Before each day's play at the Australian Open, we'll preview three must-see matches.
The Spaniard and the American have never met, which will add a layer of mystery to what already promises to be a raucously athletic contest. Until this past week, I would have given Tiafoe very little chance of beating Nadal on any surface, and even less at a Grand Slam. I would have said that, despite his speed and power, Tiafoe wouldn’t have had the consistency to stay with Rafa, especially at the business end of sets. I also would have said that his serviceable-but-not-special backhand would have been highly vulnerable to Rafa’s lefty forehand.
Now, after watching Tiafoe survive dogfights with Kevin Anderson, Andreas Seppi and Grigor Dimitrov, I think he has a chance...to win at least a set and make this very interesting. Everything about Tiafoe, from his backhand, to his serve, to his ability to play under pressure and win the important points, has improved Down Under. The question for anyone facing Rafa is always this: Can you step into the court, take the ball on the rise, and dictate the rallies? Tiafoe can do this, which means we have to ask the second question for anyone facing Rafa at a major: Can you do it over five sets?
Asked to look ahead to this quarterfinal, Barty said that she had suffered some “agonizingly close” losses to Kvitova in the past. The freshest in her mind was also the most agonizing: Last week in the Sydney final, Barty won the first set easily before allowing Kvitova to squeak past her in a third-set tiebreaker. They’ve both obviously brought that strong form to Melbourne; Kvitova has won eight straight uncompetitive sets there, while Barty held her nerve and recorded one of the biggest wins of her career, over Maria Sharapova.
There’s no reason to think these two won’t continue their high-quality ways when they meet on Tuesday. And there’s no reason to think that their contrasting styles—Barty’s variety vs. Kvitova’s velocity—won’t make for a very watchable, and perhaps agonizingly close, contest.
Hopefully, anyone who picked these two to reach the quarters in the bottom section of the women’s draw put some money on it. Neither the 36th-ranked Collins nor the 42nd-ranked Pavlyuchenkova had done anything of note in recent months. But they’ve done quite a bit so far Down Under. The American has knocked off three Top 20 players: Julia Goerges, Caroline Garcia and Angelique Kerber, and she has looked stronger—and sounded fiercer—with every swing of her bolo-punch backhand. But the Russian has been every bit as good in sending home two Top Tenners, Sloane Stephens and Kiki Bertens. Usually among the most unpredictable of free-swingers, Pavlyuchenova has been constructing points before hitting the destruct button on her shots. More important, she’s been the grittier and better player in third sets. Say a prayer for the balls these two are going to co-destroy.
Kickoff each day of the 2019 Australian Open with Tennis Channel Live, reviewing the day's most important news and previewing the day's biggest matches. Watch LIVE at 6 p.m. ET.
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