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2021 Australian Open: What to Watch on Saturday Night
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How to watch: 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Eastern on the Tennis Channel and 9 p.m. to 7 a.m. on ESPN2 in the United States; streaming on the ESPN+ and ESPN3 apps.When four reigning Grand Slam champions appear in an order of play, you expect at least one of them to be a clear favorite to advance. In the Australian Open’s round of 16 on Saturday, that is not the case. Naomi Osaka, Dominic Thiem, Iga Swiatek and especially Novak Djokovic all face significant challenges.Djokovic struggled with an injured side muscle during his third-round victory over Taylor Fritz and will need to recover quickly if he is to challenge the in-form Milos Raonic. But for the others, the threat of elimination is less about their own issues and more about their opponents’ potential to play at a high level.Here are some matches to keep an eye on.Because of the number of matches cycling through courts, the times for individual matchups are at best estimates and are certain to fluctuate based on when earlier play is completed. All times are Eastern.Rod Laver Arena | 7 p.m. SaturdayNaomi Osaka vs. Garbiñe MuguruzaOsaka’s control of her third-round match against the creative and entertaining Ons Jabeur was exemplary. Although Osaka struggled to win points on her second serve, her first serve was enough to earn eight aces during a two-set win.Garbiñe Muguruza, a finalist at last year’s Australian Open, has dropped only 10 games on her path to the round of 16. Muguruza grabbed the initiative early in each match, using her powerful groundstrokes to dictate points and set up relatively easy winners.This matchup between two hardcourt specialists could have easily been a Grand Slam final, and speaks to the quality of tennis being played on the WTA tour. Tonight’s match should be an excellent wrap up to the first week of action.Margaret Court Arena | 9 p.m. FridayFelix Auger-Aliassime vs. Aslan KaratsevAslan Karatsev, a qualifier, is playing in the main draw at a major for the first time and has not lost a set, even as he upset the eighth seed, Diego Schwartzman. Karatsev’s powerful, well-placed serves have been a distinct advantage, forcing his opponents onto the back foot on the fast courts at Melbourne Park.Karatsev was a promising young player in 2017, before a knee injury sidelined him. He did not play an ATP-level event for three years. After his performance in Australia, Karatsev is guaranteed to be ranked in the top 100, and we will get to see more of the Russian without his needing to struggle through qualifying rounds.In the third round, Felix Auger-Aliassime, the 20th seed, was finally able to defeat his fellow Canadian Denis Shapovalov. Auger-Aliassime reached the round of 16 in the U.S. Open before losing to Thiem and is now aiming to advance to his first Grand Slam quarterfinal.Rod laver Arena | 11 p.m. SaturdayDominic Thiem vs. Grigor DimitrovThiem, the third seed, came from two sets down against Nick Kyrgios in the third round on Friday night. Thiem won the United States Open in September and reached the final of the ATP Finals, capping his best season on tour.Grigor Dimitrov, the 18th seed and the 2017 ATP Finals winner, has never reached the final of a Grand Slam tournament. He has had a relatively easy run to the round of 16, beating the 2014 U.S. Open champion, Marin Cilic, in three sets and playing only seven games in the third round before his opponent, Pablo Carreño Busta, retired with an illness.Dimitrov has won the majority of his matches against Thiem, but the two last faced each other at the 2019 Paris Masters. Though Thiem is in better form now, Dimitrov is well rested and could wear Thiem down with aggressive baseline play.Rod Laver Arena | 3 a.m. SundayIga Swiatek vs. Simona HalepSwiatek, the 15th seed, won her first Grand Slam title at the French Open in October. The 19-year-old will again meet Simona Halep, the second seed, in the round of 16. In Paris, Swiatek dismantled Halep, losing only three games as she used a variety of powerful rally balls and cleverly disguised drop shots to unsettle her opponent. It was a reversal of their meeting at the French Open in 2019, when Swiatek won just one game.Halep, a two-time major champion, was a semifinalist at last year’s Australian Open. Her aggressive baseline play is favored on hardcourts, but not by much. Swiatek’s mental toughness and consistency can allow her to stay in points much longer, even when on the back foot. Here are a few more matches to keep an eye on.Hsieh Su-wei vs. Marketa Vondrousova — 7 p.m.Aryna Sabalenka vs. Serena Williams — 9 p.m.Alexander Zverev vs. Dusan Lajovic — 2:30 a.m.Novak Djokovic vs. Milos Raonic — 5 a.m.
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2021 Australian Open: What to Watch on Thursday Night
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How to watch: 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Eastern on the Tennis Channel and 9 p.m. to 7 a.m. on ESPN2 in the United States; streaming on the ESPN+ and ESPN3 apps.As each singles draw dwindled to 32 players, some former major champions lost their hopes of snagging one more Grand Slam title. The 17th-seeded Stan Wawrinka lost his second-round match to Marton Fucsovics, and the eighth-seeded Bianca Andreescu fell to Hsieh Su-Wei.Although the field has shrunk, plenty of promising youngsters and past major champions remain.Here are some matches to keep an eye on.Because of the number of matches cycling through courts, the times for individual matchups are best estimates and certain to fluctuate based on when earlier play is completed. All times are Eastern.Rod Laver Arena | 7 p.m. ThursdayAryna Sabalenka vs. Ann LiAryna Sabalenka, the seventh seed, has equaled her best result at the Australian Open by reaching the third round. She has yet to make it to a Grand Slam quarterfinal, despite how consistently well she plays on tour. Sabalenka won three hardcourt singles titles in 2020, and started 2021 by winning the Abu Dhabi Open. Her aggressive style can help her on faster-paced courts, although on her poorer days it can create plenty of unforced errors.Ann Li, the world No. 69, has had a fantastic run of results in the past few weeks. Last week, she won the Grampians Trophy in Melbourne with a walkover in the final. Then, in the first round of the Australian Open, she upset the 31st seed, Zhang Shuai, while dropping only two games. Although her second-round match against Alizé Cornet required a bit more from her, Li played well, pushing through a tough second set tiebreaker in which she faced two set points. One more upset would put her in her first round of 16 at a Grand Slam event.John Cain Arena | 10 p.m. ThursdayNaomi Osaka vs. Ons JabeurNaomi Osaka, the third seed, has won a Grand Slam event in each of the past three years, all on hardcourts. The fast pace of play suits her, as she pins opponents into the back corners of the court with her flat shots. Osaka did not play in the French Open in October, citing concerns related to the pandemic. She is back into a groove at the Australian Open, dropping just eight games across her first two matches.Ons Jabeur, the 27th seed, became the first Arab woman to reach a Grand Slam quarterfinal at last year’s Australian Open, losing to the eventual champion, Sofia Kenin. Jabeur’s adaptability can be very difficult for opponents to handle; she can unravel an array of opponents’ weaknesses. To beat Osaka, Jabeur will need to have a strong start and not allow her opponent to get into a rhythm.John Cain Arena | 3 a.m. FridayDominic Thiem vs. Nick KyrgiosDominic Thiem, the third seed, won the United States Open in September, supplanting Marin Cilic (2014) as the most recent first-time male Grand Slam champion.A four-time Grand Slam finalist, Thiem has slowly been chipping away at the hegemony of the so-called Big Three of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic. Though Thiem’s U.S. Open victory came on a hard court, that is not considered his best surface. And with the unusually quick conditions in Australia, he may struggle to return to the final, where he lost to Djokovic last year.Nick Kyrgios, an Australian ranked 47th in the world, was often stereotyped as an uncouth punk for his perceived lack of interest in the sport of tennis. As the coronavirus pandemic shut down the ATP Tour, Kyrgios became a loud advocate for health and safety precautions, openly criticizing both his peers and legends like Boris Becker for choosing to socialize or complaining about safety measures. Now Kyrgios is playing in front of home crowds, and the fast-paced courts in Melbourne will aid his aggressive baseline style. However, after barely squeezing past the 29th seed, Ugo Humbert, in five sets, Kyrgios will be challenged to break down Thiem’s exceptional defensive play.Margaret Court Arena | 3 a.m. FridayDenis Shapovalov vs. Felix Auger-AliassimeDenis Shapovalov and Felix Auger-Aliassime, the two youngest members of the Canadian delegation at the Australian Open, are both aggressive, full-court players who rely on their athleticism to get through tough matches.Shapovalov, the 11th seed, reached his first Grand Slam quarterfinal at the U.S. Open before losing in five sets to Pablo Carreño Busta. Although Shapovalov, 21, lost both of his ATP Cup matches — a singles match against the seventh-ranked Alexander Zverev and a doubles match — they were tightly contested. After an impressive five-set win over the fellow up-and-comer Jannik Sinner, Shapovalov looks prepared to reach the second week of play.Auger-Aliassime, 20, has skated through his first two rounds, convincingly dismantling his opponents without dropping a set. The last time he faced Shapovalov on tour, he lost in straight sets in the first round of the 2019 U.S. Open. A year and a half later, this match will be a good test of whether he can usurp his close friend as the top Canadian men’s player.Here are a few more matches to keep an eye on:Serena Williams vs. Anastasia Potapova — 9 p.m.Milos Raonic vs. Marton Fucsovics — 1 a.m.Simona Halep vs. Veronika Kudermetova — 3 a.m.Novak Djokovic vs. Taylor Fritz — 5 a.m.
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