With the third round of the Australian Open in the books, it's time to highlight which players are on the rise and which ones look most vulnerable heading into the next round. Players who have been eliminated are of little interest to fantasy players as the tournament unfolds, so this column is meant to take a look ahead based on what's happened so far rather than reflect on the past.
A small COVID outbreak in the surrounding area has left the tournament without fans for five days, but the draw continues to unfold and the top players continue to march on. Eighth-seeded Diego Schwartzman on the men's side and No. 6 seed Karolina Pliskova in the women's bracket were the only top-10 players eliminated in the third round, but the biggest storyline heading into the Round of 16 is the injury Novak Djokovic suffered in his five-set win over Taylor Fritz. The No. 1 seed in the men's draw is undergoing scans to determine the extent of the damage of what looked like an abdominal injury, and at press time, it's still unknown whether he'll be able to continue playing. Elsewhere on the men's side, a highly regarded youngster is on the verge of a breakthrough Grand Slam performance, while two of the top players without a Grand Slam title are putting themselves in position to finally win one. The women's draw is full of exciting fourth-round matchups, including one between a couple of multi-slam winners who have both dominated the competition thus far. Four American women remain in the draw, but one will need to up her level significantly if she wants to keep her tournament going.
Daniil Medvedev - After cruising through his first two rounds, Medvedev was tested by Filip Krajinovic in the third but emerged with a 6-3, 6-3, 4-6, 3-6, 6-0 win to pick up the first five-set victory of his career in convincing fashion. Now on a 17-match win streak that includes five consecutive victories against the best players in the world at last year's ATP Finals, Medvedev will be a massive fourth-round favorite against 192nd-ranked Mackenzie McDonald, who is the last American man left in the draw. After that looms a likely quarterfinal matchup with seventh-seeded countryman Andrey Rublev, against whom Medvedev holds a dominant 3-0 head-to-head edge, having never lost a set to his frequent training partner.
Felix Auger-Aliassime - Auger-Aliassime is still searching for his first career Grand Slam quarterfinal appearance, but the 20-year-old Canadian may not have to wait much longer, as he'll be the favorite against unseeded Aslan Karatsev in the Round of 16 after defeating friend and compatriot Denis Shapovalov 7-5, 7-5, 6-3 in the third round. Neither FAA nor Karatsev have dropped a set so far, but while the latter's success is coming out of the blue, Auger-Aliassime's breakthrough has been a long time coming and it looks like his time is now.
Alexander Zverev - Zverev could be the biggest beneficiary of Djokovic's injury issues, as the German suddenly wouldn't be a major underdog if they met in the quarterfinals. First up, the talented German will need to take care of business against No. 23 seed Dusan Lajovic, who is in just his second Grand Slam Round of 16 at age 30. The 2020 US Open finalist underachieved at the Grand Slam level for a while, but Zverev has finally started to win the matches he should at the major tournaments. As long as his second serve doesn't break down, Zverev is very much in contention for this title.
Novak Djokovic - Djokovic is coming off consecutive close matches, and while his inability to pull away from opponents is a bit of a concern, the much larger reason to worry is the injury he sustained in his 7-6 (1), 6-4, 3-6, 4-6, 6-2 third-round win over Taylor Fritz. The top-seeded Serb tweaked something in his side after winning the first two sets and needed a medical timeout. His level dropped noticeably but recovered enough to pull it out in the fifth, and Djokovic said after the match that serving was the only thing he could do without pain. While Djokovic is optimistic that he'll be able to continue uninhibited by what he believes is a muscle tear, his aura of invincibility at this tournament has undoubtedly diminished. Fourth-round opponent Milos Raonic is 0-11 against Djokovic in his career, but he'll be emboldened by Djokovic's injury and won't be overwhelmed by the moment, having previously made the semifinals of this tournament and a Wimbledon final.
Fabio Fognini - Rafael Nadal has looked like vintage Rafa so far in this tournament, but the 16th-seeded Fognini has what it takes to beat even an in-form Nadal. The streaky Italian was in top form in the third round against local favorite Alex de Minaur, demolishing the No. 21 seed 6-4, 6-3, 6-4. While Nadal leads their head-to-head 12-4, Fognini is the only man to ever come back from two sets down to beat Rafa at a Grand Slam, having done so at the 2015 US Open. Plus, there's still a chance Nadal's back will act up, though the back injury he was nursing coming into this tournament doesn't seem to have bothered him thus far,
Iga Swiatek - Naomi Osaka is the consensus favorite in this tournament, but Swiatek's building a convincing case for the top spot after her. Swiatek's 6-4, 6-3 third-round win over Fiona Ferro pushed her winning streak in Grand Slams to 10 matches, and she hasn't dropped a single set in any of those matches. The No. 15 seed will look to keep rolling in the Round of 16 against No. 2 seed Simona Halep. Halep got the best of Swiatek at the 2019 French Open, but Swiatek returned the favor with a dominant 6-1, 6-2 victory at Roland Garros last year.
Jennifer Brady - Brady has looked as dominant as anybody in this draw, dropping just 11 games through three matches to improve to 8-1 in her last two hard-court slams. The 25-year-old American's playing the best tennis of her career, and a second Grand Slam semifinal to go with the 2020 US Open is well within Brady's reach. She'll be clearly favored in the Round of 16 against No. 28 seed Donna Vekic despite being seeded only six spots higher.
Karolina Muchova - Muchova showed tremendous mental toughness in her 7-5, 7-5 third-round upset of sixth-seeded countrywoman Karolina Pliskova, coming back from 5-0 down in the second set. Her fourth-round match against in-form No. 18 seed Elise Mertens is a toss-up, but Muchova has already proven capable of taking down more accomplished opponents in this tournament.
Serena Williams - Williams got through the third round unscathed, but only because 19-year-old opponent Anastasia Potapova choked away a golden opportunity to take the first set. Potapova served five double faults when serving for the opening set at 5-3 and still had two set points before ultimately dropping that set 7-6 (5). The Russian unsurprisingly failed to recover mentally and fell 6-2 in the second to an error-prone Williams, who sprayed 31 unforced errors compared to just 19 winners. If Serena plays like that against fellow big server Aryna Sabalenka in the Round of 16, expect the seventh-seeded Belarusian to send Williams packing.
Garbine Muguruza - Muguruza will be the underdog against Osaka, but last year's Australian Open runner-up is once again playing some phenomenal tennis down under, as Maguruza's yet to drop a set and has lost only 10 games through three matchups. This fourth-round clash is a match befitting a semifinal or final, and Muguruza has as good a chance as anybody in the draw of upsetting the title favorite. She's no stranger to Grand Slam success, with two major titles to go with last year's run to the final here. If Muguruza can beat Osaka, she could very well be on her way to a third Grand Slam title.