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

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.

Thursday’s schedule: Men | Women

In the first set of Alexander Zverev’s quarterfinal match against Stan Wawrinka, Zverev looked lost. Wawrinka’s powerful serve and backhand were moving Zverev around the court, preventing him from gaining purchase in any of the points. He lost the first set in just 26 minutes.

Zverev, the seventh seed, used his serve to settle back into the match. In the past, Zverev’s serve has been the missing link in an otherwise well-rounded game. On his run to Thursday night’s semifinal, it has been among his most potent weapons. After Zverev won the ATP Finals in 2018, many thought he was likely to break through the oligarchy of the Big Three and win a major. He is closer than ever, but to get to the final he will need to beat the winner of the 2019 ATP Finals, Dominic Thiem.

Thiem, the fifth seed, is a clay-court specialist who has made inroads on hardcourts over the past year. With a four-set victory over Rafael Nadal, the world No. 1, Thiem has reached his first Grand Slam semifinal outside of the French Open, which is played on the burned red clay of Roland Garros. Thiem, whose court coverage and heavy topspin shots are well suited to slower courts, has often lost his battles against Nadal, whose style of play Thiem has liberally learned from — or plagiarized, depending on whom you support. But in his quarterfinal victory, Thiem was able to change tack, successfully incorporating a knifed slice backhand that could slow down points or bring Nadal into net.

When these two members of the so-called Next Generation meet, the weight of being so close to a major title will no doubt be heavy on their minds. Of the active players on tour, five have won a Grand Slam title and all are over 30. Two previous winners are injured and struggling to return to the tour. The last person to win a Grand Slam title besides those seven was Marat Safin at the Australian Open in 2005, and he has since retired and been inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame. Thiem and Zverev still have a mountain to climb, but each is showing that his mental block against taking out a former champion is starting to fade.

Hsieh Su-wei and Barbora Strycova, who are seeded first, had an excellent season in 2019, winning the doubles title at Wimbledon as well as at the Dubai Open and Miami Open. Although they did not play together exclusively throughout 2019, they qualified for the WTA Finals as the second seeds. There, they lost in the final to Thursday night’s opponents, Timea Babos and Kristina Mladenovic.

Babos and Mladenovic, the second seeds this year, have played together as a pair more consistently, and are treading on slightly more familiar ground, having won the Australian Open in 2018.

Although all four women lost in the first round of the singles tournaments, expect for this to be one of the best matches of the tournament. All four are tactically astute, and having played each other frequently over the last year and a half, their familiarity will lead to points that are intentional.

In doubles, it is often less logical to go for a winner than to slowly target opponents’ weaknesses, forcing them to dig themselves out of a hole. But when all four players know each other well, it’s the movement of the partner who isn’t being targeted that will be the most interesting to watch: goading opponents into switching their shot selection, rushing their weaker, placed balls, and frustrating them by being ever so slightly unpredictable.

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