Australian Open 2020: Matches to Watch on Wednesday Night (Into Thursday)

How to watch: Tennis Channel, 7 p.m. Eastern time, then on ESPN, 9 p.m.; streaming on ESPN+, 7 p.m., and ESPN3, 9 p.m.

Wednesday’s schedule: Men | Women

Ashleigh Barty, the world No. 1, reached her first Australian Open semifinal by beating Petra Kvitova, the seventh seed. Barty weathered a storm of powerful baseline rallies to secure the first set in a tiebreaker. Once the barrage abated, Barty took the initiative, using her slice backhand to dictate points against Kvitova, last year’s finalist.

Sofia Kenin, the 14th seed, has not faced a seeded player on the path to her first Grand Slam semifinal, but that should not make her achievement any less impressive. With her counterpunching style, she dropped only one set on her march to the final four.

Last year, the two met three times on hardcourts. Kenin upset Barty in Toronto, but otherwise, Barty has held the edge. Expect plenty of points in which the two exchange powerful blows from the edges of the baseline. They are similar that way, but the variety of Barty’s game can give her an advantage.

It will be interesting to see how the players react to the pressure. Kenin’s first semifinal may be intimidating, and Barty may feel pressure to succeed on the home stage and continue her quest to be the first Australian woman to win a singles title at the Australian Open since Christine O’Neil in 1978.

Roger Federer, who played his first ATP Event in Gstaad, Switzerland, in 1998, has had plenty of time to reinvent his game. At this year’s Australian Open, he has gained yet another designator: escape artist. He faced seven match points from Tennys Sandgren, his opponent in the quarterfinals, after surviving with a similar effort against John Millman in the third round. In a postmatch interview, Federer admitted: “It’s just luck at some point. I’ve been on the other side as well. These ones just sting and they hurt. But I could have blinked at the wrong time and shanked. That would have been it.”

Federer played down concerns about a midmatch medical timeout and the length of his matches, saying: “It really depends sometimes how you’re feeling inside, how much it takes away from you. But I must say I feel pretty good right now.”

Novak Djokovic, the defending champion, stumbled in his first match, dropping a set to the unseeded Jan-Lennard Struff. But he has since won each match in straight sets. Djokovic, who relies on his movement to extend points and force opponent errors, showed off all of his best qualities against a resurgent Milos Raonic, the 32nd seed. The biggest testament to Djokovic’s play is how he has been imitated in his career. To watch other players sliding on hardcourts is a pale imitation of the art Djokovic has perfected.

These two greats will meet for the 50th time, two of the so-called Big Three locked in what at times seems like an infinite struggle. But dynamics shift. Federer, beloved, finds himself in the unusual role of underdog. Though it may have been true in a few of their previous matches as well, the gap this time looks foreboding for the Swiss. Federer won their last match at the ATP Finals in November, but his inconsistencies this week will prove hard to overcome against the indefatigable Djokovic. Or perhaps it will be time for one more escape act.

Simona Halep, the fourth seed, advanced to the second women’s semifinal by beating No. 28 Anett Kontaveit, 6-1, 6-1, in the quarterfinals. She will now face unseeded Garbiñe Muguruza, who beat No. 30 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, 7-5, 6-3, on Wednesday.

Halep, the fourth seed, delivered her most convincing performance of the tournament in her quarterfinal win over Anett Kontaveit, a match that lasted just 53 minutes. Halep’s defensive groundstrokes were on fine display, but her serve has been the decisive element of her game in Melbourne.

The unseeded Muguruza has taken down three seeded players on her way to the semifinals. Her flat groundstroke game has looked more and more imposing with each round, but she struggled at times to control the points against Pavlyuchenkova. After impressively weathering Pavlyuchenkova’s aggressive play in the first set, it was nervous serving from Pavlyuchenkova that handed Muguruza the second set.

Muguruza should expect no such favors from Halep. The last time these two met was in the semifinal of the French Open in 2018, where Halep defeated Muguruza on her way to winning her first Grand Slam. Even if Muguruza can replicate her best performances from the earlier rounds, Halep’s defensive capabilities should be enough to wear her down.

Both players have been ranked No. 1 in the world and won two Grand Slam singles titles, Halep at the French Open in 2018 and at Wimbledon last summer, Muguruza at Roland Garros in 2016 and Wimbledon in 2017.

Author: Robert Dinero