Rod Laver Arena | 11 p.m. TuesdayAndrey Rublev vs. Daniil MedvedevAndrey Rubley and Daniil Medvedev secured the ATP Cup for Russia earlier this month, with neither player losing a singles match throughout. In their three meetings on the ATP Tour, Medvedev has come out on top each time, including in the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open in September.This may be Rublev’s chance to finally overcome his friendly rival. He has looked particularly dominant, not dropping a set throughout the tournament. His match against Casper Ruud ended after only two sets when the Norwegian withdrew with an injury. Going into the quarterfinals, Rublev has led the field in both percentage of first service points won and second service points won, a sign of how hard it has been for opponents to break his serve.Medvedev has also been playing well, aside from a chaotic, disorganized third round match against Filip Krajinovic. He has now won 18 matches in a row, with his last loss coming in October at a tournament in Vienna. Although the fast surface fits Medvedev’s flat baseline shots, Rublev’s open stance is well suited in defense, and we’re sure to see many dynamic, aggressive point.Rod Laver Arena | 3:30 a.m. WednesdayRafael Nadal vs. Stefanos TsitsipasRafael Nadal, the No. 2 seed, has moved smoothly through the first four rounds, no surprise for a player with 20 Grand Slam titles. Although Nadal won his only Australian Open title over a decade ago, he has reached the finals on four other occasions since, and is a clear favorite in his half of the draw to do so again. Nadal’s powerful topspin shots are well-suited to clay courts where he can drag opponents around with tightly angled shots. Nadal’s ability to exploit his opponent’s weaknesses with relentless pressure can break most players on their best days.Stefanos Tsitsipas, the ATP finals winner in 2019, is a study in unpredictability. The fifth seed has a capable all-court game, but lacks the consistency to execute match after match. The 22-year-old has worked to improve this aspect of his game, but needed five sets to push back unseeded Thanasi Kokkinakis in the second round. After receiving a walkover in the round of 16, Tsitsipas will be well rested and hoping for an advantage against one of the most mentally tough players on tour.
At 23, Rublev is two years younger than Medvedev and grew up playing junior tournaments against him in Russia. For a long time Rublev, seeded No. 8, and Karen Khachanov, 24, the third member of Russia’s latest golden generation, were better than Medvedev. The rise for Medvedev came in 2018 and 2019, when he nearly beat Rafael Nadal in the 2019 United States Open final.“He reads the game really well,” Rublev said of Medvedev. “It’s amazing, the patience he has to stay so long in the rallies, to not rush, to take the time, because in the end these little details, they make him who he is.”Russia is the only country with two players in the top 10. Khachanov gives it three in the top 20. Aslan Karatsev, 27, another Russian ranked No. 114, came out of nowhere to make the quarterfinals here in his first Grand Slam tournament.Medvedev comes into the quarterfinal on perhaps the best roll of his career. He has won 18 consecutive singles matches. He won the ATP Tour finals in London in November, pulling off the nifty trick of beating the world’s top three players — Novak Djokovic, Nadal and Dominic Thiem — in a single tournament. For Russia at the ATP Cup, he beat Alexander Zverev of Germany, a 2020 U.S. Open finalist, in a tight, three-set match in the semifinal round.Medvedev spent his early childhood in Moscow and played few sports other than tennis growing up. He worshiped Russia’s last golden generation, which included Marat Safin and Yevgeny Kafelnikov, who were in their prime when he was a young child. He moved to France to train as a teenager and became fluent in English and French.Medvedev could be heard screaming at his coach, Gilles Cervara of France, in French during his third-round match against Filip Krajinovic of Serbia, as he frittered away a two-set lead before recovering to win the final set, 6-0.
Daniil Medvedev, the fourth seed, struggled in his third round matchup against Filip Krajinovic, losing the third and fourth sets in spectacular fashion. Medvedev cycled between yelling at himself in Russian, his coach in French, and Krajinovic’s well placed volleys in English. In the fifth set, Medvedev settled back in and won six straight games.For McDonald to pull off an upset, he will need to exploit Medvedev’s natural volatility. Medvedev should be able to keep McDonald at bay if he can keep calm and use his varied shots to pull the American around the edges of the court.Rod Laver Arena | 11 p.m. SundayRafael Nadal vs. Fabio FogniniRafael Nadal, the No. 2 seed, has struggled with a small back injury throughout the first week of the Australian Open. However, this has not stopped him from rolling past his opposition without dropping a set. Nadal’s powerful topspin shots have consistently pushed his opponents around the court, depriving them of the time necessary to impose their own ideas upon a rally.Fabio Fognini, the 16th seed, has had a roller coaster week. He struggled in a five-set contest against a fellow Italian, Salvatore Caruso, but then dispatched the 21st seed, Alex de Minaur, in just three sets. Fognini, who won a doubles title at the Australian Open in 2015, has been to the round of 16 in Melbourne four times, and will have a difficult time overcoming Nadal.Rod Laver Arena | 3 a.m. MondayAshleigh Barty vs. Shelby RogersAshleigh Barty, the world No. 1, has moved through to the fourth round without dropping a set. In her third round victory over Ekaterina Alexandrova she played smart tennis, not going for big shots and allowing Alexandrova to overplay and extracting 30 unforced errors.Shelby Rogers, an unseeded player, has reached two major quarterfinals, but has never won a WTA tournament. Her inconsistency on tour can partially be blamed on ruptured cartilage in her knee, which required surgery in 2018.Barty and Rogers faced off in the quarterfinals of the Yarra Valley Classic last week, with Barty winning in a third-set tiebreaker. For Rogers to reverse her fortunes, she’ll need to play aggressively without over-hitting, a tough needle to thread.
The Australian Open has largely belonged to just two men since 2004, with Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer winning 14 of 17 titles. With Federer sidelined by an injury, Djokovic is the obvious favorite, and there are just two other clear-cuts: Rafael Nadal, who captured his 20th Grand Slam singles title last year in France and could claim his record 21st in Australia, and Dominic Thiem, who earned his first at the 2020 United States Open. (Thiem also beat Nadal in last year’s Australian Open and pushed Djokovic to five sets in the final.)The women’s draw is more open, but it has a few players in the spotlight. As with the men’s side, it starts with the top three in the rankings: Australia’s own Ash Barty, the world No. 1, who did not play in 2020 after the lockdown; Simona Halep, who reached the semifinals of the Australian Open last year, and had a win streak of 17 matches and three titles; and Naomi Osaka, winner of three Grand Slam events, including the 2019 Australian Open.Then there’s Serena Williams, whom people will watch because of her all-around greatness. If she wins this year she will tie for the most Grand Slam singles titles among women with 24.But there are less-recognizable players who could have deep runs into the second week and might even win. Here are six to watch in 2021.Daniil MedvedevThe men’s Top 10 has several rising stars like Stefanos Tsitsipas or Alexander Zverev, but Daniil Medvedev is the best bet to take home the title. To win, a player will likely have to take down two of the top three seeds, and he is the best candidate.While Medvedev’s 16-19 record versus Top 10 players may sound poor, it’s the highest for a player without a Slam. He’s winless against Federer, so that absence improves Medvedev’s odds.Medvedev, the 6-foot-6 Russian with the big serve and persistent baseline game, emerged as one of the game’s top returners and a Top 5 player in 2019. Grinding his way to two Masters 1000 titles, he also reached six straight finals, including the U.S. Open, where he took Nadal to five sets.Most notable was his triumph in November at the ATP Finals, where he had five straight wins, over Diego Schwartzman, Zverev, Thiem, Nadal and Djokovic. That level of sustained excellence gives him an edge.Nick KyrgiosKyrgios, of Australia, has an overpowering serve, making him especially dangerous on the Open’s hard courts. His hard-court winning percentage is among the highest of players competing at the tournament. But he has so far failed to live up to his enormous potential. Temperamental and undisciplined, he has fallen through the years from 13th in the world to 47th.At 25, he’s still young, and he is prodigiously talented.His athleticism and flash always make him riveting to watch. If he can stay focused for two weeks, he’s 5-5 lifetime versus Nadal and Djokovic, which should give the front-runners pause.Taylor FritzThe younger players who could make a mark in Australia include Denis Shapovalov, Félix Auger-Aliassime, Jannik Sinner and Carlos Alcaraz. The most likely American would be 30th-ranked Taylor Fritz. Fritz has wins over Thiem, Zverev and top veterans like Fabio Fognini and Schwartzman. Last year, Fritz reached the finals in Acapulco, Mexico. A quarterfinal slot might be a stretch, but if he survives until the second week, it will herald a big step forward.Bianca AndreescuThe cancellation of WTA’s year-end tournament gave the top players a long break before the Australian Open. But no top contender has been off the court as long as the eighth-ranked Bianca Andreescu, who has been sidelined with injuries since 2019.That year, she won 31 of her first 34 matches, including the BNP Paribas Open as a wild card because of a wide array of shots and a fearlessness in going for them. She capped her rise by upsetting Williams in the U.S. Open finals. If her shoulder and knee are healthy, she has the aggressiveness, the power and the Grand Slam experience to tear through the tournament.Victoria AzarenkaShe may be ranked only 13th, but she is, once again, a definite threat. Winner of the Australian Open championship in 2012 and 2013, Azarenka reached No. 1 in the world. She was the game’s top returner, breaking her opponent’s serve more than half the time. But she fell off the map after having a baby and then getting caught in a custody battle. When she did play, she struggled, reaching the fourth round of a major just once.But in 2020, Azaernka rediscovered her magic in a five-tournament run, where she won a title, reached two more finals, including the U.S. Open, and beat six players in the Top 20.Garbiñe MuguruzaShe finished 2019 ranked 36th. Then she went to the Australian Open in 2020 and reminded everyone that she was a former No. 1 and a Wimbledon and French Open champion. Muguruza used improved net play to topple the Top 10 players Elina Svitolina, Kiki Bertens and Halep en route to the finals. She lost to Sofia Kenin.Muguruza’s big serve and potent, albeit high-risk, ground strokes also looked impressive in Rome in September, and she defeated Sloane Stephens, Coco Gauff, Johanna Konta and Azarenka before falling to Halep. With both of those 2020 tournaments, Muguruza, now ranked 15th, showed she still had what it takes for a deep Grand Slam run.