The rivalries to watch in week two

  • Gillian Tan

As Australian Open 2020 action progresses deeper into the second week, tennis fans can be assured they’re in for a treat.

We’ve decided to spotlight some newer rivalries on show during the quarterfinals, as well as a couple of blockbuster matchups that may potentially be reignited in the semis. 

Barty [1] v Kvitova [7]

Barty meets a familiar Melbourne Park foe in the final eight

The Australian world number one and the Czech left-hander have a great camaraderie. “Sharing [the] court with her, it’s always a pleasure,” said the 29-year-old Kvitova. But their competitive spirit once they step on court, combined with the variety in each of their games, provides a perfect recipe for a great match-up. The duo enter their Day 9 quarterfinal with a slight advantage to Kvitova, who leads their head-to-head 4-3 and won their clash at the same juncture at Australian Open 2019 in straight sets. But Barty has exacted revenge since then, winning all three of their most recent matches, including one in straight sets at the season-ending WTA Finals in Shenzhen. Can the Queenslander keep her streak alive? 

Raonic [32] v Djokovic [2]

Raonic has his best chance yet to snap his Djokovic hoodoo

It may be a stretch to call this a rivalry since Raonic has never won a match against Djokovic in nine attempts. But the Canadian is playing inspired tennis, which has turned him into somewhat of a dark horse this tournament following his ousting of 2019 breakthrough star Stefanos Tsitsipas in straight sets in the third round. The 29-year-old, best known for his serve, is yet to be broken and hasn’t dropped a set. But it won’t be easy against Djokovic, who since losing a set in his first-round encounter against Jan-Lennard Struff, is again looking like the player has won a record seven titles in Melbourne. “I think we play quite opposite from each other, and he's done a good job in the past neutralising my serve so I have really got to focus on my things well and be the one dictating,” observed Raonic. He converted three of eight break points the last time the duo played in Cincinnati in 2018, and will be looking to improve on that ratio on Day 9. “I have got to be sharp in those moments if I can create them,” he said.

Muguruza v Pavlyuchenkova [30]

Muguruza has swept all before her this January

The Spaniard has won four of the pair’s five meetings, but this will be the first time they face off on a hard court since 2016. Adding to the intrigue is the fact that the Russian is being coached by Sam Sumyk, who spent the best part of the last four years on Muguruza’s team. Both players have accomplished huge feats this fortnight, with Pavlyuchenkova besting 2016 champion Angelique Kerber in the fourth round after taking out in-form second seed Karolina Pliskova in straight sets in the round of 32. Muguruza also seems to have found her best self, dropping only three and six games respectively in her straightforward defeats of fifth seed Elina Svitolina and ninth seed Kiki Bertens, respectively. 

Nadal [1] v Thiem [5]

Nadal and Thiem's 2018 US Open clash lives long in the memory

Living up to their seedings, Nadal and Thiem set up a mouthwatering rematch of the last time they met on a hard court – the classic 2018 US Open quarterfinal in which the Spaniard dug deep to win 0-6 6-4 7-5 6-7(4) 7-6(5). “It’s going to be stuck in my mind forever,” Thiem said after the match. “Tennis is cruel sometimes, because I think this match didn't really deserve a loser, but there has to be one.” The Austrian has four wins to his name against Nadal, all on clay and none at a Grand Slam level. Can the 26-year-old upset one of the all-time greats to reach his first Australian Open semifinal? 

Wawrinka [15] v Zverev [7]

Wawrinka is yet to get on the board against Zverev

It’s a rivalry we wish we’d seen more of and two players with plenty to play for. At 34, Wawrinka, who triumphed here in 2014, will take on 22-year-old Zverev, who has never reached a Grand Slam semifinal. Notably, the German holds the upper hand here, having won both of the duo’s prior matches, albeit in three sets, but they haven’t battled since 2017. “It's going to be a difficult match, for sure,” said Wawrinka, who reiterated his desire to maximize the most of the years on tour he has left. He’s also brimming with self-belief in his mental resilience after toughing out a five-set win over fourth seed Daniil Medvedev. Expect the unexpected.

Federer [3] v Djokovic [2]

Federer snapped a long drought against Djokovic in London

If Federer defeats Tennys Sandgren and if Djokovic can navigate past an in-form Raonic, the two greats will meet in the semifinals for their 50th battle. The Swiss father-of-four secured his first win in four years over his Serbian rival at the ATP Tour Finals in London just two months ago, providing him with a welcome boost of confidence. “I played incredible, I knew I had to because that's what Novak does,” Federer said after that victory. Remember, Djokovic leads their head-to-head 26-23, and this would be the first chance at a major that Federer has to avenge his heartbreaking 2019 Wimbledon final loss – yes, the one in which he held two match points. Interestingly, Federer hasn’t been able to crack the Djokovic puzzle here in Melbourne since 2007. The 20-time major winner lost to his rival in the 2008 and 2011 semifinals in straight sets, and pushed him to four sets at the same stage in 2016. Should the stars align for these two to tussle, expect nothing less than an epic. 

Nadal [1] v Wawrinka [15]

t_RNadal_AUSOPEN 2014_27012020_2
Nadal and Wawrinka have Australian Open history

Nadal needs to get past Thiem and Wawrinka has to upset Zverev before this powerhouse semifinal can occur. But if it does, Nadal will have a chance to turn the tables on his Swiss peer, who was able to capture the 2014 title – his first of three majors – partly due to back injury that impeded the left-hander. For context, Nadal has won seven of their past nine meetings and holds a rather lopsided 19-3 head-to-head advantage. But unbreakable determination from Nadal and unbridled courage from Wawrinka – who famously has the tattoo “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.” on his left forearm – should make for an entertaining contest.