Australian Open - A half-century of Slam titles on show for Silent Super Sunday
There are a number of compelling matches in both the men's and women's singles scheduled for Sunday at the 2021 Australian Open. Novak Djokovic, Serena Williams, Dominic Thiem and Simona Halep are all in action at Melbourne Park with a place in the quarter finals of the first Grand Slam of the year on the line.
Novak Djokovic of Serbia celebrates after winning a game during round 3 of the 2021 Australian Open on February 12 2020, at Melbourne Park in Melbourne, Australia
Sunday promises to be the most compelling day of this year’s Australian Open so far. On the basis of the matches scheduled in both the men’s and women’s singles, it truly deserves the ‘Super Sunday’ tag.
It’s at this stage that the first Grand Slam of 2021 will get real. Performance levels will have to be raised as the challenge grows. From this point on, the pressure builds as the stakes get higher. This is a run through of the five matches you can’t afford to miss.
It was against Simona Halep at Roland Garros last year that Iga Swiatek truly announced herself as a force at the top of women’s tennis, with the 19-year-old dominating the two-times Grand Slam winner on her way to glory in Paris.
‘I feel like I have nothing to lose’ – Swiatek on Halep showdown
Halep was impressive in her third round match over Veronika Kudermetova, winning in straight sets, but had a tougher time in the second round against Ajla Tomljanovic. Swiatek, on the other hand, has yet to drop a set at this year’s Australian Open.
Swiatek has a big game and will try to impose that on Halep. The world number two is a fighter, though. Her court coverage could be key to getting the better of the Polish youngster who is at the vanguard of the sport’s next generation.
Garbine Muguruza (14) v Naomi Osaka (3)
It can be strongly argued that this will be the biggest match of the women’s singles at this year’s Australian Open so far. Both Garbine Muguruza and Naomi Osaka are Grand Slam champions and world number ones. And both will have ambitions to add to their majors tally at Melbourne Park.
Last year’s Australian Open saw Muguruza revive her career with a somewhat unexpected run to the final, where she was beaten by Sofia Kenin. The Spaniard once again looks to be in strong form having dropped just 10 games in her opening two matches against Margarita Gasparyan and Ludmilla Samsonova. She then dismantled Zarina Diyas in just 56 minutes in the third round.
Highlights: Osaka breezes past Jabeur to reach fourth round
Osaka has also impressed in straightforward wins over Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, Caroline Garcia and Ons Jabeur. This will be the first meeting between two players on the tour and so there is no track record to make a prediction on. Muguruza and Osaka look to be well-matched. This has the makings of a classic.
Dominic Thiem (3) v Grigor Dimitrov (18)
It was going to take something special to stop the Nick Kyrgios tornado at this year’s Australian Open and that’s what Dominic Thiem came up with in his third round win, fighting back from two sets down to triumph in five. This performance proved the Austrian has the mentality to win more majors.
'Tennis at its very best' - Wilander raves about Thiem's win over Kyrgios
Long talked about in terms of his unfulfilled potential, Grigor Dimitrov has found a vein of good form at Melbourne Park. The Bulgarian swept aside Marin Cilic in straight sets in a tricky opening round match and backed that up with another comfortable win over Alex Bolt before Pablo Carreno Busta retired midway through their third round encounter.
Subsequently, Dimitrov might be the physically fresher of the two players. What’s more, the Bulgarian has beaten Thiem all three times they have faced each other on a hard court. Mentally, though, Thiem appears to be made of tougher stuff. This could be another test of his title credentials.
Aryna Sabalenka (7) v Serena Williams (10)
After routine victories over Laura Siegemund and Nina Stojanovic, Serena Williams suffered a dip in her third round match against Anastasia Potapova. Indeed, the 39-year-old got off to a slow start and had to fight back from 5-3 down in the opening set, racking up 25 unforced errors and struggling with her serve.
Highlights: Serena 'survives' battle with Potapova to progress
Williams won’t get away with such deficiencies against Aryna Sabalenka, who has won 18 of her last 19 matches. It’s a streak that stretches back to last year, with the number seven seed’s impressive form underlined in the third round win over Ann Li which lasted just 60 minutes.
Sabalenka hasn’t reached the quarter finals of a Grand Slam before, but is in something close to the form of her life at the moment. Williams, on the other hand, is suffering from inconsistency in her performances and it’s been that way for a while now. A win here for either player will be a statement.
Novak Djokovic (1) v Milos Raonic (14)
While Novak Djokovic made it through in five sets against Taylor Fritz in the third round, it could still go down as the moment the world number one’s hopes of winning a ninth Australian Open title were effectively ended.
'It’s one of the best moments' - Djokovic on Fritz tussle
Indeed, it’s not even certain Djokovic will take to the court on Sunday after the Serbian revealed he’d torn an abdominal muscle at the end of the second set against Fritz. That he was able to win a fifth and deciding set in such physical condition was remarkable. How will he fare in another best of five sets match, though?
Number 14 seed Milos Raonic could be a bad match-up for Djokovic. The former Wimbledon finalist is a legendary server. Ordinarily, that wouldn’t be much of an issue for Djokovic, renowned for his returning ability, but will the tournament favourite be able to twist and contort his body like he normally would?