Valentine’s Day at the Australian Open is enough to make anyone fall in love with tennis, with a feast of blockbuster matches that would be worthy of any Grand Slam final.
Third seed Naomi Osaka saved two match points to beat fellow Grand Slam champion Garbine Muguruza in an epic three-set clash on Rod Laver Arena.
Now Serena Williams is locked in a tense battle of two top 10 seeds.
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WILLIAMS LOCKED IN GRIPPING BATTLE
Meanwhile Serena Williams will enter her match against Aryna Sabalenka as the lower seed, with Sabalenka owning a 15-match winning streak before losing to Kaia Kanepi in the Gippsland Trophy event last week.
The big-hitting Sabalenka (7th seed) will meet Williams (10th seed) for the first time in her professional career and the 39-year-old has made a solid start to her latest bid for a 24th grand slam singles title.
“Well, she hits very hard. She has a big, big power game. She’s a big girl. Strong like myself,” said Williams of Sabalenka.
“So I think it will be a really good match — with no crowd.”
The first set was aggressive and full of passion and powerful hitting from both sides.
Serena Williams was only landing 49% of her first serves, but hit 12 winners to 9 unforced errors to win the set 6-4.
The set was extremely even until Williams broke Sabalenka in the final game of the set.
But Williams was immediately broken in the first game of the second set after sending a backhand into the net on break point.
Williams had the opportunity to break back in the next game but couldn’t convert, with Sabalenka’s heavy forehand strokes getting her out of trouble.
Then Sabalenka made it 3-0 by breaking Williams again on the second break point attempt, as Williams continued to rack up unforced errors on both wings.
But Sabalenka was being hurt by unforced errors of her own, with three straight unforced errors handing Williams a break back.
ALCOTT ON FIRE IN OPENER
The Australian Open wheelchair events begin today, with Australian Dylan Alcott chasing an unbelievable SEVENTH straight crown in the Quad Singles.
Alcott owns 11 Grand Slam quad singles titles as well as seven in the quad doubles, where he is also the reigning champ at the Australian Open.
30-year-old Alcott crushed fellow Aussie Heath Davidson 6-0 in the first set of his opening match, hitting 11 winners to Davidson’s three.
But 33-year-old Davidson, the world No. 5, claimed an early break in the second set before Alcott responded to make it 3-3, fighting back and breaking again to take a 5-3 lead.
Davidson held and then had Alcott 0-40 in the next game, breaking at the second attempt with a clean winner to level the set at 5-5.
A double fault on the next game gave Alcott a break point but Davidson fought back, only for Alcott to seal the break and the 6-5 lead after a tough two-deuce battle.
Alcott quickly made it 30-0 before double-faulting, but held on to win the game, and the match, 7-5 in 52 minutes.
GIANT-KILLER ON FIRE
Doubles world No.1 Hsieh Su-wei has made history as the oldest first-time quarterfinalist in a Grand Slam after 16 years of trying.
In her 10th Australian Open, and her 38th Grand Slam main draw, 35-year-old Hsieh demolished an injury-hampered 19th seed Marketa Vondrousova 6-4 6-2 in 68 minutes.
Hsieh, one of the most unorthodox players in the women’s game, is a three-time Grand Slam champion in doubles, but is a lowly-ranked giant-killer in singles with a ranking of just 71.
She’s already beaten eighth seed Bianca Andreescu this tournament, and had little trouble seeing off Vondrousova, who was troubled by a heavily-strapped upper thigh.
Vondrousova finished with 31 unforced errors to 19 winners, as Hsieh broke four times and won the final five games in a row.
She broke down in tears after the match, but said it was “a little weird” to claim such an important victory without a crowd.
Asked if she’s excited to play in the quarters, she replied: “I need to cool down first!”
FULL STORY: Ageless wonder makes Grand Slam history at 35
OSAKA SAVES TWO MATCH POINTS IN EPIC
Hsieh will next face third-seed Naomi Osaka, who beat 14th seed Garbine Muguruza in an epic three-set battle on Rod Laver Arena. The two former world No.1s share a combined five Grand Slams between them, and their blockbuster encounter fully lived up to expectations.
Osaka fought back from a set and a break down to level the match at 4-6 6-4, before conceding an early break in the deciding set. Again she fought back – saving two match points – to win the deciding set 7-5.
Osaka had not lost a match in over a year coming into the game, going 33-3 since September 2019, and has been in superb form as she looks for her second Australian Open crown in three years.
Muguruza, last year’s Aus Open finalist, looked in ominous form to start 2021, dropping a tournament-best 10 games in her opening three rounds and making the final of a lead in event last week, where she fell to world number one Ash Barty.
Muguruza had only been broken once this tournament, the equal-best of any player, while Osaka had been broken just twice. But those superb records was ended in Muguruza’s very first service game, before she broke back in Osaka’s second service game of the match.
Muguruza then broke again before comfortably serving out the set. After claiming the first set 6-4, Muguruza broke Osaka to open the second set. But Osaka rebounded to break back a couple of games later and make it 2-2. The pair remained on serve before Osaka broke at the third set point to win it 6-4 and level the match.
In the third and deciding set, an inconsistent Osaka missed the opportunity to break Muguruza while 2-1 up, before the Spaniard broke the next game as Osaka threw a racquet and double-faulted.
Some clutch serving, including three aces, saved Muguruza from a potential break while serving at 4-3 up. Osaka crumbled in the next game as Muguruza moved to 15-40 with two match points.
Osaka saved the first with an ace and the second with a superb cross-court winner before going on to win the game.
Serving for the match at 5-4, Muguruza saved two break points to fight back to deuce, only for Osaka to break at the third time of asking in an incredible rally.
Osaka comfortably held her next game, before the pressure began to tell on Muguruza who committed three unforced errors to lose the match.
Speaking of her next match against the tricky Hsieh, Osaka said: “I’m not really looking forward to it. It’s going to be really tough. Every time I play her it’s three sets.”
But, she joked: “It’s actually fun when I’m not really angry… For me it feels like whenever I play her I have to expect everything.”
RUSSIAN QUALIFIER HUNTS ANOTHER UPSET
One of the stories of the Open so far has been Aslan Karatsev, who fought through qualifiers before embarking on a stunning run of upsets to reach the fourth round.
He is now facing Felix Auger-Aliassime, the 20th-seeded Canadian 20-year-old.
After trading early breaks in the first set, Auger-Aliassime held off the Russian’s challenges to win the first set 6-3. The Canadian young gun demolished his unseeded opponent 6-1 in the second set, with Karatsev failing to find any rhythm.
NO CONCERN AFTER COVID SCARE
Australian Open boss Craig Tiley has declared “we’ll continue as normal” after a player who had travelled to Australia to compete tested positive after departing Australia.
Greek player Michail Pervolarakis, who played singles and doubles for Greece at last week’s ATP Cup that was a warm-up for the Australian Open, said he tested positive on arrival in South Africa.
The 24-year-old played ATP Cup doubles alongside Stefanos Tsitsipas, who is into the Australian Open’s last 16, and singles against Australia’s John Millman and Pablo Carreno-Busta of Spain.
Tennis Australia said the 463rd-ranked Pervolarakis tested negative before leaving Australia on February 9, and that there was no risk of the infection spreading to other players in Australia.
Tournament boss Craig Tiley told Nine: “The good news for us is that he tested negative and then left before he tested positive. There’s been a fair bit of travel time and he’s travelling to most of the hotspots of the world (Doha then South Africa), and the chance of getting infected in those hotspots is fairly high.”
“We’ll continue on as normal…We’ll go through the normal procedures that we normally do and take the advice from health. If health want us to have more people tested then we’ll do that as well, but there’s been no indication of that.”
FULL STORY: Aus Open boss responds to COVID-19 scare
Australian Open 2021 – DAY 7
Play begins at 11am AEDT unless listed otherwise
Rod Laver Arena
Muguruza, Garbiñe (ESP)  v Osaka, Naomi (JPN)  4-6 6-4 7-5
Not before 1pm
Sabalenka, Aryna (BLR)  v Williams, Serena (USA) 
Not before 3pm
Thiem, Dominic (AUT)  v Dimitrov, Grigor (BUL) 
Swiatek, Iga (POL)  v Halep, Simona (ROU) 
Djokovic, Novak (SRB)  v Raonic, Milos (CAN) 
Margaret Court Arena
Hsieh, Su-Wei (TPE) v Vondrousova, Marketa (CZE)  6-4 6-2
Not before 12pm
Auger-Aliassime, Felix (CAN)  v Karatsev, Aslan (RUS) 6-3 6-1
Kokkinakis, Thanasi (AUS) / Kyrgios, Nick (AUS) v Koolhof, Wesley (NED) / Kubot, Lukasz (POL) 
Not before 6:30pm
Lajovic, Dusan (SRB)  v Zverev, Alexander (GER) 
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