2021 Australian Open, Day 7 Highlights: What a day, Osaka saves 2 MPs to beat Muguruza

Sunday’s order of play was sensational. And oh my god oh my god oh my god… it lived up to the anticipation. I watched back the RLA day session when I woke up this morning and managed to avoid the scores. I could tell from the length of the matches that they were competitive! Read on for my day 7 notebook and an attempt to process what unfolded.

Day  7️⃣ Highlights 

(3) Naomi Osaka d. (14) Garbiñe Muguruza, 4-6 6-4 7-5

I’ve lost count of the number of times that a potential match-up in the draw unveil does not come to fruition. This was one of the rare occasional treats where it did. Osaka and Muguruza pounded through their respective draws to this fourth round meeting which was made all the more enticing by the fact that they’d never played each other. The match delivered on the hype as Osaka rallied from 3-5 down in the third set and saved two match points to triumph in a brutal fourth round encounter.

The first two sets were quick for 6-4 sets. My favorite random stat of the day – of the first 20 games, just two went to deuce. When ahead on serve, both players were clinical. In the first set, Muguruza landed 86% (!) of first serves in play. I thought Osaka was rushing and clearly bothered by the depth of Muguruza’s groundstrokes. From 4-6 0-2 down, Osaka committed to building the points rather than going for the early winner. Muguruza’s first serve percentage came down and Osaka managed to force a deciding set.

The third set was the best of the lot. Longer rallies, longer games, tension and third set drama! Muguruza broke serve at 2-2 and then played a fantastic service game to hold to 5-3. Muguruza’s two match points were on Osaka’s serve, leading 5-3* 40-15*. Osaka saved the first match point with an ace down-the-tee. On the second match point, Muguruza gained the upper hand from the return. Osaka got back to neutral in the rally and then hit a cross-court forehand into the corner that forced the error out of Muguruza. From there on, Osaka was locked in as she barely made an unforced error. Muguruza blinked when serving to stay in the tournament.

The outcome of the match didn’t surprise me as it kind of followed the recent trends of both players. Osaka’s ability to perform in the pressure moments is unrivalled. I find it remarkable that, staring into the abyss, she is able to maintain her composure and actually play her very best tennis. This was another example of a high-profile match where Muguruza impressed, yet just fell short. Great match 👏

(10) Serena Williams d. (7) Aryna Sabalenka, 6-4 2-6 6-4

Osaka-Muguruza was followed by another blockbuster match-up. Serena Williams against Aryna Sabalenka was another first time meeting, another three setter and another riveting contest. I think the match-up played out as expected with some huge ballstriking on show. It mostly went with serve apart from a spell at the start of the second set when Serena was missing her first serve. I think the difference in the end was that Serena, after serving at just 43% (!) first serves in through the first two sets, was able to up that significantly to 71% in the third set. After losing her early break, Serena played a superb service game at 4-4 in the third set. Unfortunately, Sabalenka folded in the final game with scoreboard pressure, ending with a double fault and two forehand errors.

A good win for Serena which went some way to expel some of the concerns around her movement from her last match against Potapova. There was a point from the first set that Serena won where she ran a marathon. One of the best defensive points i’ve ever seen from Serena! Sabalenka has played well in her two fourth round Slam matches. Three set losses to Osaka and Serena ain’t too shabby. Serena advances to her 54th (!) Slam quarter-final. She’s playing well but this is one hell of a brutal draw to come…

(2) Simona Halep d. (15) Iga Swiatek, 3-6 6-1 6-4

This was a bit of a strange match with a great start, a terrible middle and an intriguing finish. This was Halep and Swiatek’s closest match to date. There were still elements of lopsidedness akin to their first two meetings. In the first set, Swiatek saved two break points at *3-3 and then managed to break Halep, winning eight of the last nine points of the set. Swiatek produced some wonderful all-court tennis, winning eight of 11 points at the net. Halep secured the early break in the second set and then ran with it as Swiatek completely lost her rhythn and unleashed a torrent of unforced errors. Swiatek said in her press conference that Halep changed the tactics and began playing with more topspin.

The end of the second set into the third set was almost unwatchable! Swiatek couldn’t find the court and she brought Halep’s level down too. Halep was always ahead and Swiatek started to get her game going midway through the set. Swiatek left herself too much to do against a rock-solid opponent. Halep was unwavering with some gritty defence and an impressive hold to serve out the match. Swiatek wasn’t able to sustain her first set level throughout the entirety of the match. Halep was ultimately the more consistent player in all departments and her serve was the constant.

Hsieh Su-Wei d. (19) Marketa Vondrousova, 6-4 6-2

Hsieh reached her FIRST Slam quarter-final in singles with a surprisingly routine straight sets victory. Vondrousova was mostly passive and hit so many bail-out shots into the net. Vondrousova had her right thigh heavily taped and did seem hindered which was a real shame.  Hsieh was not at all distracted and played a very good match. Is there anyone on the tour who can redirect the ball better than Hsieh? It’s mesmerising. Hsieh is an absolute beacon of joy and I was thrilled at this result.

Super stat 🔢

What a stat. The three previous time that Osaka has won her fourth round match at a Slam, she’s gone onto win the whole caboodle.

Funny moment 🤣

I love her.

Press conference 📰

Always enjoy listening to Shelby. She is so engaging! Enjoyed her story about her family watching from the US.

Recommended reading 📚

Omg this story is wonderful from Paul McNamee about Hsieh. If you read only one thing today, please read this ❤.

Day 8 watchlist 📺

Elise Mertens vs. Karolina Muchova

Elina Svitolina vs. Jessica Pegula

Ash Barty vs. Shelby Rogers

Jennifer Brady vs. Donna Vekic

Previews for these last 16 matches can be found here.

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