire at a Grand Slam. It was a really tough time, really tough couple of months after that. But I’m so happy I’m through that now, and I started training in mid-November or something. Yeah, it’s been only uphill from there (smiling).
“It’s going really well with Nigel. I feel like my game is improving constantly. Yeah, he’s definitely a really big part of this journey. It was great from him, supporting me and sticking around. I couldn’t do much — I mean, pretty much anything for months. He was really patient with me. He was really supportive.
“I’m looking forward to playing against Simona. It’s been a couple of years. I mean, she’s a really great player, so I have got to play my best tennis, for sure.”
Halep has been focussed and tends to stick to a game plan. What Kontaveit can certainly expect to be aggressive, and she will need to have the sticking power to match Halep’s consistency this tournament.
Prediction: Halep in straight sets
Garbiñe Muguruza v Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova  | Muguruza leads H2H 4-1
Over the past week, Garbiñe Muguruza has started to very much look like a two-time Slam champion, overcoming a very topsy-turvy first round match to look very much in control. Her reuniting with Conchita Martinez having been coached by Sam Sumyk, has given her a different dimension, as she explained to reporters, after her fourth round win:
“I feel like [Sumyk and I] achieved incredible things together. Yeah, I reach a moment where I feel like I needed different voice, different energy. I think being an ex-player, [Martinez] understands me pretty fast. We don’t need a lot of words to have this complicity. We work before. It has worked well. It’s not a guarantee, but I’m happy to have her in my team.”
Sumyk is now in Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova’s coach, which potentially introduces an interesting dynamic for this match: “I play the player, I don’t play the team. For me, I’m just going to think about who is going to be my opponent and bring my game into the court. Afterwards there’s not much to say about it.”
Pavlyuchenkova had not dropped a set through to the fourth round, but has had some tough sets to contend with so she will need to ensure that her power-game stands up to Muguruza’s equally impressive game. What makes the difference is Muguruza’s ability to switch from attack to defence. The Russian was more effective in the end against Kerber because she has to work on adding that aggression into her game.
With Muguruza, it is a lot more natural aspect of her game, and it shows certainly in her last two matches.
Prediction: Muguruza in three sets.
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Stan Wawrinka  v Alexander Zverev  | Zverev leads H2H 2-0
As we gallop towards the final four, another member of the ‘old guard’, Stan Wawrinka put paid to one of the next generation as he took out the No. 4 seed Daniil Medvedev in a tense five-setter. Experience really was key here, and will be looking to reach his first Grand Slam final in almost three years.
For Alexander Zverev the goal is a big one – to reach his first Grand Slam semi-final, having alreadt achieved his best showing at the Australian Open this year in reaching this stage. It was certainly an awful start for Zverev who was dreadful in the ATP Cup. Whatever adjustments he has made, it has worked as he has yet to drop a set here.
There have been many changes to Wawrinka over the years – he has proved he has approved his mentality, and his offensive baseline play has adapted across the surfaces, leading him to three slams titles.
Zverev obviously has yet to hit those heights but this year, with his almost under-the-radar progress through the draw, and perhaps that has suited him more. Although he has a winning record against the Swiss, he has hard to work hard for them and this may be where he drops his first set(s).
With both having an aggressive game, a lot will come down to experience and whether Wawrinka has had time to recover from the effects of his latest five setter, and indeed whether Zverev has the fitness to tackle a five-setter at this stage.
Prediction: Zverev in five sets.
Rafael Nadal  v Dominic Thiem  | Nadal leads H2H 9-4
Will Prince of Clay get one over on the King of Clay… on a hard court? Ironically in the one hard court battle between Rafael Nadal and Dominic Thiem, the win went to Nadal, but it took him four sets to put Thiem away.
Thiem has had a couple of scenic routes to get to the quarter-final, and will have to go some to get his first Grand Slam win over Nadal. It might sound like a formidable task but Thiem’s form at the end of the year at the season-ending finals showed that he had had found a way for his game to impose on hard courts, especially with his Indian Wells win earlier in the season.
Nadal has had a busy end-of and start-to season, leading Spain to a Davis Cup Finals victory on home soil, and then finishing as runners up in the inaugural ATP Cup competition at the start of the year.
So far he has not necessarily shows signs of fatigue as such, but was a little more vulnerable in his much anticipated four-setter with Nick Kyrgios. Thiem has shown he is capable of taking the initiative against Nadal – he got two sets off him in their only hard court encounter at the US Open in 2018, and his game has improved since then. He also took a set off him at Roland Garros last year, in Nadal’s own wheelhouse.
Thiem can certainly go toe-to-toe with Nadal in building up long points and sustaining gruelling baseline rallies until the kangaroos come bouncing down Flinders Street in search of a beer. What remains to be seen is can his mental focus match that physical improvement over the years.
Nadal has looked in solid form in the early rounds, as he often does, and lost a set and then was taken to two tie-breaks by Kyrgios. Thiem can, and should be another test.
Prediction: Thiem in five sets.
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