United States’ Amanda Anisimova makes a backhand return to Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus during their third round match at the Australian Open tennis championships in Melbourne, Australia, Friday, Jan. 18, 2019. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)
United States’ Amanda Anisimova makes a backhand return to Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus during their third round match at the Australian Open tennis championships in Melbourne, Australia, Friday, Jan. 18, 2019. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)| (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)

Tennis - 5 Australian Open picks for the Women’s Round of 16

Each round, as the players get better, the matches get tougher to pick. Can we keep up our ridiculous win rate?

Neal Abrams

Neal Abrams

Australian Open
Round of 16 - Women

Amanda Anisimova over Petra Kvitova
I’ve seen the future of Women’s tennis and her name is Amanda Anisimova. For those who are living in 2018, Amanda is the daughter of two Russian parents, and was brought up in Freehold, NJ. She’s 17-years-old, 5’11”, and reminds me of a young fawn when she gallops across the court with nary a hitch in her quick stride. She has a great serve built on a perfect foundation compete with a deep knee bend and the perfect point of contact. She hits howitzers off of both her forehand and her two-handed backhand, each of which she can hit down the line, cross court and that inside-out shot, especially on the forehand that most of the players use today. She volleys well and takes the ball early on both return of serves and groundies. The only potential flaw I see is that she is possibly too aggressive on offense—a unique problem to have! Petra Kvitova is playing some of her best tennis right now and deserves a better fate, but she’s in the way of this rising star. Pull up your chair to watch this match -- it’s the changing of the guard.

Sloane Stephens over Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova
Sloane Stephens is perhaps the biggest enigma in Women’s tennis today. Last week in Sydney she played so poorly that she was really hard to even watch. Based on her play there I really thought that she’d be lucky to win a round or two here. But, lo and behold, she got a great draw -- the kind that a 5th seed often gets, and is an entirely different player here. I’d love to see her hit her serves harder, which she could do by just increasing her racket speed on the hit, but she’s hitting her groundies much better than last week and I expect her to dictate this match.

Angelique Kerber over Danielle Collins
Collins has had a breakout tournament Down Under and will see her ranking jump. The two-time NCAA Champion is a fierce fighter, and that is a quality that cannot be taught. But I think Kerber, a three-time Grand Slam champion, is perhaps a bit of a stretch for the popular American right now. Kerber does a lot of things well, and I think it helps that she’s left-handed, as it changes shot patterns. Think back to great players of the past, and there’s a statistically overrepresentation of lefties in the top tier, with Laver, McEnroe, Connors, Ivanisevic, Nadal, Navratilova, and Seles.

Maria Sharapova over Ashleigh Barty
This is a tough pick. I want to say that Barty is going to win, because she’s such a fresh, new personality, and I believe that she’s playing well enough to do so. But if Sharapova serves and is as relentlessly aggressive as she was in her win over Caroline Wozniacki, Sharapova should take this fascinating match-up in three close sets. In the past, Sharapova’s serve could be frighteningly inconsistent, with her catching every third toss because it wasn’t in the right place. But she looked pretty polished in her last match and I think she’ll simply overpower the hometown favorite. Barty will get her licks in, but they won’t be enough.

Simona Halep over Serena Williams
I’ve never seen a top seed have the kind of difficult draw that was given to Halep here. But looking back, it was a blessing in disguise. She came into this tournament with no match play since her first round exit to Kai Kanepi at the 2018 U.S. Open, and it was hard to predict how she’d react to competitive situations again. Well, she’s played herself into great form, and is the kind of competitive force we’ve grown used to appreciating the past few years. Serena, on the other hand, has been just plain dominant. But to be fair, she hasn’t been tested at all. Halep just spent two sets finding her range against Venus’ fast serves and penetrating ground strokes, and has her timing down. Although Serena has a lifetime winning record over Halep, when she gets tested, Serena has had a history of imploding. Whether it was that fiasco against Kim Clijsters at the U.S. Open in 2009 when she threatened to jam a ball down a linesman’s throat and then threatened to kill her and was defaulted. Or how about the hissie fit she threw in the Finals of the 2011 U.S. Open, when, getting completely outplayed by Sam Stosur, she called the umpire “completely unattractive inside” and told her “don’t even look at me”? Or that sad display last September when, while being taken to the woodshed, again in New York, she picked a fight with the umpire and took all the pleasure out of a truly historic occasion for Naomi Osaka and made it all about her. Either way, when Serena is tested, her reactions can be extreme. I think we’re about to see Halep take it to Serena and come out on top.

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