Before each day's play at the 2021 Australian Open, we'll preview three must-see matches.
Medvedev and Rublev are friends, fellow Muscovites, and teammates on Russia’s Davis Cup and ATP Cup squads. But they’ve yet to become rivals as pros. Medvedev is 3-0 against Rublev, and hasn’t dropped a set in any of their three meetings. The most recent came in the quarterfinals at the US Open last fall, where Medvedev managed to think his way past a hot-hitting Rublev in two tiebreakers that could have gone either way. Rublev is just as hot now as he was then; can Medvedev defuse him yet again?
Medvedev has dropped a couple of sets in Melbourne, but he also bounced back from adversity and won in a fifth over Filip Krajinovic. At some point, Rublev will blast his way past Medvedev’s long-limbed defenses, but I’m going to say it won’t be this time. Winner: Medvedev
Nadal is 6-1 against Tsitispas, and the last time they faced off Down Under, in the 2019 semifinals, Rafa won 6-2, 6-4, 6-0. But hidden within that unsurprisingly one-sided history are a couple of interesting nuggets. Tsitsipas’s lone win over Nadal came on clay, which should tell us there was nothing flukey about it. And the last two times they played, Tsitsipas took a set before losing in three.
All of which means we’ve reached that moment we seem to reach so often in the men’s game these days: Can a Next Genner make a breakthrough against one of the Big 3 in a Grand Slam? And again, I’m going to guess the answer is no. Tsitsipas may be ready, but Nadal has played his way into the tournament and looks prepared to peak at the right time. Winner: Nadal
Jen Brady vs. Jessica Pegula
The U.S. may never produce the next Serena, but it is building a brigade of second-week Slammers. A year ago, neither Brady nor Pegula would have seemed to be likely candidates to contend for a major title, but here they are in the quarters against each other, playing some of the best, most offensive-minded tennis of anyone in the tournament. Brady hasn’t dropped a set, and Pegula recorded her first win over a Top 10 player when she beat Elina Svitolina in the fourth round. After one of her wins, Pegula left a good-luck message for Brady on a TV camera. Should she have been careful what she wished for?
Maybe: Brady can take the racquet out of most players’ hands when she’s on her game. But Pegula’s forehands are coming off her strings like rockets right now, and she won her only previous meeting with Brady. Winner: Pegula