Five matches to watch on Day 7 of AO 2021

  • Gillian Tan

We've reached the half-way point of AO2021 and the epic matches are coming thick and fast, most of them featuring seeds. Here is the pick of Sunday's action.

MORE: Full schedule for Day 7

Garbine Muguruza [14] v Naomi Osaka [3]

Anticipation abounds as the 2020 finalist and 2019 champion face off for the first time ever. With a quarterfinal berth on offer, the popular Spanish and Japanese stars, who hold a combined five Grand Slam titles, have much to fight for. The duo have practiced together once before, albeit on grass. “I just remember being really impressed by her,” recalled the 23 year-old Osaka, who watched Muguruza win Wimbledon and Roland Garros in 2017 and 2016 respectively. “I've always wanted to have the chance to play her, so for me, this is really exciting.” The Spaniard has just dropped ten games in her first three rounds and already has a top 10 win to her name this season, toppling Sofia Kenin 6-2 6-2 at last week’s Yarra Valley Classic.

Garbine Muguruza reached the final of AO2020

Grigor Dimitrov [18] v Dominic Thiem [3]

A treat is in store, with two of the sport’s most watchable single-handed backhands on show. The Bulgarian holds the upper hand with a 3-2 head-to-head advantage and 29 year-old Dimitrov never faced a break point in the pair’s most recent meeting, sweeping his rival 6-3 6-2 at the Paris Masters in 2019. But don’t expect the Austrian – who outlasted Nick Kyrgios in a memorable third round battle – to roll over easily. 27 year-old Thiem, the reigning US Open champion, is aiming to repeat a feat achieved by Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic by becoming only the sixth man in the Open Era to win in Melbourne after earning success in New York.

Aryna Sabalenka [7] v Serena Williams [10]

Tennis enthusiasts have been praying for this box office blockbuster since the Australian Open 2021 draw reveal. In another first-ever encounter, expect a barrage of deep groundstrokes and to witness easy points won on serve. The Belarusian and American have thumped 16 and 19 aces respectively through their first three rounds. Williams, who notched her 90th AO win on Friday, is prepared for the challenge. “She hits very hard, she has a big, big power game. She's a big girl, strong like myself so I think it will be a really good match,” said the 39 year-old. Sabalenka hopes she’s mentally prepared for victory over Williams, who she credits for her development. “I wanted to hit even stronger than her…I wanted to be powerful too and dominate on the tour the same,” the 22-year-old Belarusian recalls, when watching Williams for the first time while a teenager. “It’s going to be a thrill…I'm going to do everything I can.”

Novak Djokovic [1] v Milos Raonic [14]

With zero wins in eleven attempts, this is as uneven as rivalries go. Still, the Canadian - an AO2016 finalist - will take comfort in the fact that Djokovic, the eight-time champion, was pushed to the brink by Taylor Fritz and is dealing with an apparent abdominal injury. The potential muscle tear put doubt in Djokovic’s mind as to whether he’ll even be able to compete in this fourth round encounter. But should the Serb show up, Raonic will seek the opportunity to enter unchartered territory. The 30 year-old big-server has taken sets off Djokovic, including a 6-1 in a clash in 2020.

Iga Swiatek [15] v Simona Halep [2]

These clean-hitters split their two prior meetings on the red clay of Roland Garros, with a lopsided 6-1 6-0 win going the way of Halep in 2019 before the Pole exacted revenge last year with a 6-2 6-1 victory en route to a maiden major title. “I just have to be confident, I have to trust my game, I have to trust myself and to try to give my best,” said Halep. The 19 year-old Swiatek acknowledged it’ll be difficult to reproduce a performance as perfect as her 45 minute rout over the Romanian and is ready to contest a potentially longer match. Seeded for the first time at a major, Swiatek has won 82 per cent of net points during AO 2021 so far, outpacing Halep’s 70 per cent, and is seeking to extend her ten-match Grand Slam winning streak. An upset would put the Pole one step closer to becoming the first player to win consecutive majors since Osaka claimed the 2018 US Open and AO 2019.