Upon reaching the third round of the Australian Open, Naomi Osaka was musing about her Friday opponent, Amanda Anisimova.

“I think it’s just awesome to see the younger generation doing really well, because I remember also being part of the younger generation,” Osaka told reporters. “She seems like a really nice girl. Woman? Woman. She seems like a nice woman.”

It could easily have been a line from the popular insurance commercial, where Dr. Rick attempts to help patients not become their parents. Anisimova, born in this new century, is 20 years old. Osaka, for the record, turned 24 last October.

Osaka’s impressive body of work in Australia, however, could lead you to believe they are much, much further apart. She’s 24-4 in Melbourne, with titles in 2019 and 2021, and has won 18 of her past 19 matches. And so, the No.13 seed, the epitome of an immovable object Down Under, meets the irresistible force that is the streaking Anisimova, who has won her first seven matches of 2022.

She said her confidence started to blossom playing World Team Tennis for Orange County at Indian Wells in the fall.

Australian Open: Scores | Draw | Order of play

“I know that I can play well,” Anisimova said, “I knew that my game was there, but going into the first couple tournaments of the season, you just don’t know what’s going to happen. I could have lost first round of both these tournaments.”

Instead, she won the title in the Melbourne 250 and followed that up a win over qualifier Harriet Dart and a forceful 6-2, 7-5 second-round victory over No.22 seed Belinda Bencic.

“I think she played great, my opponent,” Bencic said. “She was kind of like not, yeah, overpowering me. She had good depth in her shots and everything which made it very hard for me and I think she handled the conditions better.”

Photo by Jimmie48/WTA

It was extremely windy, but Anisimova knows a little something about adverse conditions. Even in a sport where youth is served early and often, Anisimova’s precocity has always stood out. She beat her first WTA Top 150 player at the age of 14, won her first ITF title at 15. She was 16 when she scored her first top-10 win, against Petra Kvitova. The first WTA title came at 17 in Bogota. That same year, she reached the fourth round at the Australian Open and, at Roland Garros, became the youngest semifinalist in more than a decade.

And then, before the US Open, her father and longtime coach Konstantin, died of a heart attack at the age of 52. Devastated, Anisimova withdrew. The next two years would prove difficult; grieving, injuries and a case of Covid-19 set her back. Anisimova’s ranking, which reached a career high of No.21, was down to No.78 at the end of 2021.

“I’m excited, honestly, to start off the season like this,” Anisimova said. “So my ranking is doing a little bit better than it was a couple months ago, so that’s a good thing. Just being able to have fun on the court was the most important thing for me, if I’m able to play and not be in pain or something’s bothering me, that was the most important thing for me.”

These two have never played, outside of a charity match at Indian Wells a few years ago.

“I’ve obviously never hit with her or practiced with her or anything, so it will definitely be really new going into the match,” Osaka said. “It’s really nice to see her around, because I heard of her story and on what happened to her, so it’s really good, like she’s pushing through it.”

Anisimova said she’s looked forward to playing Osaka for some time.

The top half of the draw is holding up nicely, with the top four seeds – No.1 Ashleigh Barty, No.4 Barbora Krejcikova, No.5 Maria Sakkari and No.8 Paula Badosa – all intact. Eleven of the 16 seeds are still alive for Friday’s matches. Here are the ones to watch:

No.1 Ashleigh Barty versus Camila Giorgi

The temptation to look ahead is almost overpowering, but before they meet in the fourth round, Barty and Osaka have to take care of business. Barty (6-0 in 2022) has held down her end, looking like a top seed should look, losing only three games in four sets against a pair of qualifiers. Giorgi, a 6-2, 7-6 (2) winner over Tereza Martincova, equaled her best Australian Open performances.

The 30-year-old Italian is an unpredictable player who can cause problems.

“She has the ability to hold baseline, to control the center of the court, be super, super aggressive off her serve and first shot, particularly off her return,” Barty said. “It’s going to be a match where I’m going to have to serve well, bring in variety, make sure I can cover the court, neutralize the best that I can. She has the ability to hit you off the court without realizing it’s happening.”

Head-to-head: 3-0, Barty, most recently in the second round of the 2018 Australian Open.

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No.4 Barbora Krejcikova versus No.26 Jelena Ostapenko

This one features a pair of French Open winners; Krejcikova is the reigning champion, while Ostapenko won in 2017.  Krejcikova – the only WTA player ranked among the top 10 in singles and doubles – has lost only seven games in matches against Andrea Petkovic and Wang Xiyu. Ostapenko needed three sets to beat both Anna Karolina Schmiedlova and Alison Riske.

“I remember her as a really, like, tough player,” Krejcikova said. “I know she always played very fast. She was also very emotional. I mean, so far she had really good career, so I expect it’s going to be really difficult match.”

Head-to-head: 2-1, Ostapenko, who won the first two in 2015, then fell 6-3, 6-1 in the round of 32 in 2021 Dubai.

No.8 Paula Badosa versus Marta Kostyuk

The only thing that seems capable of stopping Badosa is her own success – the fatigue of playing an eighth match in a dozen days.

“Yeah, for the moment I can’t complain,” Badosa said. “If I have to be honest, on that day off I’m not doing anything. I’m touching the racquet 10 minutes per day.”

After winning the title in Sydney, beating Krejcikova in a third-set tiebreaker in the final, Badosa has forged two 6-0 sets in two matches. Kostyuk, the rising 19-year-old from Ukraine, took out No.32 seed Sara Sorribes Tormo 7-6 (5), 6-3. The two are good friends.

“When they ask me who can be the next star,” Badosa said, “I always say Marta. She has a lot of potential. She’s always a dangerous player. I will have to play my best because I know she likes these kind of matches.”

Head-to-head: 1-0, Badosa, in the third round of qualifying at the 2019 Australian Open.

No.15 Elena Svitolina versus No.24 Victoria Azarenka

This is a classic clash of two veterans, although Svitolina has never beaten Azarenka.

“Played many times,” Svitolina said. “Played doubles with her. Practiced with her also many times. We know each other’s game quite well. For me will be important to bring my best game to the next match, try to work on few tactical things with my coach.”

Svitolina advanced to the third round when Harmony Tan retired trailing 6-3, 5-7, 5-1. Azarenka was a 6-1, 6-2 winner over Jil Teichmann and has lost only seven games in two matches.

Photo by Jimmie48/WTA

“She fights no matter what,” Azarenka said of Svitolina. “I think that is a very important quality in her game. The rest is about trying to really focus on myself to be more in charge, be more in control. I think that’s what I’ve been kind of trying to implement for the last few months.”

Head-to-head: 4-0, Azarenka, most recently a straight-sets win in the 2021 Doha quarterfinals.

No.5 Maria Sakkari versus No.28 Veronika Kudermetova

Sakkari handled 19-year-old Chinese qualifier Zheng Qinwen 6-1, 6-4 to set up this meeting with Kudermetova, a 6-2, 7-5 winner over Elena-Gabriela Ruse.

Head-to-head: 1-1, with Sakkari taking last year’s round of 32 meeting in Montreal in three sets.