Commentary

Beware of giant-killer Dolgopolov

Updated: January 25, 2011, 8:43 AM ET
By Ravi Ubha | ESPN.com

MELBOURNE, Australia -- An unlikely men's player is going deep at the Australian Open -- for the sixth straight year. This time it's gifted Ukrainian Alexandr Dolgopolov. Dolgopolov next meets Andy Murray, who is trying to end his, and Great Britain's, Grand Slam drought.

ESPN.com previews Day 10's four quarterfinal matchups.

Andy Murray (5) versus Alexandr Dolgopolov

Jack Reader, Dolgopolov's relaxed coach, remembers the first time he saw the wiry right-hander.

It was at a Futures event, the low minor leagues, in Italy in 2006, and Reader was coaching an Australian junior, Yuri Bezeruk. Dolgopolov beat Bezeruk, four years his elder, 6-3, 6-3.

"Yuri was disappointed," Reader recalled. "I said, 'Don't be, mate. Where that guy is going, I hope you get to play him in five years' time because it's going to take you five years of hard work to get where he's going.'"

Reader and Dolgopolov didn't start their collaboration then, but the former knew the young player was on his way.

"I called up an agent and said, 'Get ahold of this guy. This is the best talent, second to no one,'" Reader continued.

They finally hooked up two years ago. And Dolgopolov, whose athletic pedigree stems from his mom, who was an elite gymnast, and his dad, a former ATP pro, has made ample strides. His 2010 year-end ranking soared almost 100 spots, to 48th. Dolgopolov's sojourn here, which includes five-set upsets of Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Robin Soderling, has made him the second Ukrainian man to reach a major quarterfinal. The other, 1999 French Open finalist Andrei Medvedev, was coached by Dolgopolov's father.

As a child traveling the circuit, Dolgopolov would collect balls at practice. He remembers clowning around with 1995 French Open champion Thomas Muster, among others.

"I met pretty much all the players," Dolgopolov said. "When there's a kid on tour, all the players try to play with him. I had a nice time."

Soderling didn't have a nice time Monday.

Although Soderling wasn't at his best, Dolgopolov threw the world No. 4 off balance with a fine backhand slice. His drive backhand is a weapon, as is his disguise off the ground, and he covers a lot of territory.

"He's got a very unorthodox game," said Murray, the fifth seed, after demolishing woeful Austrian Jurgen Melzer 6-3, 6-1, 6-1. "He has a game that can make you play strange shots or, you know, not play that well."

Hmm, sound like anyone else, Andy?

Murray, last year's Australian Open finalist, hasn't dropped a set. Mind you, the Scot has had a soft draw. Getting Melzer in the fourth round instead of Marcos Baghdatis, for instance, was an advantage. Even though Melzer has faced Murray before, the volatile lefty looked more puzzled than ever.

"I'm not expecting to go through the tournament winning matches like that, with that score," Murray said. "It's been a very good start, but it's going to get much tougher."

Dolgopolov's wins over Soderling and Tsonga mean Murray has extra reason not to take him lightly. Further, Murray lost to Aussie Open upstarts Tsonga and Fernando Verdasco in 2008 and 2009, respectively.

Prediction: Murray in four

Rafael Nadal (1) versus David Ferrer (7)

Maybe the first thing people think of when looking ahead to a Rafael Nadal-David Ferrer tussle is the 2007 U.S. Open. Ferrer, a determined, battle-hardened baseliner, ousted an ailing Nadal in a bruising 3½ hours.

At one stage in the four-set encounter, Ferrer floored Nadal. It was quite the picture. Ferrer backed up his victory months later at the Masters Cup.

Nadal probably still isn't 100 percent here, coming off a virus and unable to practice like he usually does. So that should give Ferrer a little hope.

He'll need it, because since those matches in 2007, he's gone 0-7 against his fellow Spaniard, winning one set.

Nadal isn't in the business of underestimating opponents, and he isn't about to change.

"David will be something different," Nadal said after beating Marin Cilic, who has more weapons than Ferrer but is less consistent, in straight sets. "We know each other perfect. He's No. 7 in the world. You are in the quarterfinals, and in the quarterfinals you can't have an easy match."

Nadal said he played his best match of the tournament against Cilic, although many of his balls were still too short. Yes, Nadal applies heavy pressure on opponents, but Cilic made 48 unforced errors.

Prediction: Nadal in four

Kim Clijsters (3) versus Agnieszka Radwanska (12)

Kim Clijsters' tight hamstring is cause for concern, especially as the competition gets stronger.

In a worrying development, she took anti-inflammatory tablets in her fourth-round win over wily Russian Ekaterina Makarova on Monday night.

"I kind of felt it get a little bit worse and worse," said Clijsters, the substantial women's favorite.

The good news for the Belgian is that she practiced Tuesday and seemed fine. And despite getting pushed in her past two rounds, she hasn't dropped a set.

Agnieszka Radwanska wasn't even supposed to be in Melbourne, having undergone foot surgery in October. Doctors didn't give her much chance of recovering in time, but a small chance was all the Pole needed. She worked strenuously to land in the draw.

"I think this is unbelievable," said the charming Radwanska. "I really feel great. You know, not even 'til the last minute did I know I was going to play. Even if I lose the first round, I will be anyway happy that I didn't miss the Grand Slam and I'm back on tour."

Could Radwanska have destiny on her side, after saving two match points against China's Shuai Peng on Monday?

Prediction: Clijsters in two

Vera Zvonareva (2) versus Petra Kvitova (25)

Elena Dementieva, the newly retired Russian, had a problem peaking at majors, or at least after 2004.

Countrywoman Vera Zvonareva doesn't want to be pigeonholed as a Slam underachiever, either. Zvonareva is bidding to reach a third straight Grand Slam final, although Clijsters is in her path.

"That's where you want to play your best tennis," Zvonareva said. "I think this kind of [thinking], it brings maybe even the best out of myself."

Zvonareva is getting the job done without playing her best. She rallied from a first-set deficit against Iveta Benesova in the fourth round, was tested by yet another Czech lefty, Lucie Safarova, in the third and began with a three-set win over impressive Serbian newcomer Bojana Jovanovski.

Kvitova, the 6-footer with fluid groundstrokes, hasn't lost a match in 2011. However, she admitted to suffering from nerves against Italian Flavia Pennetta on Monday.

Prediction: Zvonareva in three

Ravi Ubha is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com.

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