Plenty of Star Power As Australian Open Reaches Second Week

Rafael Nadal serving inside empty Rod Laver Arena Saturday (photo: Scott Barbour/Tennis Australia)

MELBOURNE/WASHINGTON, February 13, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

The Australian Open has reached the second week – albeit without fans at least through Wednesday, due to a surge in COVID-19 in Melbourne. With both the men’s and women’s singles draws narrowed to 16 players each, there are plenty of intriguing matchups coming up on Sunday and Monday, starting with 2019 Australian Open champion and three-time major titlist Naomi Osaka facing off against 2020 Australian Open finalist Garbiñe Muguruza, herself twice a Grand Slam champion.

Sunday’s order of play includes plenty of star power on Rod Laver Arena alone: Aryna Sabalenka versus Serena Williams in a battle of big hitters; Dominic Thiem versus Grigor Dimitrov in a matchup of Top 20 players; and reigning French Open champion Iga Swiatek versus two-time Grand Slam winner and current World No. 2 Simona Halep.

Among the second-week surprises: There are four American women remaining in the final 16, including 23-time Grand Slam champion and No. 10 seed Serena Williams, No. 22 seed Jennifer Brady, Jessica Pegula and Shelby Rogers. Also, the men’s draw includes three Russians – World No. 4 Daniil Medvedev and World No. 8 Andrey Rublev, plus qualifier Aslan Karatsev – and two Italians, World No. 10 Matteo Berrettini and World No. 17 Fabio Fognini.

One thing that’s not a surprise is World No. 2 Rafael Nadal, winner of 20 career Grand Slams remains in the chase for No. 21. Despite the issues he’s faced with his back during the first week of the Aussie fortnight, he has yet to drop a set through his first three matches. .He will face Fabio Fognini in the round of 16 on Monday. Nadal leads their career head-t0-head 12-4.

Mikael Ymer: Thoughts on Swedish tennis

Earlier this week, Sweden’s NextGen star Mikael Ymer was asked how he has dealt with the expectations throughout his upbringing and career to be the next Swedish champion and what the journey has been like.

Ashleigh Barty: Thoughts on her favorite shot

Obviously, players talk about their weapons during their press conferences. It might include thoughts about a big forehand or a big serve. However, ask Ashleigh Barty and the World No. 1 will talk about her backhand slice and how much she loves it.

“Yeah, I love it. I’ve obviously learnt – learned how to play it when I was quite young. It’s always a shot I’ve enjoyed being able to learn and kind of develop over time where I can maneuver the ball around the court.

“That was going to be a big point of difference for me tonight. It was something Tyz (Barty’s coach Craig Tyzzer) and I spoke about, that we were going to go ahead and try to use that slice as often as possible, not only to change up the tempo of the match but also put the ball in different positions.

“It’s obviously something I love to play around with. At times I overuse it, so it’s about getting that balance right, but I felt like tonight it was spot on.”

Dominic Thiem: On signing the camera lens after his victories

“Now, I always put ‘Play for the ocean,’ because I support this since a long time. And right now, it’s a good time for that because of my Adidas outfit. It’s completely recycled plastic from the ocean. It’s together with Parley, so that’s an amazing cause and that’s also the right thing right now to put on the camera.”

Todd Woodbridge: On Friday at Rod Laver Arena

Shelby Rogers: Missing the fans

Happy 35th Birthday, Jamie Murray

What they’re saying: Daniil Medvedev and Andrey Rublev

World No. 8 Andrey Rublev on his upcoming round of 16 match against No. 24 seed Norway’s Casper Ruud:

“It’s also going to be tough match, and I also have great relationship with Casper. I played him twice, twice in Hamburg. First time he was set and break up, and somehow, I won that match.” Rublev beat Ruud on German clay, 3-6, 7-5, 6-3.

“Last time was really tough match, high intensity, high level, but I managed to win in straight sets.” Rublev prevailed, 6-4, 6-2.

“I mean, it’s going to be tough. It’s going to be physical match because he has really great physical power. He can run a lot. He’s using forehand really hard. And then it’s going to be really tough match. But all of the matches in fourth round is going to be really tough, so I’m not going to say something new.”

What they’re watching

What they’re writing‘s David Kane on Naomi Osaka’s “butterfly effect”:

What they’re sharing on social media

Kaia Kanepi / Not the ending I hoped

Rafael Nadal: The last word, part 1

Ashleigh Barty: The last word, part 2