Before each day's play at the 2021 Australian Open, we'll preview three must-see matches.
Naomi Osaka vs. Garbiñe Muguruza
***Coverage begins at 6 p.m. ET on Tennis Channel.***
Like Serena Williams and Aryna Sabalenka, these two Grand Slam champions will try their baseline weapons on each other for the first time on Sunday. Luckily for us, if not for each other, they both appear to be in peak early-season form—neither has come close to losing a set so far this week. But Osaka’s competition has been a little stiffer, and in general she has come up a little bigger in high-stakes moments like these over the last few years. Both women like pace, but I’m guessing that it will be Osaka who likes Muguruza’s more than the other way around.
Serena Williams vs. Aryna Sabalenka
Tennis fans have been waiting for this one: Finally, two of the game’s hardest hitters, and most expressive performers, will go toe-to-toe. Both like to dictate, both can rifle winners at will on their good days, and either one could come out on top, depending on who happens to have a good or bad day. Serena is a slight favorite because, well, she’s Serena, and this is the fourth round of a major. But Sabalenka may be in slightly better form at the moment. She is coming off three recent title runs, and for the most part she has played with an ideal mix of aggression and discipline in her first three matches at the Australian Open. But she hasn’t played Serena.
Unlike the players in the other two marquee women’s fourth-rounders, Halep and Swiatek know each other’s games well. Or as well as you can when you’ve spent about two hours on court together, anyway. They’ve played twice, but neither match has lasted very long. In 2019, Halep beat Swiatek 6-1, 6-0 at Roland Garros; last year Swiatek returned the favor at the same event, in only slightly less decisive fashion, 6-1, 6-2. Halep still has much more experience, especially in the later rounds at the majors, but hard courts should favor Swiatek, who is the bigger hitter and more aggressive player. The 19-year-old determined to make herself into a consistent winner. Here’s her chance to start.
Nestled between January's summer swing of tournaments in Australia, and March's Sunshine Double in the U.S., February can be overlooked in tennis. But not in 2021, with the Australian Open's temporary move to the second and shortest month of the calendar. Beyond that, February is Black History Month, and also a pivotal time for the sport in its rebound from the pandemic.
To commemorate this convergence of events, we're spotlighting one important story per day, all month long, in The 2/21. Set your clock to it: it will drop each afternoon, at 2:21 Eastern Standard Time (U.S.).