Djokovic serving notice once again
MELBOURNE, Australia -- With all the attention on Roger, Rafa and the unpredictable Caroline Wozniacki, Novak Djokovic has flown under the radar at the Australian Open. Djokovic meets Tomas Berdych in the quarterfinals, hoping for a different outcome than at Wimbledon.
ESPN.com previews Day 9's four quarterfinal matchups.
Novak Djokovic (3) versus Tomas Berdych (6)
In his short career, Djokovic's serve has taken on a life of its own.
Djokovic added retired two-time Grand Slam finalist Todd Martin to his entourage in an effort to sort it out. The motion changed as a result, but it ultimately didn't work for the Serb, and the two amicably parted in 2010. Back to the old motion and fresh off winning the Davis Cup title, the serve is clicking.
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Twelve months ago in Melbourne on his way to the quarterfinals, Djokovic was broken 10 times and hit 26 double faults. The corresponding numbers this year rest at eight and three, quite the improvement.
Against dangerous Spaniard Nicolas Almagro in the fourth round, Djokovic served at 75 percent and won almost 90 percent of those points. The result was a comprehensive 6-3, 6-4, 6-0 win.
Djokovic, who doesn't like playing in the heat, was off court in 1 hour, 44 minutes.
"I think it's the most important thing in men's tennis, to serve well," his coach, Marian Vajda, said. "The beginning of last year he was struggling with it. Now he's very solid. He increased the speed average on the first serve, and I think he's able to put a lot of spin on the second. He can find his game through those serves."
Djokovic didn't give Almagro, one of the hardest hitters around, much chance. Djokovic never relented. When he missed an easy volley cruising in the third set, he was annoyed. There was no smile or casualness, as seen in the past.
"He was always motivated, but he was up and down," Vajda said. "Now he's focused. You can see it. He's not doing some strange things on court. He's focused, not bothered by anything. He matured a little more."
The same can be said of Berdych, who delivered on his immense potential in 2010, reaching the French Open semifinals and Wimbledon final. Berdych downed a passive Djokovic in the semifinals at the All England Club, his lone win in their five head-to-head encounters.
Like Djokovic, Berdych has dropped only one set. He committed a paltry eight unforced errors against Fernando Verdasco on Sunday.
"So far I'm in the quarterfinals, so doing well," the Czech said. "Beat all the guys that were in the rankings behind, which is important for me. Now we will see [what happens]."
Vajda knows what he wants to happen.
"Novak has to be very aggressive, play his game, and I think he has to be on top of the game, not just let Berdych play," he said. "Even if he misses a couple of balls, he has to go more for the shots."
Prediction: Djokovic in four
Peter Lundgren knows he'll get his fair share of attention Tuesday.
"I think the camera will be on me a little bit," he said with a smile. "I have to put the makeup on."
Lundgren coached Federer to a maiden Grand Slam title at Wimbledon in 2003. Now in Wawrinka's corner, he's hoping to engineer what would be a crushing blow to the 16-time Grand Slam champion.
Lundgren has worked his magic with Wawrinka, the immensely talented 25-year-old, leading him to his first two Grand Slam quarterfinals. The inconsistency is disappearing. Mirroring Federer, Wawrinka hasn't lost in 2011.
He's looked sharper than Federer in Melbourne, coasting to a straight-sets win against hardened competitor Andy Roddick on Sunday. Federer has dropped three sets, unusual for him through four rounds of a major.
But as Roddick pointed out, Federer presents different challenges.
"I think Roger is going to get into his second serve a little bit more than I did," said Roddick, who picked Federer to advance.
Wawrinka must also overcome a mental block. He's facing his doubles partner at the 2008 Olympics -- the duo won gold -- and respects Federer immensely.
"Everybody knows that Roger is the best player ever at the moment," Wawrinka said. "We know when he's playing his best tennis it's always tough to beat him. I will try to focus on what I want to do."
Federer has won six of their seven encounters. In their last rendezvous, in Stockholm in the fall, Wawrinka led by a set and break before capitulating.
"Stan has to serve well, like he did in Stockholm," Lundgren said. "He served bombs, then he got tight at 2-0 in the second set. He started to miss his serve, and all of a sudden Roger started to get into the points."
Prediction: Federer in five
Caroline Wozniacki (1) versus Francesca Schiavone (6)
After playing the longest Grand Slam women's match in the Open era at 4 hours, 44 minutes, Schiavone was asked how much energy she'd have left in the quarterfinals. Schiavone saved six match points against pal Svetlana Kuznetsova, eventually prevailing 16-14 in the third.
The pleasantly confident Italian replied: "I'm young. I can run, I can do anything. It will be good. Why not?"
Perhaps still running on adrenaline at the time, her 30-year-old body, banged up even before the match, can't possibly recover. David Nalbandian went nearly five hours in the first round and was wiped out in the second. And we're not sure if Schiavone can match Rafael Nadal's heroics here in 2009, when he outlasted Verdasco in five hours in the semis and downed Federer two days later.
Schiavone meets the wrong type of opponent in world No. 1 Wozniacki, who will get every ball back, as usual, and make the French Open winner earn points.
Is this the break Wozniacki needs as she tries to silence critics by winning a first major? Wozniacki has bettered Schiavone two straight times.
Prediction: Wozniacki in two
Besides being a comedian, Petkovic can play.
Injury free and fitter, the German swept aside struggling three-time Grand Slam champion Maria Sharapova 6-2, 6-3 in the fourth round, celebrating with her now familiar dance on court.
"I'm very superstitious," said Petkovic, who was in deep trouble against unheralded Brit Anne Keothavong in Round 2. "Since I'm doing the dance, I'm playing much better."
Li, however, has won nine matches in a row. She hasn't dropped a set in Melbourne, surprisingly easing past Victoria Azarenka on Sunday. Li is bidding to reach the semifinals in Melbourne for the second straight year.
Prediction: Li in two
Ravi Ubha is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com.
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