Before each day's play at the 2021 Australian Open, we'll preview three must-see matches.
The first match in Rod Laver Arena should get the tournament off to a flying start; both of these women put a charge into the ball. Of all the players that the third-seeded Osaka could have drawn in the first round, Pavlyuchenkova is among the most toughest. She’s ranked No. 38; six spots higher and she would have been seeded. In the past, she has been ranked as high as No. 13, and, perhaps most important, she owns a win over Osaka, to go along with two losses. Few players can match Osaka’s power from the ground, but the risk-loving Russian is one of them. Still, Osaka won their most recent meeting, in 2019, in two routine sets, and she has been virtually unbeatable since the pandemic lockdowns ended. By now, Osaka knows she can take a punch and get back off the mat.
Serena will follow Osaka into RLA, and like her, she’ll have a test to pass. The 32-year-old Siegemund is a quality veteran with two career titles, who is coming off her first trip to a Grand Slam quarterfinal, at Roland Garros last fall. She’s also an attacking player who should be willing to mix it up with Serena, rather than hanging back and waiting for her to miss. Serena has mostly looked to be in form so far in Australia, but sluggish starts and early-Slam nerves are always a possibility. If she does start slowly, her history with Siegemund says she’ll turn it around at some point. They’ve played twice, and Serena hasn’t dropped a set.
Winner: S. Williams
A potentially long day in Margaret Court Arena will be capped with this late-night Next Gen showcase. Talk about tough openers: Shapovalov earns the No. 11 seeding, and all it gets him is a first-round meeting with one of the sport’s future stars. This will likely be the last time that the 19-year-old Sinner, who is ranked No. 36, will be unseeded at a major. The Canadian and the Italian have never met, and while the 21-year-old Shapo has the advantage of experience, this seems like a toss-up to me. I like Shapovalov’s lefty serve, his hooking forehand, and his leaping backhand. But I like Sinner’s two-handed backhand return better, and it probably won’t hurt that he did his quarantine training with another lefty, named Rafael Nadal.