We take a look at the Australian Open quarter-final matches between Rafael Nadal and Stefanos Tsitsipas as well as Andrey Rublev against Danil Medvedev.
Australian Open 2021
17 February 2021
Selected Quarter-finals- 17th February
Rafael Nadal (2) (9/20) vs Stefanos Tsitsipas (5) (17/10)
Life has been a breeze thus far for record-seeking Rafael Nadal. He could barely have asked for a more serene glide through the draw in his bid to usurp Roger Federer as the record Grand Slam title holder. 16th seed Fabio Fognini was the only seeded player he has met. He is yet to drop a set and looks almost invincible at present. His serve continues to improve and is now an integral weapon in the already impressive Nadal arsenal. Perhaps the most dramatic moment of his tournament thus far came with his Berrettini faux pas: he accidentally leaked the Italian’s injury status prior to his scheduled match with Stefanos Tsitsipas. It’s fairly amazing to consider that Nadal has only won this event once (more than a decade ago). The four-time beaten finalist has provided some of the tournament’s most enduring memories. This year he will be looking to come out on the right side for a change.
His opponent will be the would-be successor to the so-called ‘Big Three’: Stefanos Tsitsipas. 2020 was ultimately quite a frustrating year for the Greek, despite a few sporadic moments of brilliance. He won a title in Marseille and reached a further two finals. He also underlined his Grand Slam potential once again, reaching his 2nd Grand Slam semi-final at Roland Garros. His first semi-final came at his very event two years ago. But all in all, he never made the progression that he will have anticipated. Inconsistency saw him eliminated at the early stages of several events. He was also unable to rise to the occasion when defending his 2019 ATP Finals crown: he was eliminated after the round-robin phase. This is clearly going to be a massive test for the heir apparent to the men’s game. He will have been thrilled about the Berrettini withdrawal: he needed five sets to overcome gutsy hometown hero showing from Kokkinakis. This is sure to be another bruising affair, with neither of these players afraid to engage in long rallies. Tsitsipas will need to serve well and may need to mix it up by coming to the net from time to time.
The numbers don’t make for pretty reading for the Greek. Nadal leads the head-to-head 6-1. That includes a routine victory for Nadal in the 2019 semi-final. Tsitsipas actually has a victory over Nadal on clay. And their last two matches at the O2 were mini classics. But I just can’t see the Nadal steam-train stopping just yet. But can Tsitsipas rob him of a set? I don’t think so. Nadal to win in straight sets at 2/1 seems like great value to me.
Andrey Rublev (7) (21/10) vs Danil Medvedev (4) (7/20)
After all the chaos of the previous year, there’s something strangely reassuring about this half of the draw going to seed. This promises to be a blockbuster clash of Russia’s top 2 players. This is also a historic week for Russia, with Rublev, Medvedev and Karatsev making it three Russian quarterfinalists in a Slam for the first time ever. Andrey Rublev is yet to lose a match in 2021. He actually helped his quarterfinal opponent in winning the season-opening ATP Cup. Rublev really came to the fore with an incredible 2020. He won five ATP Titles and also made a splash on the Grand Slam stage. He reached the quarterfinals of both the French and US Open. Can he make the next step? He is yet to drop a set this week and is fresh off a 3rd set walkover victory. But he will need to overcome the not insignificant hurdle that is Danil Medvedev, a man he has never beaten.
The towering presence of Danil Medvedev looms large over Rublev this week. Medvedev is also unbeaten in 2021. He did however need five sets to overcome Krajinovic in the 3rd round. Medvedev is a classy player who will surely taste Grand Slam success sooner rather than later. 2019 saw him light up the tennis world with a nearly unprecedented North American Hardcourt swing. All those finals ultimately led to a narrow Flushing Meadows defeat. 2020 was slightly less consistent for the Russian (though it ended in magnificent style). He won the Paris Masters. He then went unbeaten at the O2 Arena, capturing his maiden ATP Finals title. Medvedev is a chameleon, adapting to the playing style of his opponent. His movement is remarkable for a big guy and he is able to pull off some Harlem Globetrotters shots.
As I noted earlier, Medvedev has the clear edge in the head-to-head stakes: he leads Rublev 3-0. Crucially, he is yet to drop a set against Rublev. Ouch. I think that could change this week. This game is probably more important to Rublev at this point in time. He needs to get over this mental block if he wants to compete at the very highest level. I’m going for Rublev to make his first Grand Slam semi-final.