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Women's blockbuster bouts headline Day 7 schedule

  • Alex Sharp

Zooming in on one particular section of the women’s singles draw, we realise that we are spoiled for choice at Australian Open 2021.

For in that section are three matches clustered together, each more than worthy as Grand Slam finals.

And they headline the Day 7 schedule at Rod Laver Arena.

ORDER OF PLAY: Sunday 14 January

Five major champions will feature in those bottom-half matches, with two-time Grand Slam winner Garbine Muguruza meeting reigning US Open champion Naomi Osaka for the first time.

Scan down the draw sheet and you see that world No.7 Aryna Sabalenka is tasked with stopping Serena Williams' quest for major title No.24, in another first-time meeting. 

And if that wasn’t enough, then there is always the match-up between reigning Roland-Garros champion Iga Swiatek and current Wimbledon winner Simona Halep in what will be their third instalment. 

Six exceptional talents. A trio of tantalising battles.

Muguruza, with a record of 9-2 in 2021, has crushed her three AO opponents for the loss of 10 games. Osaka, riding a 17-match win streak, has also been very sharp.

“I've watched her win Wimbledon and win the French Open when I was younger, and I've always wanted to have the chance to play her. So for me, this is really exciting,” enthused Osaka, after nullifying the threat of Ons Jabeur 6-3 6-2 on Friday. 

“I think for me, Muguruza might be a bit more like my taste. Like she's not as unpredictable as Ons is.”

Crossing 2020 into 2021, Sabalenka won three successive titles and has now won 18 of her past 19 matches.

The Belarusian is relishing the chance to prove her Grand Slam credentials against the legendary Williams.

“I was thinking like, wow, she's really powerful. I want to be like powerful too, and like I want to dominate on the tour the same like she do,” recalled Sabalenka, having first watched Serena as a 13-year-old at Melbourne Park. 

“I never played against her and I was trying to don't look in the draw, but some people tell me that I might play against her. I really want this thrill, I think it's a big challenge.” 

Serena, unbeaten in six matches she’s contested this season, is wary of Sabalenka’s similar artillery.

“She hits very hard. She has a big, big power game. She's a big girl. Strong like myself," Serena said.

"So I think it will be a really good match.”

Meanwhile, Swiatek will be hoping to replicate her mesmerising 6-1 6-2 demolition of Halep in the fourth round at Roland Garros last October. It was a match the 19-year-old picked out as her highlight of that breakout fortnight. 

Swiatek is still flourishing on the major stage, building on her Parisian triumph by extending her Grand Slam winning streak to 10 matches, all of which have been in straights sets.

The shot-making in Friday’s 6-4 6-3 win over promising Frenchwoman Fiona Ferro represented a step up from the Polish teenager. 

“We have had so many surprises that it's really nice that we have many solid players right now in the draw,” Swiatek said of results on the women's tour.

“I'm really happy that they're playing solid, because it's nice to watch some good matches on the TV when I have spare time, but I just focusing on my matches.”

Will Swiatek bring Polish perfection again? Or can Halep reproduce the brutal “lesson” she dealt the teenager via a 6-1 6-0 win in the fourth round at Roland Garros in 2019?

“I'm going to improvise a little bit. Even though I won the last match, I feel like I have nothing to lose, because she's a champion,” Swiatek said.

“I was feeling like perfectly in Paris. So it's gonna be hard to being like the same shape again. It's going to be a tough match, and I just hope we're gonna play good and longer maybe.”

Second seed Halep was back to her razor-sharp best in dismissing the dangerous Veronika Kudermetova 6-1 6-3 to book her rematch with Swiatek. 

The Romanian, finalist at AO 2018, showed her best isn’t very far away after having edged world No.1 Ash Barty in an exceptional exhibition match in Adelaide last month. 

"I had tough matches, but I'm really happy that after the third one I feel much better, the game also and the body," Halep said.

"(The) first week is like Pete Sampras used to say: it's about surviving, because you cannot win the Grand Slam in the first week.

“It's just about winning these matches, the first week, and the second week means a little bit more. So, I have just to raise my level to be able to win some matches in the second week.”

This thrilling triumvirate of matches perfectly illustrates the incredible depth on the women’s tour. 

Just make sure you tune in.