Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark in action against Magdalena Rybarikova of Slovakia during round four on day seven at the Australian Open tennis tournament, in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia. EPA-EFE

MELBOURNE: In-form duo Caroline Wozniacki and Elina Svitolina step up their quest for a first Grand Slam title aiming to avoid potential banana skins in the Australian Open quarter-finals Tuesday.

Second seed Wozniacki reached eight finals in 2017, winning twice, while fourth-ranked Svitolina won five WTA titles. They are on collision course for an expected semi-final showdown at Melbourne Park.

Wozniacki routed 19th seed Magdalena Rybarikova 6-3, 6-0 in round four and faces a familiar foe in Carla Suarez Navarro, whose two wins in seven career meetings with the Dane have both been on the Spaniard’s favoured clay.

“Obviously hard courts are a little different,” said Wozniacki.

“But we’ve had a lot of tough encounters on hard courts as well. Three-set gruelling matches. I’m expecting a tough fight.”

Svitolina, who won the Brisbane International to kick off her season, is on a nine-match win streak this year and also faces an unseeded opponent in Belgium’s Elise Mertens.

The world number 37 has similarly enjoyed an unbeaten start to 2018, winning the warm-up Hobart International, and Svitolina is not surprised to meet her in the last eight.

“She was playing great tennis, and, you know, she can produce really good and high-level tennis,” said the world number four after storming past qualifier Denisa Allertova 6-3, 6-0 in 57 minutes in the last round.

“You know, she’s been playing well, definitely. I didn’t see so many of her matches here, but if she’s in quarter-finals, definitely she deserves to be there. There is no easy ways to get into a quarter-final.”

Wozniacki is wary of the guile of the gritty 29-year-old Suarez Navarro who possesses one of the few one-handed backhands in the women’s game and models it on former great Justine Henin.

The Dane has been in 10 previous Australian Opens but has rarely lived up to the hype, only reaching the semi-final once in 2011.

Wozniacki is clearly a fan of the diminutive 29-year-old Spaniard, the shortest player left in the draw at just 5ft 4in (1.62m).

“She’s really a great person, one of those girls you like to see around,” said the Dane. “She’s also a great player. It’s a very good combination.”

Suarez Navarro, who is currently without a coach after splitting with long-time mentor Xavier Budo last July, ended 2017 ranked 40, the first year she has finished outside the top 20 since 2012.

She will be in her sixth Grand Slam quarter-final after a fighting 4-6, 6-4, 8-6 win over Anett Kontaveit in the fourth round.

But she has never got further than the last eight in 36 previous majors.

Mertens said it was “amazing” on her Australian Open debut to become the first Belgian to reach the quarter-finals since Kim Clijsters in 2012 after her fourth-round straight-sets win over unseeded Croat Petra Martic.

In-form Mertens trains at the Clijsters academy in her home country with coach Robbe Ceyssens and sometimes gets to hit with the four-time Grand Slam champion who won at Melbourne Park in 2011.

She lost in straight sets to Svitolina last year in their only career meeting, on clay in the final at Istanbul.

The final two women’s quarter-finals are on Wednesday.--AFP

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