It’s been a topsy-turvy start to the season’s first Grand Slam tennis event Down Under—between injury and upsets, a lot of expected contenders have been booted from the tourney, from Venus Williams to Rafael Nadal. On the men’s side, Roger Federer’s path to his 20th Grand Slam title at the age of 36 couldn’t be smoother: He faces the unseeded 21-year-old Hyeon Chung out of South Korea, who has stormed his way from nowhere to the semis (but who also, obviously, faces a Herculean task against Federer). In the other pairing, sixth seed Marin Cilic of Croatia, an eternal contender if rarely the ultimate victor, faces wunderkind Kyle Edmund—who, by defeating third seed Grigor Dimitrov, became the first British man to make the Aussie semis since John Lloyd in 1985.
The women’s side, though, is perhaps even more competitive and more interesting. Let’s break it down:
Simona Halep vs. Angelique Kerber
Seeds, Rankings, and What’s at Stake: Halep is the top-ranked player in the world, and she’s the number one seed for the tourney. But her number one world ranking is at stake here: If Halep loses this match, Caroline Wozniacki (see below) becomes the new world’s best. If Halep wins this match and Wozniacki wins her semifinal, the final becomes a battle for a Grand Slam title and for world number one. Kerber (who, last year at this time, was ranked best in the world herself), though seeded a lowly 21st after a lackluster 2017 season, has proven during the tourney so far that she’s playing at a much, much higher level.
Path to the Semis: Kerber’s been wowing with her joyous return to form, winning 14 in a row since the start of the year, most recently dismantling Madison Keys 6–1, 6–2. Halep, who got here in a more methodical fashion, has consistency on her side—and hunger. While Kerber won both the Australian Open and the U.S. Open in 2016, Halep’s still looking for her first Grand Slam title.
Head-to-Head Results: They’ve played each other eight times; each player has won four, and while Halep has a 4–2 edge on hard courts (like the Australian surface), Kerber’s won the last two—and their only meeting at a Grand Slam (at Wimbledon in 2016).
Playing Style and Scientific Prediction: This will be a battle of wills and attrition. Expect long rallies and lightning-quick counterpunching. And while Halep would seem to have this one down cold on paper, if momentum alone was the key factor, Kerber would win in a landslide.
Caroline Wozniacki vs. Elise Mertens
Seeds, Rankings, and What’s at Stake: Wozniacki, the world number two, is also seeded number two, but depending on the ultimate outcome of the tourney, can grab the big brass ring of world number one (see above). Mertens, unseeded and ranked 37th in the world, is the true Cinderella story of the tourney so far. A year ago, she’d yet to crack the ranks of the top 100 players in the world, but her ascent since then has been not only swift but sure-footed. This is her first Grand Slam semifinal (and Wozniacki’s seventh). So far, Mertens has used her upstart status to swing freely and play her own game; time will tell if she’ll be able to do that against a veteran like Wozniacki.
Path to the Semis: Wozniacki’s has been shockingly smooth—except for an almost shocking come-from-behind victory in the second round against Jana Fett where she saved two match points in the second set and fought her way back from 1–5 in the third. Aside from that major scare, it’s been simple. Mertens, though, hasn’t lost a match in her last 10, and hasn’t dropped a set all tourney, including a 6–4, 6–2 domination of Elina Svitolina, the fourth seed here.
Head-to-Head Results: A bit of a cipher. They’ve played once; Wozniacki won, but it took her three sets. Then again, that was on clay, and now we’re onto hard courts, so it’s essentially a scratch.
Playing Style and Scientific Prediction: Swing-wise, there’s no real advantage for either player. Wozniacki probably moves better than Mertens, which, combined with the added pressure of the high-profile match, is probably a big advantage for Wozniacki. Then again, the red-hot Mertens essentially holds the wild card in terms of what she can bring to the big stage. But this one likely comes down to experience.
Matches start tonight on ESPN2.