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Australian Open: Serena-Halep, Djokovic-Zverev on track for quarterfinal duels

Serena Williams (pictured) battles Anastasia Potapova in the third round of the 2021 Australian Open on Friday in Melbourne. Photo by Dave Hunt/EPA-EFE
Serena Williams (pictured) battles Anastasia Potapova in the third round of the 2021 Australian Open on Friday in Melbourne. Photo by Dave Hunt/EPA-EFE

Feb. 10 (UPI) -- Serena Williams, Simona Halep, Novak Djokovic and Alexander Zverev have been dominant so far at the 2021 Australian Open and are on pace for respective quarterfinal matchups if they maintain momentum in Melbourne.

Djokovic -- the No. 1 player in the ATP rankings -- and Zverev each need two more wins to make their dream matchup materialize.

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"The courts are definitely more suitable to big servers," Djokovic told reporters Wednesday. "I'm not sure of the reason why, but [the surface] keeps getting faster. This is the fastest it has ever been. You just have to serve well.

"It's huge pressure if you face a big server."

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Zverev -- ranked No. 7 -- dropped his first set of the Grand Slam tournament Monday, but hasn't lost a set since. He has beaten Americans Marcos Giron and Maxime Cressy to reach the third round.

Djokovic beat France's Jeremy Chardy in the first round before he outlasted American Frances Tiafoe in the second round Wednesday at Rod Laver Arena.

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Djokovic, 33, has a record eight Australian Open singles titles and is a 17-time Grand Slam winner. He has won back-to-back titles in Melbourne.

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Zverev, 23, has never won a Grand Slam, but reached the 2020 U.S. Open final. He lost to Dominic Thiem in the semifinals of the 2020 Australian Open.

Djokovic -- the tournament favorite -- is 5-2 in matches played against Zverev. He beat Zverev in straight sets in the 2019 French Open quarterfinals.

Zverev must defeat Adrian Mannarino on Friday then Pedro Martinez or Dusan Lajovic in the third round to reach the quarterfinals.

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Mannarino, Martinez and Lajovic each rank outside the Top 25 in the ATP rankings. Zverev has a combined 7-0 record against Mannarino and Lajovic and has never faced Martinez.

Djokovic needs to beat Taylor Fritz on Friday then Marton Fucsovics or Milos Raonic in the third round to reach the quarterfinals.

He has never faced Fritz, but is 11-0 against Raonic and 2-0 against Fucsovics. Djokovic has advanced to the quarterfinals in 12 of his past 14 Australian Open appearances.

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"I've played [Fritz] a couple times on clay, but he's a better player on hard courts," Djokovic said. "He's a big server and a bit flashy and unpredictable. I need to stay solid and focus and wait for my chances."

World No. 3 Naomi Osaka is the favorite to win the women's singles title at the 2021 Australian Open. No. 1 Ash Barty, Halep (No. 2), Williams (No. 11) and No. 14 Garbine Muguruza also are among the favorites.

Muguruza reached the final last year before she lost to American Sofia Kenin.

Williams has yet to drop a set this year at the tournament, which she has won seven times. The 23-time Grand Slam champion beat Laura Siegemund 6-1, 6-1 in 56 minutes in her first match. She then beat Nina Stojanovic 6-3, 6-0 in a 69-minute match to reach the third round.

Williams faces Anastasia Potapova in the third round Friday. She could face Aryna Sabalenka or Ann Li in the fourth round.

"It's always a fun and interesting match [against Potapova]," Williams said Wednesday during an on-court interview. "I'm just going to [try to] do the best. We are all out here to have fun. I'm happy to be out here."

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Halep also won her first match in straight sets before a three-set win over Ajla Tomljanovic. She battles Veronika Kudermetova in the third round. Halep will draw Iwa Swiatek or Fiona Ferro in the fourth round, if she beats Kudermetova.

Williams is 1-0 against Potapova and has never faced Li or Sabalenka. Sabalenka is No. 7 in the world, but has never advanced past the third round at the Australian Open. Li ranks No. 69 and Potapova ranks No. 101.

Halep has never faced Kudermetova or Ferro and is 1-1 against Swiatek. Kudermetova, ranked No. 36, and Ferro (No. 46) have never advanced past the third round of the Australian Open. Swiatek -- ranked No. 17 -- lost in the fourth round last year in Melbourne.

"It will be a new challenge," Halep said Wednesday in an on-court interview. "I'll watch video on [Kudermetova's play] like I do every time I've faced someone I've never played.

"But I want to recover [from last match] and it would be great to be 100% for the next match."

Additional top-flight matchups also could materialize in Melbourne in the coming days if players maintain momentum. No. 6 Karolina Pliskova, No. 12 Belinda Bencic and No. 16 Elise Mertens are in the same region as Barty in the women's singles and could meet the world's top player in the quarterfinals.

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In the men's circuit, Thiem faces Nick Kyrgios in the third round and could see No. 9 Diego Schwartzman or No. 12 Denis Shapovalov in a quarterfinal match if he maintains momentum.

No. 2 Rafael Nadal also has been dominant so far and is in the same region of the draw as No. 5 Stefanos Tsitsipas and No. 9 Matteo Berrettini.

Matches to watch

The local time in Melbourne is 16 hours ahead of EST, but tennis fans still can watch live Australian Open matches. All times for the following key matches are estimates, as prior matches have to be completed before others start.

The tournament airs from 6 to 9 p.m. EST Wednesday on the Tennis Channel, from 9 to 10 p.m. EST Wednesday on ESPN News and from 10 p.m. EST Wednesday to 7 a.m. EST Thursday on ESPN2.

Australian Open action continues from 6 p.m. to 7 a.m. EST on the Tennis Channel and ESPN networks through Monday morning. The quarterfinals air on the same networks on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. ESPN will air the men's and women's semifinals on Feb. 18 and 19.

The women's singles final is Feb. 20 and the men's final is Feb. 21.

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Second round

Karolina Pliskova vs. Danielle Collins at 7 p.m. EST Wednesday

Ash Barty vs. Daria Gavrilova at 9 p.m. EST Wednesday

Sofia Kenin vs. Kaia Kanepi at 9 p.m. EST Wednesday

Stefanos Tsitsipas vs. Thanasi Kokkinakis at 11 p.m. EST Wednesday

Coco Gauff vs. Elina Svitolina at 3 a.m. EST Thursday

Daniil Medvedev vs. Roberto Carballes Baena at 3 a.m. EST Thursday

Rafael Nadal vs. Michael Mmoh 5 a.m. EST Thursday

Third round

Novak Djokovic vs. Taylor Fritz at TBD Friday

Alexander Zverev vs. Adrian Mannarino at TBD Friday

Dominic Thiem vs. Nick Kyrgios at TBD Friday

Simona Halep vs. Veronika Kudermetova at TBD Friday

Iga Swiatek vs. Fiona Ferro at TBD Friday

Serena Williams vs. Anastasia Potapova at TBD Friday

Naomi Osaka vs. Ons Jabeur at TBD Friday

Aryna Sabalenka vs. Ann Li at TBD Friday

Moments from Serena Williams' career

Serena Williams returns the ball to her sister, Venus, during their match at the Lipton Tennis Championship in Key Biscayne, Fla., on March 28, 1998. Venus Williams, defeated her sister 6-1, 4-6, 6-4. Photo by Susan Knowles/UPI | License Photo

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