2021 Australian Open Previews

Day 13

(3) Naomi Osaka vs. (22) Jen Brady: And then there were two… Saturday’s final will be a good one if their last meeting is anything to go by. Osaka beat Brady, 7-6(1) 3-6 6-3 in the semi-finals of the US Open in what was largely touted as one of the best matches of 2020. Brady was asked about it in press this week as Osaka had said it was one of her top two matches of all time. I think Brady was touched by those words!

There’s no doubt that Osaka is the favourite to win her fourth Slam. She’s been phenomenal these two weeks. So calm, so clutch. I guess the only doubt is that Osaka is the clear favourite and expected to win so that will no doubt bring some pressure. This is a new experience for Brady. Some of the recent first time Slam finalists have taken to it like a duck to water and been absolutely fearless. There will obviously be some nerves, it’s just whether Brady can play through them. Key to Brady’s chances will be to get on the scoreboard early and convert any early opportunities. Their last meeting should give Brady confidence that she can push Osaka, as well as her last two wins at this tournament.

I just can’t look past Osaka with her recent form and superior experience in Slam finals. Sticking with my champ.

Day 11

(3) Naomi Osaka vs. (10) Serena Williams: We have been spoilt with the match-ups at this tournament and they don’t get much more exciting than Naomi vs. Serena. Both have handled challenging draws in this beast of a bottom half. Osaka was one point from exiting the tournament against Muguruza in the fourth round. There have been two examples in the last five years where the AO champion has saved match points en route to winning the title and it seems to bring a sense of calmness having been so close to being on the plane home. Serena has taken out Sabalenka and Halep, her first top ten wins since the 2019 US Open. Her movement has been all the talk as she managed to outlast Halep in the extended rallies of a sensational quarter-final display.

Osaka leads the head-to-head, 2-1. Generally it never bodes well when someone plays their idol as they almost show them too much respect on the court. Osaka broke that trend by beating Serena in straight sets in their first two meetings. One that seems to get forgotten is that in their most recent meeting, Serena did score a win over Naomi with a 6-3 6-4 win in Toronto in 2019. It’s an interesting dynamic as Osaka goes into this clash as the favourite.

Something will have to give in this one. Osaka is 3-0 in Slam semi-finals and Serena is 8-0 in AO semi-finals. I’m sticking with my champ, Osaka. I think she’s been exceptional so far at this tournament. Her composure in the big moments is next level. I think this could be a classic…

(22) Jen Brady vs. (25) Karolina Muchova: While an unexpected Slam semi-final from the top half, I hope people give it the respect that it deserves. Brady and Muchova are both highly competent players who are on an upward trend. I’m not surprised to see Brady back in a Slam semi-final. Her US Open run was superb and I feel she’s playing sustainable tennis with the big serve and forehand. I’ve been barking on about Muchova for a while and I see her as a future top ten player and winning Slams so this run isn’t a surprise to me in the big picture. Both players came from a set down to win their quarter-finals in what were landmark victories. Brady won a three setter, her only three set win from her US and AO runs so far. Muchova scored the best win of her career, beating the world number one in Ash Barty. It was only Muchova’s second top ten win!

If their last meeting is anything to go by then we can expect a close match. Muchova beat Brady in Prague in 2019, 6-4 3-6 7-6(2). I’m interested to see if the presence of a crowd has an impact. Brady’s run at the US Open was without a crowd and I got the sense that that may have been to her liking. A big factor will be who deals with the occasion better as it’s still newish for Brady and completely new for Muchova. I wonder whether Muchova will be able to back up that big, big win over Barty with barely any time to process it. In terms of dealing with nerves and pressure, Brady’s come a long way. I would still say that Muchova is probably the more level-headed player and if it got tight, I think i’d have more faith in Muchova prevailing. I’m torn.

Day 10

(1) Ash Barty vs. (25) Karolina Muchova: I am loving the prospect of this match-up. Big fan of both Barty and Muchova. I think their games are very similar – big serves, know how to construct a point and have so many dimensions to their game. Barty has the backhand slice and Muchova loves to charge the net. Their only previous meeting was at the 2018 US Open where Barty won, 6-3 6-4. I feel like Muchova has been floating under the radar this week. She’s not been peak, just very efficient and yet to drop a set. This is the first match of the tournament where I actually think Barty could be beaten. My biggest concern for Muchova is that she seemed to feel her ab in her win over Mertens which was the injury that forced her out of the Gippsland Trophy. I really hope that won’t affect this match. If Muchova is fit, then I think this could go either way.

(22) Jen Brady vs. Jessica Pegula: An all-American match-up between friends I enjoyed their references to each other in their post-match writing on the camera! Pegula has been the surprise package of the tournament. I think both players have looked in superb form. Pegula won their only previous meeting in Cincy-New York last year, 7-6(5) 6-4. Interested to see if the fact they’re friends and know each other well could affect the dynamic of the match. Brady has the deeper-stages-of-a-Slam experience from the US Open run and i’m frankly sold on her level right now. Going for Brady.

Day 9

(3) Naomi Osaka vs. Hsieh Su-Wei: When Osaka was told in her post-match interview on Sunday that she would be playing Hsieh Su-Wei next, she let out an audible sigh 😂. Osaka leads the head-to-head, 4-1, but Hsieh has always befuddled Osaka and four of their five matches have gone the distance. There’s definitely no worry of Osaka underestimating Hsieh in this one. Osaka’s four opponents so far have all been big servers and hard hitters, all in a reasonably similar mould, at least R1, R2 and R4. Hsieh is something completely different and she will thrive off Osaka’s pace. I’m fascinated to see how Hsieh handles the occasion. This is the highest profile match of her career. I’m not sure whether she would feel the nerves strongly. The way she speaks in press, I believe her when she says she is just going to go out and have fun. Osaka’s found a way to win in the past against Hsieh and while I think this could be a tough one, I think Osaka will prevail in the end. I’ll of course be rooting for Su-Wei!!!

(2) Simona Halep vs. (10) Serena Williams: This bottom half of this draw is producing blockbuster after blockbuster and there’s likely more to follow after this round. This will be the first time that the pair play each other since the 2019 Wimbledon final when Halep produced arguably the performance of her career. Naturally i’m torn on this match. When I filled out my Draw Challenge, I had no hesitation. It was Serena. I’m definitely swinging more to 50-50 now from what we’ve seen in the tournament. I’ve been impressed with Halep’s serving this tournament and her mental resolve. The game to serve out the match against Swiatek was telling. I tend to worry for Serena if this becomes a really physical match with long rallies. Serve is key for Serena as she missed a lot of first serves vs. Sabalenka. I guess Serena will be relishing the opportunity to play Halep again after their last meeting.

Day 8

(18) Elise Mertens vs, (25) Karolina Muchova: My favourite match-up of the day. Muchova has flown under the radar so far and is yet to drop a set. Mertens was emphatic in beating Bencic in the last round. You can pencil Mertens into the second week of Slams these days. The next step in getting to the quarters and beyond of Slams, and beating top ten players. Mertens deserves to be the favourite. I think that Muchova has the ability to take the game away from Mertens if she serves well and plays aggressively. Big if. I’m aboard the Muchova bandwagon after my QF pick of Collins went out so won’t be getting off just yet!

(5) Elina Svitolina vs. Jessica Pegula: Another rematch from the start of the year! Svitolina beat Pegula in Abu Dhabi, 6-4 6-3. Svitolina has been very impressive so far. From the weaker top half, she’s had one of the toughest routes of anyway and has now beaten Bouzkova, Gauff and Putintseva all in straight sets. Love the aggressive tones from Svitolina so far this week. Pegula knocked out Azarenka in the first round and has dropped just four games in her last two matches. This is the first time Pegula is in the second week of a Slam so now in uncharted territory. Pegula has a nice way about her and seems very calm, very measured. Love her game. This *could* be a super match. I think Pegula has a real shot in this one?

(1) Ash Barty vs. Shelby Rogers: This is another Yarra Valley rematch. Barty beat Rogers just last week, 7-5 2-6 10-4. Barty had a little chuckle in press when she was asked about her thigh injury and didn’t expand on pulling out of the doubles. There were no signs of anything ominous after a routine win over Alexandrova in the third round. Rogers has been superb post-lockdown and I think she’ll be a seed for the Slams by the end of the year. I could see Shelbs getting a set again if she comes out firing. I think Barty will be too strong in the end.

(22) Jen Brady vs. (28) Donna Vekic: Brady is gathering pace, much like she did at the US Open. Her draw has been favourable but she has dismissed her first three opponents in ruthless fashion, dropping just 11 games. Vekic’s route couldn’t have been more contrasting. She has come from a set down in her first and third round matches, and just saved a match point in a courageous performance to beat the in-form, Kanepi. Vekic won their only previous meeting in Rome in 2018, 3-6 6-3 6-1. If Vekic can get stuck in like she did against Kanepi then this could get interesting. Also worth noting that Brady is the only player who was in hard lockdown left in the draw. Sticking with my initial draw and going for Brady.

Day 7

(3) Naomi Osaka vs. (14) Garbiñe Muguruza: RING THOSE DAMN BLOODY BELLS! It’s a first time meeting. I can’t quite believe Osaka and Muguruza have never played each other before. It’s the highest ranked player that Osaka hasn’t played yet. I’m torn about this being a fourth round match. It’s a blockbuster match to saviour. On the other hand, it’s rough that one of them will be out of the tournament before the quarters when they’ve both looked fantastic. Osaka and Muguruza have sailed into the fourth round and have yet to lose more than 4 games in any of the sets they have played. Muguruza has lost 10 games, Osaka 13.

Obviously no data points on the match-up. I am sticking with my initial instinct when doing my draw challenge which was Osaka. She’s been the clutchest of clutch in big matches over the past couple of years. She has looked incredibly calm and composed so far this tournament. Muguruza has been rejuvenated over the past year. However, I haven’t forgotten the match against Collins at RG and still have a question mark over her mentality in these types of matches. Osaka in 3.

(7) Aryna Sabalenka vs. (10) Serena Williams: Keep ringing those bells… another first time meeting! I’m fascinated to see how Serena and Aryna’s games stack up against each other. Sabalenka had an excellent win in the third round. I was worried that Li was going to upset the apple cart. Sabalenka rose to the occasion. Serena, on the other hand, played her most unconvincing match of the year so far. She got the win in straights against Potapova and that’s all that really matters. The movement and footwork were very laboured in the first set and I just hope it was an off day as opposed to a niggle or an injury.

Again no data points so we’re in the dark. On recent form, Sabalenka wins. I’ve learnt over the years that the winner is not always who played the best tennis in the last round. Sabalenka is trying to break new ground at a Slam and she’s playing the best of all time for the first time. I just don’t know how she handles that occasion. It’s a lot to take on board mentally. I’m going for Serena because I think she will respect the threat that Sabalenka poses and get up for the occasion.

(2) Simona Halep vs. (15) Iga Swiatek: Halep won their first meeting, 6-1 6-0 at Roland Garros in 2019. Swiatek won their second meeting, 6-1 6-2 at Roland Garros in 2020. How about a third set tiebreak in this one?! Of the four tremendous matches on Sunday’s schedule, this is the one I’m most on the fence with. At this first Slam since her RG triumph, Swiatek has handled having the newly christened target on her back very well and is yet to drop a set. Halep had the match where she was on the brink against Tomljanovic and managed to survive. I think the fact they are playing on a hard court will neutralise the match-up. I guess i’m leaning slightly towards Halep simply because of her experience. Swiatek is still a bit of an unknown quantity in how she’s going to deal with the match-up and the occasion. I will say that i’ve already underestimated Swiatek at this tournament.

(19) Marketa Vondrousova vs. Hsieh Su-Wei: It’s the lowest profile match of the four but it’s still pretty damn great. The pair played in the first week of the year in Abu Dhabi. It was a dramatic match as Vondrousova wasted a 5-3 third set lead as Hsieh rallied to win, 3-6 6-3 7-6(3). Vondrousova is probably the safer pick. Hsieh though has that recent win under her belt and I think the faster courts favour her. Shocked that Hsieh is the clear outsider with the bookmakers. I think she’s got a real shot to make her first ever Slam quarter-final in singles. Finding it hard to disentangle head and heart on this one because i’d love Hsieh to win. She’s such a beacon of joy. I’m going with my heart on this one.

Day 6 Previews

(6) Karolina Pliskova vs. (25) Karolina Muchova: Match of the day between the Czech quarantine buddies. Their last meeting in 2019 was a humdinger. Pliskova had just survived Hsieh and was one of the favourites to win Wimbledon. Muchova popped up for the biggest win of career, still her only top 10 win, outlasting Pliskova, 4-6 7-5 13-11 in three hours and 17 minutes.

After being on the Collins bandwagon, I’ve jumped across to the Muchova one for this tournament 😂. Pliskova was good against Collins but she was given a helping hand by Collins’s struggle on serve. I don’t think she’ll get the same looks on returns against Muchova. Muchova is still underrated in my opinion and she has so many facets to her game. It’s just about whether she can get her tactics right and find the right shot at the right time. I’m going for Muchova.

Day 5 Previews

(3) Naomi Osaka vs. Ons Jabeur: Ring the bells! Ring the bells! It’s a first time meeting and pretty damn excited about this one. This is the fifth Slam in a row that Jabeur has reached at least the third round. It’s the stat that shows Jabeur’s improvement and how she has managed to instil consistency with her unique brand of tennis. I’m getting Osaka-Hsieh vibes from this match. When Osaka won the AO in 2019, she was down a set and a break to Hsieh but survived. I think this is going to be the one where Osaka is pushed all the way. Osaka in 3.

(7) Aryna Sabalenka vs. Ann Li: I didn’t know anything about Ann Li until last year’s US Open. I remember watching her play Kerber and being so impressed with her game. She has had a supersonic rise of late having won 13 of her last 14 matches. Li is in that phase where she is unknown to most players and floating under-the-radar which make her very dangerous. It was interesting to hear Sabalenka say in press that she learnt a lesson from the Kanepi loss. This is only the fourth time she has reached the third round at a Slam and she is bidding to reach the second week of a Slam for just the second time in her career. I’m getting Sabalenka-Anisimova vibes from a few years back! I would not be at all surprised if Li won this. She’s clearly full of confidence right now. I’d tag this with an upset alert.

Hsieh Su-Wei vs. Sara Errani: Who would have thunk it that a quarter with Andreescu, Venus, Wang and Pironkova would see Hsieh and Errani sail into the third round. Interestingly, Errani has won all three previous encounters in straight sets and all of them have been routs. Two were on clay which is Errani’s best surface and Hsieh’s weakest. They haven’t played since 2017 which is in the period that Hsieh has experienced her best series of singles results on tour. Head says Errani, heart says Hsieh. I’m totally rooting for Su-Wei style to deliver another masterclass but wary with that H2H. This could be a really fun match.

Day 4 Previews

(6) Karolina Pliskova vs. Danielle Collins: I think the Pliskova-Collins match from the Yarra Valley Classic last week is the best quality match I’ve seen so far in 2021. Pliskova played well but didn’t take her small smattering of chances as Collins peaked in both tiebreaks. I’m still not convinced by Pliskova. On the other hand, I’m high on Collins who has looked in brilliant form so far this year and seems to relish these big match occasions. Collins for the win.

(4) Sofia Kenin vs. Kaia Kanepi: I was half expecting a letdown from Kanepi in the first round against Sevastova after her great run to the final at the Gippsland Trophy. Not the case at all as she cruised past a worryingly out-of-form, Sevastova. I can feel the nerves and pressure of defending coming off Kenin. I think this match has upset smacked all over it. Is it weird to say that it almost feels too obvious? I actually think Kenin will win this. I think her game of redirecting and taking the ball early can cause Kanepi some problems.

(5) Elina Svitolina vs. Coco Gauff: Svitolina has a low-key tough draw as she follows up Bouzkova with Gauff. Gauff had a really comfortable win over Teichmann in the first round having gone to a third set tiebreak when they played last week. I really don’t know what to expect from this one. Svitolina has the edge on form and experience. Mild vibes that Gauff is going to get up for this one being a Slam?

(1) Ash Barty vs. Daria Gavrilova: Love these two. Looking forward to the occasion. Barty leads the H2H, 3-1. They’ve had some close matches before including a 2 hour-44 minute bruiser in Strasbourg in 2017. Their most recent meeting in Madrid in 2019 was quick. I’d say Gavrilova is in a better place since that last meeting. Barty probably too! Not expecting much of a contest to be honest. Barty has looked fantastic so far.

(11) Belinda Bencic vs. Svetlana Kuznetsova: Both players won their first matches of the year in the first round after enduring hard lockdown. Not enough data points this year to have a valid opinion on this one. I do have memories of some of their previous matches. Their Madrid clash in 2019 was superb and Doha last year was high quality too if I remember correctly? I went for Sveta in my Draw Challenge because I thought she owned this H2H. Of course I just checked it and Bencic leads, 3-2… 😂

Day 3 Previews

(8) Bianca Andreescu vs. Hsieh Su-Wei: Tasty, tasty, tasty match-up! If you like a bit of variety in your life then this one’s for you. I’m already regretting having Andreescu out in my draw in the second round (to Pironkova). Andreescu’s mental resolve came through in her first round match against Buzarnescu. First match after a long hiatus is often a thrill. Second match can be tougher? Andreescu mentioned in her pre-match press that she knows she will be sore as hell! There are so few data points with Andreescu and I really don’t have a clue how Andreescu and Hsieh’s games are going to stack up against each other (i don’t remember much about their previous meeting in Auckland). I do know that I wrote Andreescu off a lot when she came back from a lay-off in 2019 and potentially with this draw challenge too.

Venus Williams vs. Sara Errani: Does anyone remember their last meeting?! Errani beat Venus in the ultimate of ultimate WTA scoreline, 6-0 0-6 7-6(5) at the 2014 US Open. I have very vague memories of that match. My one wish from this match is that Errani does an underarm serve to Venus 😂. Errani’s ball toss is still inexplicable but you have to hand it to her. Her ability to rally, to grit her way through these matches is commendable. Errani won the last five games to beat Wang Qiang in the first round. I’m strangely fascinated by this second round match which is a real blast from the past. I tend to think that Venus’s wealth of experience will help her to think clearly and logically about how to overcome Errani.

(3) Naomi Osaka vs. Caroline Garcia: Another tough match for Osaka. As I wrote in my draw preview, I actually think the challenging draw is not a bad thing and Osaka has already begun the tournament at a high level, having to play well to overcome Pavlyuchenkova. Garcia has knocked out three top 20 seeds at her last two Slams. Osaka is a big step-up though. I could see peak Garcia showing up for a set. I don’t have faith that she could win two sets and serve out the upset.

(7) Aryna Sabalenka vs. Daria Kasatkina: Definitely encouraged by Kasatkina’s recent form and she’s in a better place with her game than this time last year. Still reverts to being ultra-passive when things get edgy. I feel the match-up is more likely to be decided by Sabalenka’s form. If Sabalenka plays a half-decent match then not really sure what Kasatkina can do to hurt her. Court and conditions seems medium to fast (?) which I think would favour Sabalenka. Rooting for Dasha always.

(15) Iga Swiatek vs. Camila Giorgi: Not the first time that Swiatek and Giorgi have played each other at the Australian Open. In 2019, Giorgi beat Swiatek, 6-2 6-0, in what was Swiatek’s first appearance in the main draw of a Slam. I’m interested to see whether Swiatek can stay calm and actually play her game against the Giorgi bombardment. I’d go Swiatek although that previous result has made me ponder.

Follow Moo’s Tennis Blog on Twitter and Facebook.