We've seen mostly chalk through four days at the Australian Open; while a lack of upsets might seem boring to some, it has set the table for some fantastic matchups heading into the weekend. First up: Maria Sharapova v. Venus Williams.
1. Does Federer-Tomic come to fruition? Yes! Barely! As expected, Roger Federer grinded out a 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 win over Nikolay Davydenko; Fed served pretty well, dominated at the net and won 56 percent of overall points, a very high total. He struggled on break points -- it took him 13 tries to break Davydenko three times -- which extended the match a bit, but this one was never in doubt. Davydenko never forced a single break point.
Bernard Tomic, meanwhile, made things quite interesting against German Daniel Brands. He was actually outscored in terms of overall points (154 to 153) and was taken to three tie-breakers, but he won two of them and took the match, 6-7, 7-5, 7-6, 7-6. I spoke yesterday about the bickering between the two, with Tomic answering "If he even gets that far" every time he was asked about a potential third round match versus Federer. Well, Federer made it that far. And Fed-Tomic will highlight Day 6 of the Open.
2. Can Kimiko Date-Krumm keep it up? Yes! For the first time since 1996, Kimiko Date-Krumm is in the third round of a slam thanks to a 6-2, 7-5 win over Shahar Pe'er in oppressive heat. The 42-year old Date-Krumm, who retired for more than a decade before returning to action, is still going. Older than Michael Chang (!), she is one more win from one of the more odd matchups you'll ever see. If she can get past Bojana Jovanovski in the third round (Jovanovski took out No. 17 Lucie Safarova in straight 7-5 sets in the second round), she will face the winner of the Sloane Stephens-Laura Robson match. Stephens was 10 months old when Date-Krumm made the Aussie semifinals in 1994; Robson, meanwhile, was probably too busy being born (on January 21, 1994) to watch Krumm lose to Steffi Graf.
And I know I harped on it yesterday, too, but ... 1994! She made the Aussie semis in 1994! Just look at the list of seeded players in the 1994 Australian Open. Graf, Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario, Conchita Martinez, Gabriela Sabatini, Jana Novotna, Mary Joe Fernandez, Manuela Maleeva, Zina Garrison, Amanda Coetzer, a young Mary Pierce and a young Lindsay Davenport. A "who's who" of the last generation of women's stars, none of whom are currently younger than 36. Date-Krumm wasn't even one of the younger players in that field. Absurd. Pam Shriver lost in the second round of that tournament. Pam Shriver is 50.
3. How's Serena's ankle? Good enough. Williams didn't need full mobility to cruise past the overmatched Garbine Muguruza -- she won 6-2, 6-0 -- but she still looked pretty good overall. Of course, her self-mutilation tour continued when she hit herself in the face with her racket.
"One day I twist my ankle, today I hit myself in the face - I don't know what's going to happen on Saturday," said the five-time Melbourne champion, who plays Ayumi Morita next. "I'm hoping maybe I'll just hit some winners.
"I thought if it's swollen, at least I'll get super-sexy lips, right?"
(Been there, Serena. Been there. It's easier than you think. And I'm talking about the smacking of the face, not the sexy lips.)
On to the main questions for Day 5 of the Open:
1. Who wins the tournament's first true marquee matchup?
Women: No. 2 Maria Sharapova v. No. 25 Venus Williams (Mach No. 4, Rod Laver Arena)
At 32, Venus Williams has reattained a pretty consistently high level of play despite her ongoing battle with an auto-immune disorder. In her first two matches in Melbourne, she has dropped just seven games. Of course, Maria Sharapova has not dropped any. The two have somehow only played seven times through the years, with Williams going 2-0 at Wimbledon and Sharapova winning three of four hard-court battles. The two are similar in style -- they both hit powerfully from the baseline and sacrifice a lot of errors for even more winners -- but Sharapova has certainly been a bit more consistent over the last year. She has the edge, but it wouldn't exactly be a surprise to see Williams take this match. And the winner would likely be considered the favorite to make the semifinals from their "region," though that may be rather unfair to No. 5 Angelique Kerber.
Speaking of Kerber...
2. Can Madison Keys keep it going?
Women: No. 5 Angelique Kerber v. Madison Keys (Match No. 1, Rod Laver Arena)
Angelique Kerber is the only woman since the French Open to beat Serena Williams. She is a grinder who stays low to the ground, plays strong defense, crafts lovely angles with her shots, and has raised her game dramatically in the last year. She is pretty well-suited to playing the counter-puncher role against the power players on the tour, and her third-round opponent is tennis' new power player: 17-year old Madison Keys, who has laid waste to most of her opponents in January. The American is in the third round of a major for the first time and has looked fantastic in getting there. Can she out-craft the crafty German, and on Kerber's 25th birthday, no less?
3. Will the top men keep rolling?
Men: No. 1 Novak Djokovic v. No. 31 Radek Stepanek (Match No. 3, Rod Laver Arena)
Men: No. 5 Tomas Berdych v. No. 26 Jurgen Melzer (Match No. 4, Hisense Arena)
Men: No. 4 David Ferrer v. No. 28 Marcos Baghdatis (Match No. 5, Rod Laver Arena)
A lot of the second-tier players in the men's draw are playing in fun, intriguing matches on Day 5 -- No. 15 Stan Wawrinka v. No. 20 Sam Querrey, No. 10 Nicolas Almagro v. fiery No. 24 Jerzy Janowicz, No. 22 Fernando Verdasco v. big Kevin Anderson -- but let's face it: none of those players is likely to win this tournament. The favorites, however, have quite a bit of work to do, not only in getting past seeded third-round opponents, but in maintaining the ridiculous level of form so many have established in this first week. Players like Djokovic, Federer, Andy Murray, Juan Martin Del Potro, Berdych and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga have basically cruised so far and looked good doing it; who maintains that form in the third round, and who begins to show slippage?
And can David Ferrer raise his game when he needs to? He has only looked decent in reaching the third round; is he still the favorite to win his "region" of the draw, or can somebody like Janko Tipsarevic or Nicolas Almagro (who have also shown cracks thus far) break through with a semifinal appearance?