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Five matches to watch on Day 6 of AO 2021

  • Gillian Tan

There will be no crowds on Friday, but the tennis will be deserving of an audience as players fight for a spot in the fourth round. Here are the pick of the matches.

Fabio Fognini [16] v Alex de Minaur [21]

This first-time collision between the pair promises to go the distance. The 33 year-old Italian, who’s defending points from a fourth round appearance in 2020, last week helped his country reach the ATP Cup final. He’s had a day of rest since a dramatic four-hour marathon win over countryman Salvatore Caruso but Fognini named his opponent as the favourite, citing the Australian’s Antalya Open title in January.

MORE: Full schedule for Day 6

“I wish my body [will] recovery really quickly, because Alex I think is one of the faster guys in the circuit, and he's really solid from both sides,” Fognini said on Thursday. Australian Open 2021 provides an opportunity for redemption for 21-year-old De Minaur who was sidelined from last year’s tournament with an abdominal injury. “Your home slam is always that one tournament you mark in the calendar which you want to perform in,” he said this week.

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Fabio Fognini and Salvatore Caruso exchanged terse words on Thursday night

Ash Barty [1] v Ekaterina Alexandrova [29]

In another career-first meeting, the popular Queenslander faces a stern test against the in-form Russian. Alexandrova is eyeing a maiden major fourth round berth and looking to add another scalp to her growing list of top 10 wins this season. The 26 year-old right hander upset Simona Halep and Iga Swiatek during last week’s Gippsland Trophy, and held two match points against Elina Svitolina in January at a lead-up tournament in Abu Dhabi. “That's something really exciting about women's tennis now, is that every single match, it's a fair match,” said Barty on Thursday. She’ll be working on improving her first serve delivery, with only 54 percent landing in during her second round battle against compatriot Daria Gavrilova.

Ash Barty's strapped up left leg has been a talking point this week

Stefanos Tsitsipas [5] v Mikail Ymer

The flashy Greek outplayed Ymer in their career-first meeting last year and never faced a break point as he cruised to a 6-1 6-3 victory. As practice partners during the pre-tournament quarantine, the duo have few secrets from each other. “He has a very unique, very different game style than most players. I would consider him a counterpuncher, he likes to play with your speed – a very good baseliner,” said Tsitsipas of his opponent, acknowledging that Ymer is in form. The 22 year-old Swede, who’s just one month younger than Tsitsipas, is contesting his first Grand Slam third round after toppling 26th seed Hubert Hurkacz in five sets and surging past highly-rated Spanish qualifier Carlos Alcarez in four earlier this week.

Karolina Muchova [25] v Karolina Pliskova [6]

Czech mates and quarantine training buddies - these are two of nine countrywomen contesting AO 2021, and they only seem to collide on the big stage. The friends have split their previous meetings, with Pliskova easing to a straight sets victory at AO2019 and Muchova exacting revenge at Wimbledon later that year, toppling the then third seed 13-11 in a heartstopping deciding set. 28-year-old Pliskova, four years older than her opponent, was broken three times in the second round win over Danielle Collins. That should give Muchova hope as she looks to lengthen what is already a career-best run in Melbourne. “She’s a dangerous player ... it’s going to be very tricky,” mused Pliskova.

Karen Khachanov [19] v Matteo Berrettini [9]

The Italian enters this tantalizing third round match-up with a 3-0 head-to-head advantage - his trio of victories all coming in 2019. Stakes couldn’t be higher: neither of the 24 year-olds have reached the fourth round in Melbourne. Berrettini, who dropped a set in his second round win over qualifier Tomas Machac, said his ability to grind out a victory was important for his confidence. “When you are winning and you’re not playing your best tennis, I think it’s a great effort,” said the big-hitting right-hander. But Khachanov, who reached the semifinals of the Great Ocean Road Open last week, has been striking the ball well and will be eager to cause an upset. A win here would put the Russian former World No. 8 on track to re-enter the top 10.