With the second 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 top eight men all emerged from the second round unscathed, though Stefanos Tsitsipas had to sweat out a five-set thriller against inspired Australian Thanasi Kokkinakis. The top women weren't as lucky, as a nervous Sofia Kenin and a rusty Bianca Andreescu both fell by the wayside, meaning we'll have a new champion in 2021 with Kenin unable to successfully defend her title. Things are looking up for the Russian men in the draw, with the nation's top stars rolling and an unheralded underdog bidding to join them in third-round triumph. On the women's side, a pair of former Grand Slam finalists who are yet to break through on the biggest stage are gearing up for another deep run, while three of the five remaining Americans are unseeded.
Daniil Medvedev - Medvedev's rolling through the draw, having dropped just eight games in each of his first two matches. His third-round opponent, 28th-seeded Filip Krajinovic, is the highest-ranked player left between Medvedev and his first career Australian Open quarterfinal. Medvedev has his sights set even higher than that, as the 2019 US Open finalist is seeded fourth here and favored to reach at least the semis.
Andrey Rublev - Like his countryman Medvedev, Rublev's yet to drop a set. The No. 7 seed also has a favorable draw, as his third-round opponent will be 39-year-old Feliciano Lopez, who has a tricky serve but likely won't have much left in the tank after coming back from two sets down against Lorenzo Sonego in the second round. Should Rublev get through Lopez, he would face the winner of Radu Albot and 24th-seeded Casper Ruud in the Round of 16.
Alexander Zverev - After a slow start in his first-round match, Zverev enjoyed a more straightforward second-round victory, knocking off American Maxime Cressy 7-5, 6-4, 6-3. The 2020 US Open runner-up has a comfortable third-round draw against Frenchman Adrian Mannarino, as Zverev has a 5-0 career record against the No. 32 seed, including a trio of hard-court wins in the last six months. Assuming he gets through Mannarino, Zverev would also be heavily favored in the Round of 16 against either Pedro Martinez or No. 23 seed Dusan Lajovic.
Fabio Fognini - Fognini escaped with a 14-12 match tiebreaker win over countryman Salvatore Caruso in the second round, but that nearly four-hour match likely drained the 33-year-old Italian's tank ahead of what's expected to be a physical third-round clash with local favorite Alex de Minaur. The 16th-seeded Fognini has great shotmaking ability and should control the majority of the rallies against the man affectionately known as the Demon, but the 21st-seeded de Minaur will have plenty of energy after kicking off his home slam with a pair of straight-sets wins, and the Australian speedster will feed off the crowd for any extra fuel he needs as he looks to grind Fognini down with defense and counterpunching.
Aslan Karatsev - Nick Kyrgios is the obvious other choice here, but he's viewed as a sleeper in pretty much every match against a top opponent, and even the support of the home crowd likely won't be enough for the enigmatic Aussie to pull the upset against third-seeded Dominic Thiem unless Thiem throws in an unexpected clunker. Karatsev is more of an under-the-radar choice, but the Russian qualifier has quietly been blowing opponents off the court, losing just six games in his last two qualifying matches and 11 over the first two rounds of the main draw. Karatsev will now set his sights on upsetting No. 8 seed Diego Schwartzman, who has cruised into the third round himself but has never been past the fourth round at this tournament in six previous main draw appearances.
Marketa Vondrousova - Vondrousova has largely struggled since her Cinderella run to the French Open final in 2019, and it looked like the 19th-seeded 21-year-old was headed for another early exit here, as she trailed Rebecca Peterson by a set and a break in the first round. Vondrousova found a way to eek out a 2-6, 7-5, 7-5 win and carried over the momentum from that win in a comfortable 6-1, 7-5 second-round triumph over Rebecca Marino. Her draw has opened up considerably, as no seeds stand between Vondrousova and what would be the second Grand Slam quarterfinal of her young career. Vondrousova will face her first non-Rebecca opponent in the third round, as she'll take on veteran Sorana Cirstea, who upset No. 9 seed Petra Kvitova in the second round.
Serena Williams - Serena's off to a great start Down Under, dropping just five games through two rounds. It's title-or-bust for Williams as she continues her quest for Grand Slam title No. 24, and while being in the loaded bottom half of the draw presents some obstacles in her title quest, her immediate draw looks eminently navigable. Third-round opponent Anastasia Potapova is ranked outside the top 100, and potential fourth-round opponent Aryna Sabalenka has underwhelming credentials for a No. 7 seed, having never reached the quarterfinals at a Grand Slam.
Karolina Pliskova - Pliskova is still searching for her first title at the Grand Slam level, but the 2016 US Open finalist also has a 2019 semifinal run at this tournament under her belt, and she's playing well to start her tournament in 2021. The No. 6 seed dropped just two games in the first round, then avenged last week's loss to Danielle Collins with a 7-5, 6-2 second-round win. None of the seeds in Pliskova's section have lost yet, but she has the skills to keep moving forward the hard way. Her third-round match will be a clash of Czech Karolinas against No. 25 seed Karolina Muchova. Muchova upset Pliskova 13-11 in the third set at Wimbledon in 2019, but the two also met at the Australian Open that year, and Pliskova dominated that match 6-3, 6-2.
Simona Halep - Halep narrowly escaped with a 4-6, 6-4, 7-5 second-round win over Ajla Tomljanovic, and things don't get any easier for the No. 2 seed moving forward. Her third-round opponent is No. 32 seed Veronika Kudermetova, who has looked impressive in the first two rounds, dismantling promising youngsters Marta Kostyuk and Varvara Gracheva. Should Halep get through that match, the fourth round would likely present a clash with 15th-seeded Iga Swiatek, who is currently on a nine-match Grand Slam winning streak, which includes a 6-1, 6-2 dismantling of Halep at last year's French Open. Even more impressively, all nine of those wins have come in straight sets.
Shelby Rogers - Rogers is in good form to start the season, as she won three matches at the warm-up tournament in Melbourne before falling to Ashleigh Barty, then dropped just five games in each of her first two matches here. She'll be the underdog in the third round against No. 21 seed and 2020 Australian Open quarterfinalist Anett Kontaveit, but the American's playing the best hard-court tennis of her career, having now won six of her last seven Grand Slam hard-court matches between this tournament and her quarterfinal run at the 2020 US Open.