Australian Open 2023 – Ranking the quarterfinalists


The depth of the sport has been tested at the 2023 Australian Open. The men’s field has been theoretically limited by injuries to both Carlos Alcaraz (who withdrew from the tournament before it began) and Rafael Nadal (who lost in the second round), and an early-round upset loss for 2022 finalist Daniil Medvedev.

Meanwhile, the women’s field lost No. 2 seed Ons Jabeur in the third round and No. 1 seed Iga Swiatek in the fourth. Plus, the Netflix jinx struck — virtually all of the players involved in the streaming service’s long-awaited “Break Point” docuseries either got hurt or lost early.

A problem? Not really! The second week of the Open packs in a breathless number of storylines. We’ve got the old reliables (Novak Djokovic’s quest to catch up to Nadal in the career Slam titles race), we’ve got an overflowing number of potential breakthrough stories — Stefanos Tsitsipas, Jessica Pegula, Aryna Sabalenka — and we’ve got a fun mix of old names (Victoria Azarenka, Jelena Ostapenko) and new ones (Sebastian Korda, Jiri Lehecka, Ben Shelton). We’ve also got three American men in a Slam quarterfinal for the first time since 2005, and at least one will reach the semis.

As the quarterfinals get set to begin, let’s take a look at the big picture of this wild Slam by ranking the contenders on both the men’s and women’s sides.

Men

1. Novak Djokovic (No. 4 seed)
Pct. of points won thus far: 59% (one set lost)
Title odds (per Caesars and Tennis Abstract): -200 (equivalent to a 67% chance) and 52%, respectively
Potential title path (highest seeds): Rublev-Paul-Tsitsipas

Alcaraz is hurt. Nadal has won two matches in four months. Medvedev has lost his form. Roger Federer, of course, retired. It would be easy to feel like men’s tennis is losing its center of gravity a bit if Novak Djokovic weren’t looking so much like Novak Djokovic right now.

His 2022 season was scattershot for exhausting reasons we definitely don’t have to delve into yet again, and he only played in two of four Slams, but after a rusty start — he went just 8-4 to start the year — Djokovic won 34 of 37 matches to end 2022 and won November’s Tour finals while dropping just one set. Back in Australia after last year’s preventable nonsense, he’s gone 9-0 thus far, winning in Adelaide, sweeping through four rounds in Melbourne and dropping just two total sets, both in tiebreakers (one to Korda in Adelaide, one to qualifier Enzo Couacaud in the Australian Open), in the process.

What’s scarier is that it doesn’t seem like Djokovic is in his best form yet, or at least he wasn’t before his fourth-round shellacking of Alex De Minaur. His serve isn’t quite at its most consistent — he’s missing more first serves and double-faulting a bit more than usual — and he’s only won 37% of his return points this year, which is better than most but beneath his normal standard. But against De Minaur, he still won more quick points (56% of points with 0-4 shots), dominated rallies (65% of points with 5+ shots) and cruised 6-2, 6-1, 6-2. If he’s playing his way into form, then the rest of the field has very little chance of stopping him from winning Slam No. 22 and Australian Open No. 10.

2. Stefanos Tsitsipas (No. 3)
Pct. of points won thus far: 55% (two sets lost)
Title odds (per Caesars and Tennis Abstract): +375 (equivalent to 21%) and 26%
Potential title path (highest seeds): Lehecka-Khachanov-Djokovic

Tsitsipas’ game peaked on June 13, 2021. In the second set of the French Open final against Djokovic that day, he rolled 6-2, dropping just five points in four service games against maybe the greatest returner of all time, hitting nine winners to two unforced errors and rolling to a two-set advantage. His oft-shaky return game was good, his serve impenetrable.

He’s been searching for that form ever since. Melbourne might be the place to find it. Djokovic bowled him over in the final three sets in Paris that day, and Tsitsipas has reached the quarterfinals of only two of his past seven Slams: the 2022 and 2023 Australian Opens. Medvedev, who ushered him out in four sets in last year’s semifinal, was knocked out in the third round, and after a five-set grind of a win over Jannik Sinner, Tsitsipas is now 9-0 in 2023. He’s also 7-0 against the players remaining on his half of the bracket, and he’s the clear vice-favorite to Djokovic. Is this where it all finally comes together for the 24-year-old?

3. Andrey Rublev (No. 5)
Pct. of points won thus far: 54% (three sets lost)
Title odds (per Caesars and Tennis Abstract): +1600 (equivalent to 6%) and 7%
Potential title path (highest seeds): Djokovic-Paul-Tsitsipas

Poor Andrey Rublev. The 25-year-old Russian has made the quarterfinals of his past three Slams, and over the past two years he has made the semis of the ATP Finals and four 1000-level tournaments and reached the finals of two. But he hasn’t yet won a 1000, and he hasn’t made a Slam semifinal. With everything falling apart in the men’s draw, this could have been a great opportunity for him … but he was drawn into Djokovic’s quarter. He’s the third-best player remaining in the field, and he has to play, by far, the best in the quarterfinals.

Rublev defeated Djokovic last April in Belgrade, saving eight of nine break points and cruising 6-0 in the third set, but that wasn’t this version of Djokovic. In their other two meetings, Rublev won 10 games in four sets. He’s got one of the game’s more wicked forehands, but he doesn’t craft enough easy points with his serve, and it will likely be his downfall. Still, it’s been another lovely run.

4. Sebastian Korda (No. 29)
Pct. of points won thus far: 53% (three sets lost)
Title odds (per Caesars and Tennis Abstract): +900 (equivalent to 10%) and 8%
Potential title path (highest seeds): Khachanov-Tsitsipas-Djokovic

Korda was 20 years old and 119th in the world when 2021 began, but after surging into the top 40 that year, he didn’t follow it up with another huge rise in 2022. In fact, he had fallen out of the top 50 by the time the US Open rolled around.

Since October 2022, however, he has: reached the finals in Gijon, losing only to Rublev; reached the finals in Antwerp, losing to Felix Auger-Aliassime; and reached the finals in Adelaide, losing in three sets to Djokovic.

He reached Melbourne in excellent form and has continued it, sweeping 2022 Aussie finalist Medvedev in straight sets, then outlasting Hubert Hurkacz in a fifth-set tiebreaker. He doesn’t quite have the defense of a top-10 player yet, and he doesn’t win enough easy points, but he is increasingly dangerous in rallies. Both his willingness and ability to go for huge shots in key moments have made him aesthetically pleasing — and put him on the cusp of his first Slam semifinal.

5. Karen Khachanov (No. 18)
Pct. of points won thus far: 56% (two sets lost)
Title odds (per Caesars and Tennis Abstract): +1600 (equivalent to 6%) and 3%
Potential title path (highest seeds): Korda-Tsitsipas-Djokovic

You could make a pretty good case that Khachanov’s A-game is as strong as that of compatriots Medvedev and Rublev; we just don’t tend to see it quite as much. We’ve seen it in two straight Slams now, however — after reaching the US Open semifinals, he’s one win from doing so in Melbourne too — and the 2020 Olympic silver medalist has now done something neither Medvedev nor Rublev can claim: reach the quarterfinals at all four Slams.

Khachanov neither serves nor returns at an elite level, but he uses depth and slices to constantly neutralize big-hitting opponents. He’s 1-2 all time against quarterfinal opponent Korda and 0-5 against Tsitsipas, so more upside will be required to advance. But after surviving a coin-toss match against Frances Tiafoe in the third round, he flashed massive upside against Yoshihito Nishioka. Khachanov didn’t lose a game until the third set. He lost two points in a nearly perfect second set, then closed out an easy win in a third-set tiebreaker.

6. Tommy Paul
Pct. of points won thus far: 55% (three sets lost)
Title odds (per Caesars and Tennis Abstract): +2500 (equivalent to 4%) and 4%

Potential title path (highest seeds): Shelton-Djokovic-Tsitsipas

He won the 2015 French Open junior tournament. He’s won 10 Challenger events. He won his first ATP event in 2021. He beat four top-10 opponents, won six Slam matches and reached the quarterfinals of two 1000-level tournaments in 2022. The 25-year-old from South Jersey has been the men’s version of Jessica Pegula — grinding away, closing gaps in his game and slowly rising up the rankings. And now he’ll be favored in his first Slam quarterfinal.

Paul beat two seeded players to get here — surviving a five-setter with No. 30 seed Alejandro Davidovich Fokina in the second round and a four-setter with No. 24 seed (and Andy Murray conqueror) Roberto Bautista Agut in the fourth. He’s one of the game’s better returners of serve — which could be key against big-serving Ben Shelton in the quarters — and his backhand is well above average. This is rarefied air, as evidenced by his 3-10 record against the rest of the remaining field, but what an opportunity he has in front of him.

7. Jiri Lehecka
Pct. of points won thus far: 53% (four sets lost)
Title odds (per Caesars and Tennis Abstract): +4500 (equivalent to 2%) and 0.3%
Potential title path (highest seeds): Tsitsipas-Khachanov-Djokovic

Heading into the Australian Open, 21-year-old Lehecka was 2-8 lifetime against ATP top-30 opponents. He’s 3-0 over the past week. He beat No. 21 seed Borna Coric, No. 12 Cameron Norrie and No. 6 Auger-Aliassime by winning a combined 79% of his service points. (For perspective, John Isner is at 72% over the last year.) He’s faced 20 break points and saved 15 of them. Not bad for a player who stands only 6-foot-1 and doesn’t boast an Isner-level ace rate.

Auger Aliassime created only three break points in four sets in the fourth round. While Lehecka saved a serve-and-volley game for key moments, he mostly won from the baseline: He served only nine aces but took 65% of points with more than four shots, 72% on his serve. His groundstrokes pack major spin, and he has survived both a five-setter against Norrie and two tiebreak wins against Auger-Aliassime. His run will likely end against Tsitsipas, but hey … Tsitsipas’ return game isn’t elite, either.

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Shelton takes down Wolf in all-American clash

Ben Shelton reaches the Australian Open quarterfinals after a five-set battle with J.J. Wolf.

8. Ben Shelton
Pct. of points won thus far: 53% (four sets lost)
Title odds (per Caesars and Tennis Abstract): +5000 (equivalent to 2%) and 0.5%

Potential title path (highest seeds): Paul-Djokovic-Tsitsipas

“Exhilarating” doesn’t quite describe the 6-foot-4 Shelton’s past year. The big-serving lefty won the NCAA championship with the Florida Gators last spring. He nearly beat his first top-100 opponent (John Isner) in July, losing in a third-set tiebreaker. He beat Casper Ruud in Cincinnati just a couple of weeks before Ruud’s run to the US Open final. He won three consecutive Challenger events in the fall. Now, in his second Slam, he’s reached his first Slam quarterfinal! And in his first trip outside the country! Even Carlos Alcaraz needed four tries to reach a quarter! And Tennis Abstract gives him a 31% chance of making the semis!

Shelton is now 6-3 all time against top-100 opponents and 2-2 against the top 50. He’s won a pair of five-setters in Melbourne, plus five of seven tiebreakers. (Each time he lost a tiebreaker, he responded with an easy 6-2 set, too.) He will make his ATP top-50 debut next week, and he won’t turn 21 until October! I can’t stop using exclamation points!


Women

1. Aryna Sabalenka (No. 5 seed)
Pct. of points won thus far: 59% (zero sets lost)
Title odds (per Caesars and Tennis Abstract): +200 (equivalent to a 33% chance) and 31%, respectively
Potential title path (highest seeds): Vekic-Pliskova-Pegula

The big-hitting 6-footer from Belarus just keeps inching closer and closer. Sabalenka has now reached at least the quarterfinals in four of her past six Slams, including three of the last four on hard courts. She reached the title match of the WTA Finals in the fall, she’s 8-0 in 2023, and on Sunday she swept Belinda Bencic, who had also won eight matches in a row.

It’s hard to be in better form than that. She still double-faults too much on the whole — she had four double faults in each of her past two matches — but you can forgive that when she’s winning 71% of her overall service points. (She was at only 58% in 2022.) She refused to let Bencic establish herself, winning 63% of points featuring 0-4 shots and minimizing longer points, and she won a majority of longer points against Elise Mertens in the round before, too. When she’s hitting the ball clean, almost no one can keep up, and she’s been hitting the ball awfully clean in Melbourne.

2. Jessica Pegula (No. 3 seed)
Pct. of points won thus far: 58% (zero sets lost)
Title odds (per Caesars and Tennis Abstract): +320 (equivalent to 24%) and 25%
Potential title path (highest seeds): Azarenka-Ostapenko-Sabalenka

The plot twists come fast and furious in a Slam — just ask Swiatek and Coco Gauff — but this has begun to feel like Pegula’s moment. After the most pragmatic rise you’ll ever see (she broke into the top 100 only as she was turning 25 and made her top-20 debut at 27), the 28-year-old has patched every hole in what is now a mostly weakness-free game.

After losing to Swiatek in the quarterfinals at both the French Open and US Open, Pegula dominated the world No. 1 in the United Cup a couple of weeks before the Australian Open; she’s 8-1 thus far in 2023, dropping only two sets and winning 12 by 6-2 or greater (including six of eight in Melbourne). Swiatek’s upset loss has converted her from the favorite’s biggest challenger to simply the favorite.

When your biggest strength is a lack of weakness, it can leave you vulnerable to an opponent with a single, elite trait — the raw power of Sabalenka (against whom she’s lost four of five), for instance. But Pegula’s easily the safest bet remaining in the field entering the second week.

3. Elena Rybakina (No. 22)
Pct. of points won thus far: 57% (one set lost)
Title odds (per Caesars and Tennis Abstract): +320 (equivalent to 24%) and 12%
Potential title path (highest seeds): Ostapenko-Pegula-Sabalenka

After playing nearly perfect ball in beating Simona Halep and Jabeur en route to winning Wimbledon last summer (and getting no rankings points for it), Rybakina went right back to the up-and-down form that has kept her ranked in the teens and 20s for going on three years: She went just 5-7 against top-25 opponents between Wimbledon and Melbourne and suffered a straight-sets upset in the US Open first round.

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Rybakina takes down No. 1 Swiatek in dominant performance

Elena Rybakina finishes off her 6-4, 6-4 victory over heavy favorite Iga Swiatek to advance to the quarterfinals of the Australian Open.

She found the magic again Saturday night. After surviving Danielle Collins to reach the fourth round, Rybakina painted the corners of the court against top seed and mega-favorite Swiatek. She hit 24 winners to Swiatek’s 15, won 80% of her first-serve points to Swiatek’s 57% and broke at 4-3 in the first set and 4-4 in the second to post a shockingly orderly 6-4, 6-4 win.

Rybakina is the only player in the top half of the bracket to have won a Slam in the past five years. Her form and poise only grew as she entered Wimbledon’s late stages, and if that happens again, she might end up with another one.

4. Karolina Pliskova (No. 30)
Pct. of points won thus far: 60% (no sets lost)
Title odds (per Caesars and Tennis Abstract): +1000 (equivalent to 9%) and 10%
Potential title path (highest seeds): Linette-Sabalenka-Pegula

Has she benefited from a cakewalk of a draw? Absolutely. Her first three opponents averaged a WTA ranking of 66th, and her first seeded opponent was Shuai Zhang, whom she’s now beaten eight of eight times. But has she played incredibly well against this weak slate? Absolutely. No one else remaining in the field has won 60% of their points through four matches.

Now 30 years old, Pliskova fell from the top 10 to outside of the top 30 in 2022 thanks to an early-season injury and poor form. She lost seven of nine to finish the year but has rediscovered her big serve in the new year: She whacked 12 aces and 33 winners in just 97 total points against Zhang. She is the only player in the bottom half of the bracket with a Slam final appearance (she has had two, in fact), and she’s looking more and more like a player capable of doing it a third time. Now she just has to do it against increased competition.

5. Victoria Azarenka (No. 24)
Pct. of points won thus far: 55% (two sets lost)
Title odds (per Caesars and Tennis Abstract): +1400 (equivalent to 7%) and 8%
Potential title path (highest seeds): Pegula-Ostapenko-Sabalenka

Azarenka always lurks. She hasn’t reached a tournament final since Indian Wells in 2021, but she almost always makes the third or fourth round of major tournaments, and she’s always only a break or two from another major run. She beat Sabalenka, Swiatek and Serena Williams on the way to the US Open final in 2020, and she’s beaten four of the past six top-10 opponents she’s faced. (She even beat Pegula on the way to that Indian Wells final, though Pegula wasn’t quite top-10 Pegula yet.)

Azarenka’s biggest strength at this point: adaptability. The 33-year-old two-time Australian Open champion (2012, 2013) has seen it all. In a three-set, third-round win over Madison Keys, she won with defense, hitting only 10 winners to Keys’ 27 but committing 18 unforced errors to Keys’ 39. And in a late-night three-setter against Lin Zhu in the fourth round, she ramped up the offense, hitting 41 winners with 30 forced errors. (Zhu: 45 and 19, respectively.)

6. Jelena Ostapenko (No. 17)
Pct. of points won thus far: 56% (one set lost)
Title odds (per Caesars and Tennis Abstract): +1200 (equivalent to 8%) and 6%
Potential title path (highest seeds): Rybakina-Pegula-Sabalenka

Penko’s back! After winning the 2017 French Open just days after her 20th birthday and reaching the Wimbledon quarterfinals in 2017 and semis in 2018, Ostapenko fell off course for a while, failing to reach even the fourth round of another Slam for four years. But she reached the semis in the 1000-level Qatar Open and the fourth round at Wimbledon in 2022, hinting at a potential breakthrough.

After a pretty easy path to the fourth round, Ostapenko took a nothing-to-lose attitude into her fourth-round match with No. 7 seed Gauff. Gauff played pretty well, with 21 winners and only 14 unforced errors, but Ostapenko returned Gauff’s blazing first serve well and uncorked 30 winners of her own. She dominated rallies, winning 28 of the 43 points that lasted more than four shots, and she cruised 7-5, 6-3.

Ostapenko has now won five of her past seven matches against top-20 opponents. The bigger the match, the better she’s played. Needless to say, the matches are pretty big in the second week of a Slam.

7. Donna Vekic

Pct. of points won thus far: 55% (two sets lost)
Title odds (per Caesars and Tennis Abstract): +1200 (equivalent to 8%) and 5%
Potential title path (highest seeds): Sabalenka-Pliskova-Pegula

For her career — a lengthy one, considering she is still only 26 — Vekic has won about 58% of her service points and 43% of her returns. Thus far in 2023, she’s at 63% and 50%, respectively. She went 3-0 as part of Croatia’s run to the knockout stage of the United Cup, and after needing a third-set tiebreaker to survive qualifier Oksana Selekhmeteva in the first round, she mostly steamrolled her next three opponents. She briefly veered off-course against 17-year-old Linda Fruhvirtova in the fourth round, dropping a 6-1 second set, but she took the third 6-3.

Vekic has always had the potential to make a major Slam run, and she has top-20 bona fides when healthy. The big-serving baseliner has created a lot of easy points for herself in Melbourne, winning 60% of points with 0-4 shots. She might be the second-biggest hitter remaining in the women’s draw, and she’s 5-1 lifetime against the biggest hitter, Sabalenka, whom she’ll play in the next round. Expect fireworks.

8. Magda Linette
Pct. of points won thus far: 55% (one set lost)
Title odds (per Caesars and Tennis Abstract): +1600 (equivalent to 6%) and 3%
Potential title path (highest seeds): Pliskova-Sabalenka-Pegula

Swiatek might have been eliminated, but Poland still has a quarterfinal representative thanks to Linette’s breakthrough. The 30-year-old is a pro’s pro and a constant Slam presence, but she’s not only won more than two Slam matches for the first time, she’s beaten three seeded opponents in the process: No. 16 Anett Kontaveit (3-6, 6-3, 6-4), No. 19 Ekaterina Alexandrova (6-3, 6-4) and, most impressively, No. 4 Caroline Garcia (7-6, 6-4).

Garcia was one of the remaining title favorites, but as she battled pressure and mistakes, Linette did what a seasoned pro does: Get out of the way. Down a double break to start the match, Linette took a bit off of her first serve to get it in play, leaned on Garcia’s backhand and watched the unforced errors flow. Garcia committed 19 in the first set and another 14 in the second. At her best, Linette is an above-average server who’s steady in rallies. She will force Pliskova to play steady ball to advance.



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