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.
The men's draw lost two of the top eight seeds before the first round even started, but only one more has been knocked out since, and seven of the top 11 seeds still remain as we head into the Round of 16. While the favorites are mostly well positioned to keep knocking off lesser competition, one of the fringe title contenders at this tournament could face a stiff test from a local favorite. The women's draw still has six top-eight seeds left, but there are also five unseeded players ready to provide further drama. Between former Grand Slam champions returning to form and numerous American underdog stories, there's no shortage of intriguing storylines heading into the second week down under.
Matteo Berrettini - Since the start of 2021, Berrettini is 20-0 in Grand Slams against players not named Novak Djokovic. He suffered three defeats to Djokovic last year, including one in the Wimbledon final, in addition to handing Stefanos Tsitsipas a walkover at this tournament due to an abdominal injury. The seventh-seeded Italian just overcame a stiff test from teenage sensation Carlos Alcaraz, displaying tremendous mental and physical fortitude in a 6-4, 7-6 (3), 4-6, 2-6, 7-6 (10-5) thriller. Having passed that test, Berrettini now has a favorable draw in front of him, with no top-16 seeds standing between him and the semifinals. He'll be favored against No. 19 seed Pablo Carreno Busta in what will be their first head-to-head meeting in the Round of 16, and Berrettini has a 2-0 career edge against likely quarterfinal opponent Gael Monfils, including a win in the quarterfinals of the 2019 US Open.
Felix Auger-Aliassime - After looking vulnerable over the first two rounds, Auger-Aliassime put together his best match of the tournament in the third round, dismantling 24th-seeded Daniel Evans 6-4, 6-1, 6-1. He also watched his immediate draw open up courtesy of Marin Cilic's upset win over No. 5 seed Andrey Rublev. Cilic is no slouch and has a 3-0 head-to-head edge against Auger-Aliassime, though one of those wins was in a final, which can be discounted since FAA has a mental block in championship matches, having lost all eight he's played in at the ATP tour level without winning a set. Getting to the championship match here would be a great problem to have for the ninth-seeded Canadian, and such a run remains unlikely, but while his first ATP title will likely still take a while to get, Auger-Aliassime shouldn't have to wait much longer for his first win over Cilic, whose best days are behind him at age 33.
Daniil Medvedev - Medvedev became the man to beat down under when Djokovic was denied entry, and that remains the case three rounds later. The No. 2 seed is 16-1 in hard-court Grand Slam matches since the start of last season, with his only loss coming to Djokovic in the final of the 2021 Australian Open. He avenged that defeat with a straight-sets win in the final of the US Open, and the only man to take a set off Medvedev during his championship run in New York failed to do so in their third-round rematch here, as Medvedev disposed of Botic Van de Zandschulp 6-4, 6-4, 6-2. Between that win and his 7-6 (1), 6-4, 4-6, 6-2 win over Nick Kyrgios in the second round, Medvedev has done a great job navigating a tricky early draw. He'll be an overwhelming favorite against unseeded American Maxime Cressy in the Round of 16, with the winner of that match set to face either Auger-Aliassime or Cilic in the quarterfinals. Medvedev's 3-0 against both of those guys in his career.
Taylor Fritz - Fritz should be commended for getting this far, as the 20th-seeded American was 0-7 in Grand Slam third-round matches prior to his 6-0, 3-6, 3-6, 6-4, 6-3 third-round win over Roberto Bautista Agut. Unfortunately for Fritz, his first major quarterfinal will likely have to wait. While Stefanos Tsitsipas hasn't found his A-game yet, the No. 4 seed hasn't needed it to get to the Round of 16, and Tsitsipas will be the clear favorite against Fritz, who will likely be happy just to finally have gotten past his usual stumbling block in the third round. Tsitsipas is likely to add to his 2-0 head-to-head edge against Fritz, snuffing out American men's singles hopes in tandem with Medvedev.
Alex de Minaur - De Minaur has been quietly impressive through three rounds. He hasn't faced a seeded opponent, but the 32nd-seeded Australian has taken care of business in front of the supportive crowd, winning nine consecutive sets since dropping the first set against talented teenager Lorenzo Musetti in the first round. The stadium will be rocking for the last Australian man left in the draw in Round of 16 against Jannik Sinner, who had a bit of a wobble in his 6-4, 1-6, 6-3, 6-1 third-round win over Taro Daniel. The 11th-seeded Sinner has high hopes at this tournament, but he can't look past de Minaur on the Speed Demon's home turf.
Iga Swiatek - The 2020 French Open champion made the Round of 16 in all three of the other slams in 2021, and she's still growing her all-court game at age 20. Seeded seventh here, Swiatek has blown her first three opponents off the court, dropping a combined 12 games. All that stands between Swiatek and her first non-Roland Garros quarterfinal is 38th-ranked Sorana Cirstea, who's a solid veteran player but is searching for just her second Grand Slam quarterfinal in 52 appearances, having failed to get back there after reaching the quarters of the French Open way back in 2009.
Victoria Azarenka - Azarenka's seeded 24th, but she'll be favored in her Round of 16 match against No. 4 seed Barbora Krejcikova given Azarenka's stellar form thus far in this tournament. The two-time Aussie Open champion has dropped just nine games through three rounds, and Azarenka just put a 6-0, 6-2 drubbing on No. 16 seed Elina Svitolina. Meanwhile, Krejcikova's a capable hard-court player, but there's no doubt the reigning French Open champion prefers clay, while hard court is Azarenka's favorite surface. Azarenka won their only previous meeting in 2020 on a hard court, though that was admittedly prior to Krejcikova establishing herself as one of the top players on the WTA tour.
Aryna Sabalenka - Many were ready to write Sabalenka off due to her recent serving struggles, but she produced her best tennis of the tournament in a 4-6, 6-3, 6-1 third-round win over Marketa Vondrousova. The No. 2 seed was able to utilize a slice second serve more against a lefty rather than the kick that had been giving her issues, and while she still served 10 double faults, Azarenka generally possessed a better rhythm on serve and was broken only twice after dropping serve five times in each of her first two matches. With her confidence growing, Sabalenka's in good position to keep progressing against unseeded 36-year-old Kaia Kanepi in the Round of 16.
The Americans - How about four sleepers for the price of one? None of the American women left in the draw are seeded in the top 20, but they've all displayed great resiliency and competitiveness to get to this stage, as each one has made it through a match that went either 7-5 or 7-6 in the third set. Amanda Anisimova is the lowest-ranked of the four at No. 60 and has the toughest task ahead of her against No. 1 seed Ashleigh Barty, but the 20-year-old New Jersey native has already established herself as a giant slayer at this tournament, knocking off Naomi Osaka 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (10-5) in the third round to back up her 6-2, 7-5 win over Belinda Bencic. The other unseeded American is Madison Keys, who's riding an eight-match winning streak into her fourth-round encounter with No. 8 seed Paula Badosa. A win in that clash of heavy hitters would propel Keys to her eighth career Grand Slam quarterfinal.
As for the seeded Americans, No. 27 seed Danielle Collins has the best draw against 19th-seeded Elise Mertens. Both players have reached the semifinals at this tournament before, and they've split two career head-to-head meetings, with Collins winning the lone hard-court encounter. Jessica Pegula lost 7-6 in the third set the last time she faced Maria Sakkari, so the No. 21 seed knows she's capable of keeping pace with her fifth-seeded opponent on what will be quite an exciting weekend of action for the Pegula family, whose Bills will face the Chiefs in the divisional round of the NFL playoffs Sunday. If you're an upstate New Yorker who just got access to sports betting, why not throw a Pegula parlay in there on Jessica and the Bills?