The third round of grand slams is always eagerly anticipated as the quality of matches increase with the seeded players set to face off against each other. This year’s Australian Open will see a true heavyweight clash with the meeting of Maria Sharapova and Venus Williams.
While the matchup perhaps doesn't have quite the luster that it may have had a few years ago, there is plenty to anticipate in a meeting between two players that have claimed 11 grand slams between them.
Sharapova completed a hugely impressive return from potentially career-threatening shoulder surgery to claim the French Open last year and now sits second in the rankings. Williams too has had plenty to overcome after being diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder.
The 32-year-old deserves massive credit for returning to the tour and battling back up the rankings last year to her current spot at No. 26. While her energy levels will always perhaps be unpredictable from one day to the next, Williams now appears to have a greater control of the illness and has looked strong so far in Melbourne, wining her two opening matches with little fuss.
Williams certainly has the potential to cause Sharapova ample problems, but with the Russian serving well she should improve on her 4-3 head-to-head record.
That enticing contest is far from the only highlight of the day’s play. Also on the women’s side there is an intriguing all-Serbian clash between Ana Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic. The relationship of the two former world No. 1s has been far from friendly in the past which should bring an extra element to the occasion, even though they now appear to be on better terms.
Both Ivanovic and Jankovic have fallen from their peaks of a few years ago, although it is Ivanovic who has been closer to her best in recent times. With Ivanovic also holding a 7-3 advantage in their head-to-heads, it is the younger of the two Serbians who will be expected to advance.
Another matchup to look out for and one with the potential for a significant upset sees German fifth seed Angelique Kerber going up against young American Madison Keys. Kerber had a hugely successful year in 2012 to move toward the top of the women’s game, but she is unlikely to be relishing going up against the power of 17-year-old Keys.
The American’s serving will be a serious threat, but Kerber’s greater experience could well prove decisive.
While not quite carrying the same level of anticipation, the men’s side of the draw features what should be an entertaining matchup between Novak Djokovic and 31st seed Radek Stepanek. Top seed Djokovic looks in imperious form and is unlikely to be unduly pushed by the Czech. However, Stepanek has the ability to get under opponent’s skins and his all-court game is a rare and entertaining presence in the modern tennis landscape.
There is the potential for a grueling encounter in the night session with the continually impressive David Ferrer going up against Marcos Baghdatis. The Cypriot has a habit for getting involved in marathon matches, but Ferrer has both the fitness and game to overcome the former Australian Open finalist.
Where to watch: Day five’s play at the Australian Open gets underway at 7 p.m. ET. Coverage will begin on the Tennis Channel before switching to ESPN2 at 11 p.m. A live stream will be available throughout the day’s play on ESPN3.