Commentary

Tougher Wawrinka ready for Roddick

Updated: January 22, 2011, 2:26 AM ET
By Ravi Ubha | ESPN.com

MELBOURNE, Australia -- Andy Roddick is usually an automatic in the fourth round at Grand Slams. Since turning pro 11 years ago, he's gone 18-3, including a symmetrical 6-1 at the Australian Open. Roddick meets a rejuvenated Stanislas Wawrinka to highlight Day 7.

Men's match to watch: Andy Roddick (8) versus Stanislas Wawrinka (19)

Stanislas Wawrinka earned a reputation for not being able to win when it counts. There's reason to believe, however, that the Swiss with a big game is turning it around. Reaching the quarterfinals at the U.S. Open was a good start.

Wawrinka, under the stewardship of Peter Lundgren, has been flawless to start the season, unbeaten in eight matches. Wawrinka crushed Gael Monfils, who became increasingly puzzled as the affair wore on, in the third round 7-6 (4), 6-2, 6-3.

His lovely one-handed backhand was in full flow Friday, and the elastic Frenchman was unable to cope.

"Stan is playing well here," Roddick said.

And he's seemingly more focused than ever, despite some personal turmoil.

Wawrinka separated from his wife, who claimed he told her tennis had become his "priority" and he wanted to give it his all over the next five years. They have an 11-month-old daughter, Alexia. The news broke prior to Wawrinka's first tournament of 2011 in India.

"I was pretty pissed off about that, the way it came out," Lundgren said matter-of-factly in the player cafe. "Of course it bothered him. It's never easy, it coming out in the papers, all over the place. He was a bit disappointed. But he's been amazing when it comes to that. Just really focused on what he needs to do, professional like always."

This might be a defining match for Wawrinka.

Battling Roddick, a seasoned competitor and Grand Slam winner, is different than facing the likes of Monfils or Tomas Berdych and Robin Haase, as he did en route to winning in Chennai. Wawrinka will have to beat Roddick, as the longtime U.S. No. 1 rarely beats himself.

The most apparent danger for Wawrinka is imploding, having to hit an endless number of balls as Roddick retrieves, as usual, from the baseline. In short, he'll need to execute as he did against Monfils.

Of course, Wawrinka must also unlock the Roddick serve.

"He has to try to get the returns back deep and serve well," Lundgren said. "Just play his game, be aggressive and offensive like he was against Monfils. Andy can't really hurt him from the baseline. He doesn't have a huge weapon. OK his forehand is big, but it's not unbelievably big or bigger than Monfils'."

Roddick has been known to intimidate a few on court. Lundgren is trying to make Wawrinka tougher, and it appears he's getting through.

"He was too mellow on court before and not aggressive enough," he said. "I wanted him to show the fist like he wants to win, be more like a beast. Now he's starting to be one."

Roddick was a tad fortunate against Haase in the second round, down a set and taken to a second-set tiebreaker. Once the Dutchman, hindered by an ankle injury, lost the second, his will waned. Roddick, who won their only completed head-to-head, surely knows he must get a better start this time.

Prediction: Wawrinka in five

Women's match to watch: Victoria Azarenka (8) versus Li Na (9)

Li Na should really enjoy playing in Australia.

After all, the towering Chinese baseliner reached her lone Grand Slam semifinal in Oz last year, and two of her four career titles have come in Australia. Just last week, Li won the Sydney International.

But the weather isn't to her liking.

"For us, just after the winter time, to come to Australia, it's always tough," Li told reporters. "It's so hot."

Like the personable 28-year-old herself.

Not only did Li win in Sydney, she upended favorite Kim Clijsters, rallying from a 5-0 first-set deficit. Usually such a streaky player, the type who can fill two games with unforced errors then crunch six or seven winners in succession, Li has coasted through three rounds.

And this following a tough breakup with coach Thomas Hogstedt, who joined Team Sharapova. Li is now guided by her husband, Jiang Shan.

"It's interesting because [we] always fight," she said, tongue in cheek.

Victoria Azarenka, who is known to fight ... with herself on court, has flown under the radar, much like Li has.

Maybe this is her year at the Australian Open. Azarenka lost the previous two seasons to Serena Williams, blowing big leads in both, although a heat-induced illness knocked her out in 2009.

Maybe not.

Prediction: Li in three

Guaranteed Slugfest: Tomas Berdych (6) versus Fernando Verdasco (9)

Fernando Verdasco is making the most of his second chance.

Staring at three match points against Janko Tipsarevic in the second round, Verdasco pulled it out, getting some help from his mentally suspect Serbian opponent. The left-handed Verdasco, who may spend as much time on his hair as his game, subsequently cruised past an ailing Kei Nishikori in two hours.

"I started the match very, very strong, compared to Tipsarevic when I started a little bit slow," the Spaniard said.

How Verdasco needs a good showing.

He largely underachieved in 2009 -- following his heroics in Melbourne -- and fizzled from the grass-court season onward in 2010. For most of the first four sets against Tipsarevic, he was frustratingly content to trade from the back of the court rather than let rip when given the chance.

Berdych, trying to back up his appearance in the French Open semifinals and Wimbledon final, has progressed efficiently, conceding only one set. He's won six of 10 against Verdasco, including four straight on hard courts.

Prediction: Verdasco in four

Three-set special: Roger Federer (2) versus Tommy Robredo

It's nice to get mid-tournament breathers, especially when you've had a five-setter in the second round.

Roger Federer confronts veteran Tommy Robredo, knowing, as competitive as the Spaniard is, he's in absolutely no danger. The Swiss isn't about to say that publicly, mind you.

Federer owns a 9-0 record against Robredo, winning 21 of 23 sets.

Robredo's job is done. Coming off an injury-ravaged campaign that sent his ranking uncharacteristically outside the top 35, Robredo will now climb up the rankings given he lost in the first round at the Australian Open last year.

Prediction: Federer

Ravi Ubha is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com.

London-based Ravi Ubha covers soccer and tennis for ESPN.com.