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By Nicholas McCarvel

Victoria Azarenka tears through Linz (October 5, 2012) -- Is Tomas Berdych the new Rafael Nadal? He certainly doesn’t have the hair. Or --let’s be honest -- the biceps. And it’s sort of hard to match Rafa’s running, jumping (kicking?!) fist pump when he gets all riled up.
 
But it was Berdych who took out Roger Federer in the US Open quarterfinals, marking the second time he played villain to tennis’ demigod at a major and advancing to his first-ever semifinal in New York.
 
This week, again, the Czech world No. 7 has seemingly stolen the spot of Rafa at the Shanghai Rolex Masters, joining Federer, Andy Murray, and Novak Djokovic in the semifinals there -- the top four seeds finding their way to the final four.
 
With the showdown between Joe Biden and Paul Ryan settling the bar high for dramatic face-offs this weekend (is ‘malarkey’ the new down-the-line backhand?), here’s a preview of what to watch for in Shanghai and at the two WTA stops -- Osaka and Linz.
 
SHANGHAI ROLEX MASTERS (SHANGHAI, CHINA)
 
Forget the Nadal-Berdych comparison for just a second and look at the tall task that lies in front of the 6'5" 27-year-old: a semifinal against Djokovic, who he is a horrific 1-9 against in 10 career matches. Berdych’s lone win came at Wimbledon in 2010, having since lost seven matches to his Serbian opponent.
 
(Browse: Shanghai Rolex Masters Draw)

On the flip side of the draw, all eyes will be on the tour’s hottest players over the last four months when world No. 1 Federer meets Olympic and U.S. Open champion Murray. Their last battle decidedly went the way of the Brit, who won his first major tournament in front of a home crowd at the London Games in shattering straight-sets style against the Swiss. And though Murray doesn’t have a shot at No. 1 here this week (that's Fed's turf), his run -- including his first-ever major -- will be validated tenfold should he knock out the Rog.
 
HP OPEN (OSAKA, JAPAN)
 
Can you believe the Sam Stosur -- the 2011 U.S. Open champ -- has won just THREE tournaments… ever?! Yeah, neither can we. The world No. 9 is 3-11 in WTA finals, having won Charleston in 2009 and -- 11 years ago -- in the same place she’s playing this week, Osaka.

(Browse: HP Open Draw

The draw could not look more open for Stosur, who gets world No. 134 Kai-Chen Chang (yeah, we’ve never heard of her, either), who has knocked off Christina McHale and youngster Laura Robson en route to the semis.
 
On the bottom half of the draw, world No. 71 Heather Watson, Robson’s British countrywoman, remains as the highest-ranked challenge to Stosur. She faces Japan’s Misaki Doi, who’s seen better days ranked at No. 123.
 
Stosur has played only Doi of the remaining three, beating her here a year ago in straights. If there was ever an overhead smash easier on paper for Stosur to nab her fourth tournament win, we haven’t seen it. But then again, we’re talking about Sam Stosur (cue weird choke job).

GENERALI LADIES LINZ (LINZ, AUSTRIA)
 
In all seriousness, we’re still not quite sure why Victoria Azarenka is playing in Linz this week. But honestly, the world No. 1 is crushing it, having lost just eight games in three matches.

(Browse: Generali Ladies Linz Draw)

Regardless of who she faces -- lucky loser Irina-Camelia Begu or qualifier Bethanie Mattek-Sands -- Azarenka remains the heavy favorite into the final, where she could face a big hitter in Julia Goerges or Belgium's Kirsten Flipkens. The Belarussian is 3-1 against the German and recently clocked Flipkens 2 and 2 in the second round of the U.S. Open. But the Belgian, who was Kim Clijsters' doubles partner in New York, has since won the Quebec City title, beating Dominika Cibulkova and two other seeds en route, and smashed Ana Ivanovic in the quarterfinals of Linz.
 
Another week, another title -- so it appears -- for Azarenka. You know, we don’t blame her. It’s like eating a bunch of vegetables after chowing down on Dunkin Donuts. Hard to cover up that 5-3-lead-in-the-third-set-of-the-US-Open-final-vs.-Serena-Williams scar. You keep snacking on those carrots, Vika.

(Photo Credit: Getty Images)

 

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