The top half of this Australian Open draw presents us with four enticing fourth-round matches Sunday, featuring three of the tournament’s top seven seeds, including:

  • A battle of reigning Grand Slam champions.
  • A 33-year-old mother (and two-time Australian Open winner) looking for the rare Aussie hat trick.
  • Another former major champion looking to channel her 2017 vibe.
  • A player ranked No.87, with four previous major main-draw wins, who has now won three in a span of five days.

The breakdown:

[1] Iga Swiatek vs. [22] Elena Rybakina

The official head-to-head says 1-0, Swiatek. It was the Ostrava quarterfinals in 2021, and the top-ranked player prevailed 7-6(5), 6-2. But these two met twice as juniors, where Rybakina scored one win.

Australian Open: Scores | Draw | Order of play

“Yes,” Swiatek said, “the final of Trofeo Bonfiglio on clay. I lost. I remember I was so stressed that there was a live streaming on the internet, and I just couldn't focus because of that. It seems surreal right now.

“I don’t know who is watching me. It’s an internet. It’s huge.”

With all due respect to the Milan Tennis Club, this is bigger. For this is a confrontation between the current champions of the French Open and US Open (Swiatek) and Wimbledon (Rybakina). The last time it happened was the summer of 2021, when Ashleigh Barty defeated Barbora Krejcikova in the Cincinnati quarterfinals.

Australian Open: Swiatek drops one game vs. Bucsa

Day 6 from the Australian Open

Swiatek has looked sharp, dropping only 15 games in three matches. Rybakina needed three sets to take out Danielle Collins in the third round.

“For sure she’s very strong physically and mentally,” Rybakina said of Swiatek. “I think that if I’m going to play my game, aggressive, I’m going to be solid from the beginning until the end, I have all the chances.”

[3] Jessica Pegula vs. [20] Barbora Krejcikova

The winner of this match will find herself in a position to go further than ever Down Under.

Pegula reached the quarterfinals here the past two years, losing to Jennifer Brady and Barty. Krejcikova did it last year, falling to Madison Keys. The survivor of this one -- the two have never played -- will meet either Victoria Azarenka or Zhu Lin for a spot in the semifinals.

Pegula’s rise to the No.3 ranking -- and the fact she reached the quarters in three of the four majors last year -- have brought her to another level of confidence.

“I definitely feel like now I can walk out there and I feel like I’m winning before I step out on the court,” Pegula said. “I’ve always wondered what that felt like. Even when it’s not going great, I feel like I’m in control the whole time.”

[7] Coco Gauff vs. [17] Jelena Ostapenko

These two have a brief history, but it was a momentous occasion.

It was the 2019 final in Linz and Gauff was only 15 years old -- and a lucky loser as well. Gauff took the final in three sets for her first WTA Tour title.

She’s 18 now and was a finalist at last year’s French Open. Gauff is a gaudy 8-0 this year after defeating fellow American Bernarda Pera 6-3, 6-2.

Ostapenko is 4-2 in 2023 and has taken care of business in Melbourne. She was a tidy 6-3, 6-0 winner against Kateryna Baindl in the third round.

“She’s a great player and she’s still very young, but she’s already very experienced,” Ostapenko said of Gauff.” Of course, it’s going to be a tough match.”

When she won the 2017 French Open, Ostapenko had just turned 20 and was swinging for the fences. It’s a style that hasn’t always worn well with time.

“I just think now I’m maybe more mature, and maybe sometimes I need to play more confident and to not go for, like, crazy winners,” she said. “But also, on the other hand, I have to be aggressive because that’s what the opponents don’t like and what makes me a dangerous player.

“So kind of mix it up, everything, all these things. If they work well together, I think I can play well.”

[14] Victoria Azarenka vs. Zhu Lin

Azarenka, the 2012 and 2013 champion here, has now won 45 matches at the Australian Open. Coming into this fortnight, Zhu had won all of two in five previous main draws.

But the 28-year-old from China has won three matches in Melbourne Park -- including a third-round upset of No.6 seed Maria Sakkari in three sets. It was her first career victory against a Top 10 player -- after losing the previous such six matches in straight sets. Earlier, Azarenka took out No.10 seed Madison Keys in another three-set match.

“Coming into this match, I was talking to my team,” Azarenka said after reaching the fourth round for the second straight year. “I was like, `Everything starts to feel more important -- right? Everything starts to become bigger.’ In reality, it is not. It’s still a match.

“It’s not about for me fighting against those feelings. It’s about accepting them and working through them. I really work hard on psychology and the game, awareness, learning about myself. I feel like I’m more open-minded, it helps me to learn.”

These two have never played.