Federer too tough for Hewitt
MELBOURNE, Australia -- The top half of the draw saw some great tennis in the fourth round. But all of the matches ended fairly predictably. If the bottom half of the draw goes as predicted, the last three rounds of this tournament are going to be nothing short of amazing.
There's nothing better than getting to the quarterfinals of the major and having only top 10 seeds or former Grand Slam champions remaining. What a way to start the year.
Hicham Arazi, Morocco, vs. Mark Philippoussis (10), Australia
I spoke with Mark Philippoussis before the tournament. He said that if he could get through the first week playing pretty good tennis and if his serve is working well, he felt like he could win this major.
Of the matches in the round of 16, Philippoussis has to be happy with having to play Hicham Arazi. On literally every point, whether serving or receiving, Philippoussis has the ability to overpower Arazi, who is known not for his power but for craftiness, skillful shots and outworking his opponents. Barring a major mental letdown, there's no way Philippoussis will lose this match. In fact, he'll dominate in straight sets.
Pick: Philippoussis in three sets
Andrei Pavel, Romania, vs. Juan Carlos Ferrero (3), Spain
After watching Ferrero reach the final of last year's U.S. Open, there's no reason for me to think he can't reach the final or win on Rebound Ace at the Aussie. His ability to generate pace from various points on the court, to control his body and to launch himself with a shot is just spectacular. He shows, time and again, why he is the No. 3 player in the world.
He'll make Andrei Pavel feel his presence. Pavel probably doesn't have enough power off his ground strokes or his serve to consistently hurt Ferrero and keep him on the defense. Ferrero is a master at controlling matches against opponents who don't have as much power. Pavel's only chance in this match is to win early. The longer it goes, the more his chance decrease, in part because of the five-set match he just played. Back-to-back, five setters are very difficult.
Pick: Ferrero in three
David Nalbandian (8), Argentina, vs. Guillermo Canas, Argentina
Andre Agassi has amazing ability as a pure ball-striker. He has the best hand-eye coordination of any player on tour, but David Nalbandian is just slightly behind him. I sat courtside in Nalbandian's second-round match and was so impressed with his precise timing and how clean he hits the ball off of both sides. He's one of the few players left in the draw, the only others being Agassi and Roger Federer, who have not lost a set.
Nalbandian plays Guillermo Canas, who had an astounding comeback win against Tim Henman in the third round. But Canas cannot go pound-for-pound, stroke for stroke against Nalbandian on a Rebound Ace surface. On clay, possibly. But there's no likely scenario where Canas beats Nalbandian from the baseline, although Canas is very good at that style of play.
Pick: Nalbandian in four
Lleyton Hewitt (15), Australia, vs. Roger Federer (2), Switzerland
Half of Australia will be watching this match (ESPN, 12:30 p.m. ET Monday) between Lleyton Hewitt and Federer, the past two Wimbledon champions. It's possible there will still be lingering thoughts of their match at the end of last year when Federer lost a two-set lead and the match to Hewitt in the Davis Cup. If you go by the tennis Federer has played so far, it seems he's put it far behind him.
There's no question Federer is playing better right now than Hewitt, but one of the big questions is how Federer will handle this crowd -- this Australian crowd on Rod Laver Arena -- against a guy they want to win their championship. In matchups like this, sometimes the crowd can be the deciding factor. And if it goes down to a fifth set, it might very well decide this match.
Even with a third-round win against a challenging Rafael Nadal, Hewitt needs to play better than he has all tournament to beat Federer. This will be the best matchup in this half of the draw.
A match like this could go a long ways toward Hewitt regaining what he says he wants: The No. 1 ranking. Nonetheless, Federer in five.
Pick: Federer in five
MaliVai Washington, a tennis analyst for ESPN, reached the 1996 Wimbledon final.