Here are 10 players who have been under-the-radar, but are into the second week of the Australian Open!
1. Kei Nishikori
4th Round Opponent: David Ferrer
H2H: 2-1 (Wins at 2008 USO and 2012 London Olympics)
How he got here: 18th ranked Kei Nishikori has quietly marched his way through the draw, taking out Hanescu, Berlocq, and Donskoy and winning nine straight sets in the process (he lost his first set to Hanescu in a tiebreak). He is doing a great job backing up his 2012 quarterfinal run here at the Australian Open, and since he already has two wins over David Ferrer on big stages he should not be taken lightly in the fourth Round.
On his offseason improvements: “For two weeks I was in Chicago just training, doing a lot of weight training and rehab. I’m trying to be a little more aggressive than I used to, try to go to the net more if I can. My serve is getting better, that’s the one thing we worked on last year. It’s faster and has more, how do you say, control and good second serve as well.”
Highlights from his upset of Berdych in Tokyo last fall:
2. Ekaterina Makarova
4th Round Opponent: Angelique Kerber
H2H: 2-3 (Lost all three matches in 2012 to Kerber)
How she got here: Like Nishikori, the 24 year-old Makarova was a surprise quarterfinalist last year, upsetting Serena Williams along the way. This year the 19th seed took out Michelle Larcher De Brito, Stephanie Foretz Gacon, and then upset Marion Bartoli in the third round. She actually narrowly escaped a collapse against Bartoli — she was up 5-0 in the third set but won it 6-4. The hard-hitting Russian has a very impressive and powerful game when she’s on fire, and she could give Kerber trouble.
It’s the fourth time she’s reached the fourth round or better of a Grand Slam, and her third year in a row getting (at least) this far in Australia. She is also still in doubles too with fellow fourth-rounder Elena Vesnina!
Here’s her post-match presser after wearing the 2012 US Open Mixed Doubles crown with Bruno Soares:
3. Julia Goerges
4th Round Opponent: Li Na
How she got here: The 24-year-old eccentric German has equaled her best Grand Slam performance from last year by making it to the second week with wins over Elena Dushevina, Romana Oprandi, and Jie Zheng. She got a lucky break when her doubles partner Samantha Stosur got upset, but it’s still nice to see her high-velocity shots find their way back inside the lines of the court.
How she keeps it together mentally:
AO: What goes through your mind during a match?
Goerges: I’ve stopped talking to myself because it didn’t really help me in the past. Of course you always have some mental things going on and you do try and talk to yourself in a good way on the inside.
But is she more German than Sabine Lisicki? And who’s Heidi Klum?
4. Kirsten Flipkens
4th Round Opponent: Maria Sharapova
How she got here: The 27-year-old Flipkens sure has blossomed since her friend Kim Clijsters went from being a competitor on tour to an adviser in her corner. She won her first WTA title last fall, and now has made it to the second week of a Major for the first time by taking out Savinykh, Zakapalova, and Bratchikova. Her story is more incredible when you find out that she had four blood clots in her legs last year, as she told 10sballs.com:
10sBALLS.com: But you have been playing that style for a few years now so why are you winning more frequently now?
FLIPKENS: Last year I had blood clots in my calf in April so I had a tough two months there. They found out I had four blood clots. So since then I started to enjoy tennis and to be relaxed in the mind. Physically I was working really hard and I think it’s just physical and mental part that I improved a lot.I was off two months. And they only found out two days before I would have left to Japan for the Fed Cup. So the doctor also told me that if I was going to step on the plane there would be a big chance I would come out of the plane blue.
Her reaction to making the second week was priceless:
5. Maria Kirilenko
4th Round Opponent: Serena Williams
H2H: 0-5 (Their closest match was in the 2004 French Open, where she lost 4-6, 6-2, 4-6.)
How she got here: She beat Vania King, Shuai Peng, and Yanina Wickmayer to advance to the second week of the Australian Open again. It’s great to see Maria Kirilenko living up to her potential. She seems to consistently beat the players she’s supposed to beat. I had doubts when she seemed to be spending her offseason with her hockey-stud fiance on the ski slopes, but she has proved that she’s certainly taking her career and her No. 15 ranking seriously. And she doesn’t even feel the pressure:
AO: Now that you’ve cracked the WTA top 15 for the first time in your career, is there any extra pressure or expectation that plays on your mind?
Kirilenko: I don’t feel pressure at all, to be honest. I’m just happy the way I’m playing and especially happy the way I’m starting to play. I feel that I’ve become a better player and everything has improved from my game, so I’m really pleased about that.
She shows off her engagement ring here:
6. Jeremy Chardy
4th Round Opponent: Andreas Seppi
How he got here: Okay, so other people are talking about him, but that’s just because the 25-year-old Frenchmen caused the upset of the tournament when he took out No. 6 seed Juan Martin Del Potro in five sets to make the second week for the first time in his career. I was particularly floored that he was able to recover in the fifth set after dropping a two sets to love lead.
It’s very heartwarming when you look back at his struggles in 2011 with his former coach, Frederic Fontang, and realize how far the 36th-ranked player has come.
He could not stop smiling after his big upset yesterday. Pammy was charmed. You will be too:
7. Andreas Seppi
4th Round Opponent: Jeremy Chardy
How he got here: His wins might not have been as flashy as Chardy’s win over Del Potro, but he has taken out Istomin and Cilic in five sets back-to-back in impressive displays of fitness and fortitude (two adjectives not always synonymous with the Italian) to make it to his first Australian Open second week. At 28 years old, Seppi is playing the best tennis of his life and will likely break into the top 20 after the fortnight. He has a great chance to make his maiden major quarterfinal.
But his mom still does his laundry:
8. Bojana Jovanovski
4th Round Opponent: Sloane Stephens
How she got here: Jovanovski is the future of Serbian tennis, and she finally seems ready to step into the spotlight. She has had impressive wins over Maria-Teresa Torro-Flor, Lucie Safarova, and Kimoko Date-Krumm to join her fellow Serb Ana Ivanovic in her very first fourth round of a Grand Slam. Of course, I’ll always remember her as the girl who went to the wrong Carlsbad. Sorry, Bojana.
She’s a fan of Lady Gaga and Rafael Nadal:
9. Milos Raonic
4th Round Opponent: Roger Federer
H2H: 0-3 (All three matches were tight three-set affairs, two ending in third-set tiebreaks, all in 2012.)
How he got here: The 22-year-old, ranked no. 15 in the world, has methodically gone about his business in the draw, notching wins over dangerous opponents Jan Hajek, Lukas Rosol, and Philipp Kohlschreiber. Do you know what makes these wins even more impressive? He’s been battling an illness.
Q. How much of it today was mental and how much was physical/technical to pull through?
MILOS RAONIC: Yeah, today I think was a hundred percent mental. I had a tough night last night. I just sort of put that aside.
Today to come out, perform the way I did, I don’t think anybody that’s close to me would have expected that, and I’m proud about that.
Q. So you’re sick?
MILOS RAONIC: I was yesterday. I was much better. I just struggled with a fever the last two nights. Sort of I managed to sweat it out last night. But that was waking up often, having to change and so forth.
Hmm … maybe the ballet lessons in Brisbane helped him get in shape for the tournament?
4th Round Opponent: Tomas Berdych
H2H: 0-4 vs. Berdych (He took him to five sets at Roland Garros in 2012.)
How he got here: I am so happy to see Kevin Anderson live up to his potential. The South African has made it to his first second week of a major with stylish wins over Lorenzi, Kuznetsov, and Verdasco. He showed phenomenal fitness and great movement in his match against Verdasco, and looks to have re-invented his career by putting in the hard yards. He’s a better player than he was at the French Open last year, and the 26-year-old might give the Czech fits. At No. 21, he’s assured to finally break through in to the top 20.
He’s also doing great in doubles, as he and partner Jonathan Erlich upset the 2nd seeds Paes/Stepanek!
Here’s a vintage hot-shot from the 2008 Las Vegas Open: