Five matches to watch on Day 8 of AO2021

  • Gillian Tan

It promises to be a Super Sunday at AO2021 with the final batch of round of 16 matches being played, and plenty of big names hitting the court. Here is our pick of them.

MORE: Full schedule for Day 8

Fabio Fognini [16] v Rafael Nadal [2]

Set your clocks for this unmissable showdown as the formidable Italian seeks to end the Spaniard’s pursuit of a record 21st Grand Slam title. As far as head-to-heads go, Nadal leads 12-4 but Fognini was the victor of their most epic battle at the 2015 US Open, bouncing back from a two-sets-to-love deficit, a lead from which the Majorcan had never previously lost. “I'm not happy that he played better than me, but that's what happened,” Nadal said after that shock defeat. The 33 year-old Italian is making a remarkable comeback to the sport after surgery on both his ankles last year which relegated him to crutches for roughly six weeks. “If you tell me that I will play Rafa fourth round here in Australia, I'm happy, because of course I play the best player in the world, even if it's not his best surface,” Fognini said. Nadal has the fresher legs of the pair, having spent 5 hours and 53 minutes on court so far – more than two hours less than his rival.

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Fabio Fognini has made his presence felt at AO2021

Ash Barty [1] v Shelby Rogers

A home court advantage has helped the Australian to wins in the duo’s two prior meetings, the most recent coming during the Melbourne Summer Series earlier this month. There, Barty clinched the victory 10-4 in the deciding tie-break despite winning 65 points in total, four less than Rogers. “It's always exceptionally tough against Shelby - she's got the ability to take the game away from you, she's got the ability to give you no control out there,” said Barty, who’s striving to earn a maiden Australian Open title this week. “That's something I'm going to have to try and nullify and neutralise as best I can,” said the Queenslander, adding that she’ll mix up defence with offence and tempt the American to take risks. Rogers, new to the round of 16 in Melbourne, acknowledged the absence of the crowd may help. “I'm excited again to play the best player in the world. That's what we all strive to do every day and you've got to beat the best to be the best,” she said.

Ash Barty and boyfriend Gary Kissick take in the view as spectators

Stefanos Tsitsipas [5] v Matteo Berrettini [9]

A quarterfinal berth is on the line in this rematch of a first round Australian Open 2019 battle, which Tsitsipas toughed out in four sets. Two years on, 24 year-old Berrettini cuts a more imposing figure on court and has the ability to speed through his service games. Already, he’s served up 51 aces, roughly double Tstistipas’s 26 – a feat that’s enabled the Italian to save a notable 17 of 20 break points. The 22 year-old Greek needs to improve his first serve percentage, which at 62 per cent is lower than his opponent’s 68 per cent through three rounds. An upset here would usher Berrettini through to his first Grand Slam quarterfinal since the US Open 2019. “For sure it’s going to be a battle,” said the Italian, who has had a day to recover since his third round win over Karen Khachanov during which he suffered an injury scare.

Jessica Pegula v Elina Svitolina [5]

When these two 26-year-olds clashed for the first time last month in Abu Dhabi, it was the Ukrainian who triumphed in straight sets. But Pegula enters this chance of redemption brimming with confidence, having dropped just four games in her last two matches. The American, who’d never previously made it past the opening round in Melbourne or to the second week of a major, is hunting down even more unchartered territory with a first-ever top 10 victory. Svitolina has spent more than an hour longer than Pegula on the blue AO hardcourts, despite neither player having dropped a set. The world no.5, one of the best movers on tour, is expecting a fight. “She's playing very aggressively ... she's a good competitor, it's going to be a tough one," she said.

Andrey Rublev [7] v Casper Ruud [24]

The Russian got the better of 22 year-old Ruud, a year his junior, in their two previous battles, which both came on clay. Unbeaten this season, the in-form Rublev is aiming to advance to the quarterfinals in Melbourne for the first time, and has been broken just once in his first three rounds. As he strives to post the first of four wins that would make him the youngest Australian Open men’s singles champion since Nadal won in 2009, Rublev is helped by the fact that hardcourts are his most successfully surface - unlike Ruud who has won most on clay. But the Norwegian is just as motivated to make the most of his first time in a Grand Slam fourth round by surpassing his father’s footsteps - Christian Ruud lost in five sets in the round of 16 to Goran Ivanisevic at AO1997.