The first week of the first Grand Slam of the year is over, and the real pressure begins. Eight players remain on the Men and Women's draw, and there are some big hitters and great stories to follow.
A common Slam reference is the real the tournament starts in the second week. That's when a player knows it only takes two wins to get to the finals and a third to have your name in tennis history. But in a year through a pandemic, Covid outbreaks, and unforeseen circumstances, I don't think any player is taking these matches for granted.
Let's take a look at who still stands in Melbourne and what unique opportunities are there for the taking.
Congratulations to the gentlemen of the #AusOpen quarterfinals.😎👏@DjokerNole @AlexZverev @GrigorDimitrov
Aslan Karatsev@AndreyRublev97 @DaniilMedwed @steftsitsipas @RafaelNadal pic.twitter.com/ETkzJnnyxP
— Tennis Channel (@TennisChannel) February 15, 2021
Since 2010, every Grand Slam winner has been from Europe. And this year, it's not changing. Two of tennis' big three are still in play and are both heavy favorites to make the finals. But there is some young and hungry talent that could spoil yet another Djokovic or Nadal title.
(1) Djokovic vs. (6) Zverev – In his quest for a 9th Australian Open, Djokovic has to get through a feisty 23-year-old Alexander Zverev. Head-to-head Djokovic is up, 6-2, and I like his chances to make it a seventh victory over Zverev. Zverev has a big game with a 6'6 frame, but his consistency is patchy, and you can't make mistakes in best of 5 against Djokovic. Winner – Djokovic
(18) Dimitrov vs. (Q) Karatsev – Not the match analysts anticipated in this quarter of the draw, but what a great story it is. Karatsev is a 27-year-old qualifier that is playing in his first Slam ever. He is truly on a momentum run, and the matchup against Dimitrov is favorable. Dimitrov referred to as "baby Federer" because of a similar style of play, is coming off tuning of Dominic Thiem. Dimitrov comes into this match with confidence, but Karatsev enters with a deadly tennis court mindset. Nothing to lose. Winner – Karatsev
(7) Rublev vs. (4) Medvedev – The battle of the young Russians. Rublev was playing as good as anyone before Covid and won multiple tournaments. But this is a major, and Medvedev has been here before and has forgotten how to lose. He is on an 18-match winning streak and has never lost to Rublev (4-0). I don't see any change in this quarterfinal matchup. Winner – Medvedev
(2) Nadal vs. (5) Tsitsipas – This will be the best quarterfinal match, and Tsitsipas is awaiting a serious breakthrough and a Slam final appearance. Just not this one. Nadal has started to hit a groove and always plays better in the second week of Slams. Nadal owns the head-to-head, 6-1, and has yet to be challenged in the tournament. Nadal's brain and durability will overcome Tsitsipas's pure talent. Winner – Nadal
That leaves Djokovic – Djokovic vs. Karastev and Medvedev vs. Nadal. It would take a miracle for Karatsev to even challenge the recent king of Melbourne and Nadal is hungry for his 21st Slam title. We are in for another Djokovic and Nadal finals.
— Tennis Channel (@TennisChannel) February 15, 2021
The play we have seen from the women in this tournament has been exceptional. A handful of young players are trying to prove themselves as title contenders, and previous Slam winners are looking to redeem their glory. I believe this side of the tournament has more drama and impact in store this week.
(1) Barty vs. (25) Muchova – This is a mountain to climb for Muchova. Barty is playing in her country and is searching for the title that hits home the most. She has never won the Australian, and this is her first time back in the quarterfinals since 2017. She is too locked in for any disruptions. Winner – Barty
(22) Brady vs. Pegula – Pegula is coming off the biggest win of her career against (5) Svitolina, but this is her first quarterfinals appearance ever. Brady had a great run in 2020, getting to the semis at the US Open, and I believe she is determined to get to her first finals ever. Brady hasn't dropped a set all tournament, and I don't expect her to against Pegula. Winner – Brady
(3) Osaka vs. Hseih – 35-year-old Hsieh has been a great story this tournament, but she is running into one of the elite young players in all of tennis. Osaka has shown aggression on the court thus far, and she knows this is a chance for another title run. Osaka leads the head-to-head, 3-1, and is coming off a tough match against (14) Murguruza. Hseih's experience and poise will push this match to three sets, but Osaka's power and talent gets her over the hump. Winner – Osaka
(10) Williams vs. (2) Halep – This is by far the most competitive quarters matchup. 25 Slam titles have been won between the two. 23 of them by Serena, but you get the point. Halep has never won the Australian, and Serena is looking for her 8th, the last one coming in 2017. Halep's conditioning has been marveling to watch, but the same can be said about Serena. There is something to prove for both players, and this will most definitely go three sets. Winner – Williams
What a semifinal this would be – Barty vs. Brady and Osaka vs. Williams. Osaka and Serena feel like a final. Just at a glance and gut feeling, I'd take Barty handily over Brady and in a coin flip – Osaka over Williams. I don't feel good about picking against Serena, and she is playing with the mindset to prove everyone, like me, wrong.
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