10sBalls.com • TennisBalls.com

Ricky’s Picks for the Australian Open Men’s Quarterfinals: Nadal vs. Tsitsipas and Medvedev vs. Rublev

Rafael Nadal continues his hunt for a record-extending 21st Grand Slam title in Melbourne. EPA-EFE/DEAN LEWINS

By Ricky Dimon

The bottom half of the men’s singles draw at the Australian Open has held to form, and the result is a popcorn-worthy quarterfinal lineup on Wednesday. Rafael Nadal and Stefanos Tsitsipas will play the nightcap in Rod Laver Arena, preceded by an all-Russian showdown between Daniil Medvedev and Andrey Rublev.
Ricky previews the action and makes his predictions.

(6) Stefanos Tsitsipas vs. (2) Rafael Nadal

Tsitsipas has actually fared better against Nadal on clay in the past, which of course is surprising. However, as is the case for many challengers this head-to-head matchup really hasn’t been kind to the Greek in any way shape or form. He is 1-6 lifetime against Nadal and that includes a blowout loss to Nadal in the 2019 Aussie Open semifinals.

Given that Nadal’s back injury seems to be a thing of the past following four routine victories at Melbourne Park, Tsitsipas may not like his chances in this one. The Spainiard has been improving with each round, most recently hammering familiar foe Fabio Fognini 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 in the fourth round.

Tstisipas has made a pair of Grand Slam semifinals, first in Melbourne against Nadal and again last fall at the French Open–where he took Novak Djokovic to five sets. The 22-year-old certainly doesn’t shy away from the big stage; he can perform well on it. The problem is simply that this matchup is not favorable and Nadal is back in stellar form. It’s hard to see the Tsitsipas one-hander withstanding Nadal’s topspin and power for more than a set or two.

Pick: Nadal in 4

Daniil Medvedev meets good friend Andrey Rublev in an all-Russian Australian Open quarterfinal that’s a rematch of the US Open quarterfinals. EPA-EFE/JAMES ROSS

(4) Daniil Medvedev vs. (7) Andrey Rublev

Medvedev and Rublev also faced each other in the quarters of the 2020 U.S. Open, with Medvedev prevailing 7-6(6), 6-3, 7-6(5). The world No. 4 is sweeping the head-to-head series 4-0 at the professional level (3-0 on the main tour plus one win at a 2016 Challenger). Medvedev is even perfect in their total sets (9-0).

“(It) doesn’t matter (if we are great friends),” the 24-year-old explained. “If you can win 0-0-0, you’re going to make it. You’re not going to give two games at the end to say, ‘He’s my close friend, I’m going to give him two games.’ If you have to win 7-6 in the fifth, you’re going to try to make it. Same for him. As I said, after the match or before the match–unless there’s a huge fight during the match, which I doubt–one of us going to say congrats to the other one…. For me (it) doesn’t make a difference, to be honest.”

For Medvedev, it hasn’t mattered who is on the other side of the net. He is on an 18-match winning streak that includes an unbelievable 10-0 record against top-10 opponents.

Rublev is the second-hottest player on tour. The 23-year-old is up No. 8 in the world after leading the ATP with five titles in 2020 to go along with quarterfinal performances at the U.S. Open and French Open. So far this fortnight he has not dropped a single set while taking out Yannick Hanfmann, Thiago Monteiro, Feliciano Lopez, and Casper Ruud (the Norwegian retired after the second set on Monday).

But can he play at that same level against an opponent who has owned him in the past?

“It’s going to be new story, new match,” Rublev said. “I take the lesson from [the U.S. Open] match, and that’s it. We’ll see how it’s going to be…. Of course he knows my game, I know his game, but in the end you still need to face each other to see the reality, to see the atmosphere, to see how the things are working or not working, how you’re feeling, and then you adapt.”

Unfortunately for Rublev, adapting is not exactly part of his repertoire. He is generally all power all the time; there is not much of a plan B. Medvedev has more variety, more successful experience at this stage of slams, and is quite simply looking like the best all-around player in this tournament.

Pick: Medvedev in 4

Ricky contributes to10sballs.com and also maintains his own tennis website, The Grandstand. You can follow him on twitter at @Dimonator.