Before each day's play at the 2021 Australian Open, we'll preview three must-see matches.
Ash Barty vs. Shelby Rogers
In the last round, I picked Ekaterina Alexandrova to upset Barty because I thought the Russian’s baseline grind might wear on the Australian, the same way Sofia Kenin’s steadiness did here last year. But Barty beat Alexandrova routinely. I’m tempted to pick against her again, though, because Rogers knows how to spring an upset at a major, and at her best, she has the power to push Barty around at the baseline and make volleying a difficult proposition. But Barty won their only meeting, and all other things being normal, she’s the better player. Winner: Barty
We all remember what happened the last time these two met at a major: A flame-throwing Fognini came back from two sets down to beat Nadal in a post-midnight classic at the US Open. What we might remember as well is that Rafa went on to win seven of their next eight matches, that’s he’s 12-4 against Fognini overall, and that, perhaps most important, he’s 6-1 against him on hard courts.
That doesn’t mean Fognini can’t repeat his New York miracle. He was sharp in his straight-set win over Alex de Minaur on Saturday, and the faster Melbourne Park courts may help him against Rafa; Fognini is the one who will need to make the ball move through the court as quickly as possible. But Rafa really won’t want to lose to him again. Winner: Nadal
The only previous main-draw match between these two Top 10 players came in the first round at the Australian Open two years ago. Tsitsipas edged out a close four-set win, and went on to have a breakthrough run to the semifinals. Since then, the Italian, who made his own breakthrough run to the US Open semifinals later that year, has slowly caught up to the Greek. Both players have been sharp in 2020; Tsitsipas is 5-0 and Berrettini 4-1. But in his last round, Berrettini walked off complaining of a possible abdominal pull. Tsitsipas is already a slight favorite; a Berrettini injury would make him a heavy one. Winner: Tsitsipas