Three to See, AO Day 5: Thiem-Kyrgios, Osaka-Jabeur, Shapovalov-FAA

Three to See, AO Day 5: Thiem-Kyrgios, Osaka-Jabeur, Shapovalov-FAA

The Aussie crowd, which lifted Kyrgios to an unlikely win in his last round, may have a chance to do it again.

Before each day's play at the 2021 Australian Open, we'll preview three must-see matches.


Naomi Osaka vs. Ons Jabeur

First Pavlyuchenkova, then Garcia, now Jabeur: Osaka is the No. 3 seed, but the draw-makers haven’t done her any favors in the early going. By the third round, of course, you expect to play another seed, and Osaka will face one in her first meeting with the talented Tunisian.

She’ll also face a very different type of opponent than she did in her first two matches. Jabeur rarely chooses the obvious shot; she hits with topspin, sidespin and slice, changes speeds and trajectories from one swing to the next, and can fire off a line-licking winner from just about anywhere. Jabeur made the quarters here last year, and she should give Osaka all she can handle. But Osaka is handling everything pretty well these days.

Winner: Osaka


Dominic Thiem vs. Nick Kyrgios


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Thiem is one of the many players that Kyrgios feuded with from afar during the lockdowns last year. As with Novak Djokovic and Alexander Zverev, Kyrgios wasn’t crazy about Thiem’s cavalier attitude toward pandemic protocols. But yesterday the Aussie was full of praise for Thiem the player and athlete. In truth, they don’t know each other’s games all that well, having played just once, on clay in 2015, in a match in which Kyrgios retired.

Thiem will be the favorite: He made the final here last year, he won the US Open, and he isn’t coming off a late-night five-set thriller the way Kyrgios is. But Thiem’s one-handed backhand probably won’t be ideal for returning Kyrgios’ serve, which means the match could be decided in tiebreakers, and by razor-thin margins. The Aussie crowd, which lifted Kyrgios to an unlikely win in his last round, may have a chance to do it again.

Winner: Kyrgios


Denis Shapovalov vs. Felix Auger-Aliassime

An exciting match for fans, and an unfortunate one for the two players involved. Shapovalov and Auger-Aliassime are friends, countrymen, and Davis Cup teammates for Canada, and they’re both playing well enough to go as deep as they ever have at a major. Now that we know only one of them will have that chance, who will it be?

Shapovalov leads their head-to-head 2-1, and is 2-0 on hard courts. While FAA has yet to drop a set this week, Shapovalov passed a serious test with a five-set win over Jannik Sinner in the first round. Shapo said he felt like the veteran in that match, and that his experience gave him an edge. The 21-year-old may feel he has a similar edge against his younger compatriot in this one.

Winner: Shapovalov