Three to See, Serena vs. Osaka; Brady & Djokovic vie for Aussie finals

Three to See, Serena vs. Osaka; Brady & Djokovic vie for Aussie finals

After the main event, Muchova and Karatsev will try to stop some big hitters in the semis.

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

Naomi Osaka vs. Serena Williams

There are blockbusters, and then there’s Serena vs. Osaka. This is the meeting of the immoveable forces that we’ve been waiting to see in Melbourne. Only one of those forces can prevail, of course, so who is it more likely to be?

Osaka won her first two meetings with Serena—the second was the infamous 2018 US Open final—before Serena got a measure of revenge the next summer in Canada. All three of those were straight-setters, but judging by the stubborn way these two women have both been playing Down Under, this semifinal seems more likely to go the distance. In the fourth round, Serena edged Aryna Sabalenka 6-4 in the third set, while Osaka saved two match points and elevated her game down the stretch against Garbiñe Muguruza.

Serena has the motivation; if she wins this match, she’ll be heavily favored to win that 24th major she’s been after for four years. Osaka will counter with rock-solid confidence; no matter what happens in the early going in a match, she doesn’t seem to believe she can lose right now. That’s a good place to be as a tennis player. Winner: Osaka

Jennifer Brady vs. Karolina Muchova

This may seem like a battle of newcomers, but really it’s a battle of relatively late bloomers. Muchova is 24, and Brady is 25, but neither has much history in the later rounds at the majors. Brady will be playing in her second Grand Slam semifinal, and Muchova her first. But you wouldn’t know it from the way they handled her quarterfinals: Each lost the first set—Muchova to Ash Barty, Brady to Jessica Pegula—before running away with the third.

The Czech and the American are a classic contrast: Brady is a powerful, aggressive athlete who takes full cuts from both wings, while Muchova uses a mix of finesse and all-court dash. They’ve faced off once, on clay in 2019, and Muchova prevailed 7-6 in the third set. Their second match could also go either way, but Brady’s little bit of experience on this stage might be make the difference. Winner: Brady

Novak Djokovic vs. Aslan Karatsev

There’s no need to research the head-to-head between these two, because Djokovic has already admitted that he’d never even seen Karatsev play, let alone competed against him, before this year’s Australian Open. That’s because Karatsev has made one of the most improbable runs to a Grand Slam semifinal in recent memory. The Russian is 27, he’s ranked No. 114, and he began by winning three qualifying matches on another continent five weeks ago. Since then, he’s mowed down three Top 20 players—Diego Schwartzman, Felix Auger-Aliassime and Grigor Dimitrov—and wowed the tennis world with the potency of his forehand, and the cool, calm, collected way he’s handled his big-stage debut; Karatsev came back from two sets down to beat FAA.

Karatsev has a chance against Djokovic. With that forehand, he can do damage against anyone; he’ll have little to lose, at least at first; and the fact that Djokovic has never faced him should work to Karatsev’s advantage in the early going. But the element of surprise can only last so long. Winner: Djokovic