Australian Open: What you need to know

ICYMI: Best of Day 5

DAY 6 MATCHES TO WATCH

Women’s tennis finds itself experiencing an extraordinary – and unprecedented – burst of depth.

Since Serena Williams won the 2017 Australian Open, her 23rd major singles title, no fewer than 11 different women have collected at least one of the 14 contested Grand Slams: Naomi Osaka (3), Simona Halep (2), Caroline Wozniacki, Jelena Ostapenko, Garbine Muguruza, Angelique Kerber, Ashleigh Barty, Sloane Stephens, Bianca Andreescu, Sofia Kenin and Iga Swiatek.

By contrast, on the men’s side only four players hold those 14 titles: Rafael Nadal (6), Novak Djokovic (5), Roger Federer (2) – and Dominic Theim.

Against the backdrop of a global pandemic and the unfurling of the season’s first Slam, this depth and diversity has led to a number of surprising results. Chief among them, Kaia Kanepi’s 6-3, 6-2 victory Thursday over No. 4 seed and defending Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin.

2021 Australian Open Highlights Day 3: Osaka moves past Garcia

Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown. Williams Shakespeare was writing about King Henry IV, but clearly this also applied to Kenin.

“Since last year, like, I won, then obviously I feel like everyone is kind of expecting me to do that,” a candid Kenin admitted. “I had chances. I just couldn't take it. I obviously know why because, like, the nerves big-time got to me.”

This was hardly an isolated incident. After only two rounds, eight of the top 20 seeds are gone, most notably Kenin, No. 8 Bianca Andreescu, No. 9 Petra Kvitova and No. 12 Victoria Azarenka, a two-time Aussie champion.

Finding a rhythm in this disjointed start to the major season has been difficult, but there are 16 players left in the top half of the draw still looking to keep their momentum going into Day 6.

Saturday’s matches in Melbourne will be contested without fans in the stands after a local COVID-19 outbreak forced Victoria officials to order a lockdown for at least five days.

TOP SEEDS IN PLAY

No. 1 Ashleigh Barty: The fun-loving Aussie won 18 of her first 19 games at Melbourne Park, but then her fourth set turned “into a bit of a prickly pear, really.”

Down 2-5, she rallied famously, beating good friend and wildcard Daria Gavrilova in a second-set tiebreaker.

2021 Australian Open Highlights Day 4: Barty holds off Gavrilova

“I mean, I haven’t played a lot of tennis over the last 12 months,” Barty explained later. “Obviously going to have ebbs and flows, not only in your concentration but your level of play as well. It’s important to be able to bring that back as often as possible. For a couple games, I wasn’t able to do that.”

It was her only lapse so far, and now she faces No. 29 Ekaterina Alexandrova, whom she has never played. Alexandrova reached the semifinals of the Gippsland Trophy a week ago.

No. 5 Elina Svitolina: After knocking off 16-year-old Coco Gauff, Svitolina might have the most favorable path to the semifinals. The highest potential seed she would face is No. 22 Jennifer Brady.

First, she must get past No. 26 Yulia Putintseva, a three-set winner over Alison Van Uytvanck. It’s familiar territory, for the two have met six times. Putintseva won their first clash – nine years ago in Dubai, but Svitolina is 5-0 since, most recently in 2019 at Zhengzhou.

“I think first time we played when we were like 10 or 12 or something like that. It’s going to be another big battle,” Svitolina said. “It’s never easy when you are playing someone who you know for so many years. She’s still a great fighter. She was screaming, she was all the time really pumped, as she is now, as well.”

Head to Head

More Head to Head
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elina svitolina
UKR
85.7% Win 6
- Matches Played
14.3% Win 1
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yulia putintseva
KAZ

No. 6 Karolina Pliskova: Eight days after losing to Danielle Collins in a third-round match at the Yarra Valley Classic, Pliskova returned the favor.

Pliskova’s reward? An appointment with No. 25 Karolina Muchova, her good friend and practice partner in this all-Karolina, all-Czech Republic affair. The head-to-head is 1-1, with Pliskova winning a 2019 Australian Open first-round match and Muchova taking a rousing fourth-round match later that year at Wimbledon, winning 13-11 in the third.

“Even if we would not practice those two weeks in quarantine, we practice a lot in Czech,” Pliskova said. “I think it’s going to be at least like good atmosphere, there is not really the tension that we hate each other.

“I just have to find a way.”

KANEPI: QUARANTINE WAS A PLUS

After surprising defending Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin, Kaia Kanepi credited the 14-day quarantine.

“I think coming here [previously] from pre-season and then long trip I haven’t felt physically that great,” Kanepi told reporters afterward. “Also in Melbourne the weather changes a lot and it’s tougher to get used to the conditions if I haven’t been in Melbourne for a longer time. But this year I think coming here for two weeks, first in quarantine and then the warmup tournament, I think that’s what helped me.”

2021 Australian Open Highlights Day 4: Kanepi ousts Kenin

Kanepi reached the final of that Gippsland Trophy event and the win over Kenin was her 17th of 18 overall. Eight of her 13 wins over top-10 players have come in Grand Slams.

Next is No. 28 Donna Vekic, who holds a 1-0 edge, going back to the second round of the 2019 US Open.

CLEARLY, QUALIFIED FOR THE JOB

No. 22 Jennifer Brady: After beating fellow American Madison Brengle, Brady gets qualifier Kaja Juvan, who defeated another qualifier, Mayar Sherif 3-6, 7-6 (2), 6-3.

Juvan reaches third round of a major for the first time. With Sara Errani on the other side, it’s the first time two qualifiers have reached the third round in Melbourne in three years.

WHO SAYS 13 IS UNLUCKY?

No. 18 Elise Mertens: The 25-year-old Belgian is now a perfect 13-0 in second-round matches of a Grand Slam. She faces No. 11 Belinda Bencic, who coming into the Aussie Open, hadn’t won since last year in the quarterfinals at Doha. This will be their first meeting.

2021 Australian Open Highlights Day 4: Bencic stops Kuznetsova

QUOTES

“Around the world I think there’s many people suffering. Yeah, many people are not having the perfect ideal life right now. I’m still aware of that. I’m aware that tennis probably is not the most important thing right now. I mean, it’s not always, but right now even less. But I still hope we can bring little bit joy to the people here and little bit entertainment to the fans that love to watch tennis. Otherwise, I just hope for everyone this is over soon and everyone can continue their normal lives.” -- Belinda Bencic

DOING THE MATH

No.6 Karolina Pliskova was the 2010 Australian Open girls’ champion, one of six in this year’s main draw. She’s the last one left.

UPSET WATCH

No. 6 Karolina Pliska vs. No. 28 Karolina Muchova (see above).

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