With the fourth 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 remainder of the tournament. 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.
Among the top contenders for the title on the men's side in the wake of Novak Djokovic's unconventional exit from the draw, all but one are still in the hunt for the title, with No. 3 Alexander Zverev having fallen by the wayside in the Round of 16. The mix of familiar faces and talented up-and-comers should offer an exhilarating final three rounds for the men. Some storylines to watch down the stretch include Rafael Nadal's quest to make history, Daniil Medvedev looking to live up to his lofty expectations, and the distinct possibility that one country will account for half of the men remaining when we get to the semifinals. Like Medvedev on the men's side, Ashleigh Barty hasn't been weighed down by the pressure of being the favorite, and the top seed is instead marching towards her third Grand Slam title, though a lot of familiar faces from her first major win stand in her way. The American women have a chance to surpass the Italian men, as they could still get as many as three players into the semifinals, though a quarterfinal win looks particularly unlikely for one of the three.
Daniil Medvedev - Medvedev is coming off his trickiest match, as serve-and-volleyer Maxime Cressy had Medvedev muttering to himself throughout much of the final three sets in the Russian's 6-2, 7-6 (4), 6-7 (4), 7-5 fourth-round victory. Despite his difficulties in that one, Medvedev remains the clear title favorite in Djokovic's absence. He has a 3-0 career head-to-head edge against No. 9 seed Felix Auger-Aliassime, whom he'll face in the quarterfinals, and Medvedev will be favored in the rest of his matches in this tournament no matter how the draw shakes out. Anything short of a second consecutive hard-court Grand Slam title to back up his 2021 US Open championship would be viewed as disappointment.
Matteo Berrettini - Both Italians remaining in the draw are dark-horse title candidates, but especially Berrettini, who has raised his game as the tournament has gone on. After a pair of four-setters against Americans in the first two rounds, Berrettini survived a two-set comeback bid from Carlos Alcaraz in a fifth-set tiebreak before comfortably knocking off Pablo Carreno Busta 7-5, 7-6 (4), 6-4. The No. 7 seed put on a serving clinic with 28 aces in the Round of 16, and Berrettini has improved his backhand and defense to complement his booming serve and forehand. He's 2-0 against quarterfinal opponent Gael Monfils in his career, and Berrettini can beat anybody when his serve's on. Keep in mind it took either Djokovic or an injury to knock Berrettini out at each of last year's Grand Slams, and one of those two is off the table while the other looks unlikely to occur at this point.
Stefanos Tsitsipas - Tsitsipas has been doing just enough to get by thus far, with his 4-6, 6-4, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 victory over Taylor Fritz providing the most recent example. On the other hand, quarterfinal opponent Jannik Sinner has been blowing away the competition, having dropped just one set so far. There's little question that the 11th-seeded Sinner has been in better form than the fourth-seeded Tsitsipas thus far, yet the pressure will be on the 23-year-old from Greece against the 20-year-old Italian in the quarterfinal. If he gets by that one, Tsitsipas would likely be staring at an uphill semifinal battle against Medvedev, whose 6-2 record against Tsitsipas includes a straight-sets win in the semifinals of last year's Australian Open.
Denis Shapovalov - Nobody's sleeping on Shapovalov after he just knocked out Zverev in straight sets with a 6-3, 7-6 (5), 6-3 fourth-round victory, but he'll still be a substantial underdog against all-time great Rafael Nadal in the quarterfinals. The sixth-seeded Nadal has quietly gone about his business and is just three matches from breaking the three-way tie between himself, Djokovic and Roger Federer for the most Grand Slam men's singles titles all time. Shapovalov trails the official head-to-head between this pair of lefties 3-1, but the 14th-seeded Canadian beat Nadal in an exhibition match in Abu Dhabi in December. Shapovalov can hang with anyone when he's on his game, the question is whether the enigmatic 22-year-old can maintain that level for a second consecutive match after a locked-in performance from start to finish against Zverev.
Ashleigh Barty - Barty has been by far the most dominant player in the woman's draw, dropping just 15 combined games in eight sets while being broken only once. The No. 1 seed is a woman on a mission, and her goal of becoming the first Australian woman to win the tournament down under since 1978 is just three matches from becoming reality. There isn't much information to glean from Barty's 6-3, 6-3 win at the 2019 French Open over Jessica Pegula in their lone previous meeting, but Barty will be heavily favored in the quarterfinals against the 21st-seeded American. Speaking of that match, how's this for a potential crazy coincidence? En route to capturing her first Grand Slam title at Roland Garros in 2019, Barty defeated Pegula, as well as Americans Danielle Collins, Madison Keys and Amanda Anisimova (plus Sofia Kenin for good measure). If the remaining Americans keep beating everyone else but losing to Barty, she could capture the Australian Open with wins over Anisimova, Pegula, Keys and Collins in her last four matches.
Iga Swiatek - Swiatek overcame a fourth-round challenge from the in-form Sorana Cirstea with a 5-7, 6-3, 6-3 win, and her favorable on-paper draw continues in the quarterfinals against another unseeded opponent in Kaia Kanepi. While the Estonian's No. 115 ranking is so low because she plays a very limited schedule at age 36, this will certainly be No. 7 Swiatek's match to lose. This will be Kanepi's first quarterfinal in her 13th appearance at the Australian Open, and she has reached this stage six times in 52 previous Grand Slam appearances, only to lose at this point every time. With the winner of Swiatek-Kanepi set to face the winner of the Collins-Alize Cornet match in the semifinal, Swiatek is the clear favorite to make the final in the bottom half of the draw. Based on her title run at the 2020 French Open, Swiatek plays her best tennis under the pressure of a Grand Slam's final stages.
Danielle Collins - What an opportunity for Collins. The 27th-seeded American has gotten to the quarterfinals the hard way, beating Clara Tauson 7-5 in the third and Elise Mertens 6-4 in the third to win her last two matches while also battling back from a set down in each. Remarkably, her unseeded quarterfinal opponent has spent more time on court than Collins in this tournament (8:15 to 7:51). World No. 61 Cornet is finally into her first Grand Slam quarterfinal in what she's said could be her final season, and it's possible Cornet will just be happy to finally be here, while Collins made the semis at this tournament in 2019 and is hungry for an even better result this time around.
Madison Keys - Keys has rounded out her game a bit, and the results have been wonderful, as the hard-hitting American carries a nine-match winning streak into her clash with No. 4 seed Barbora Krejcikova, most recently dismantling No. 8 seed Paula Badosa 6-3, 6-1. The unseeded Keys has reached a Grand Slam final and three other major semifinals largely by overpowering the opposition, and while that's still Plan A, she's now more willing to go to Plan B and work the point more when her timing isn't there. With her added confidence and consistency, Keys is a dangerous opponent, and she should be able to dictate the majority of the points against the No. 4 seed with her power. Krejcikova's 6-2, 6-2 win over Victoria Azarenka in the previous round is deceiving, as Azarenka wasn't herself due to a neck injury, while big-hitter Jelena Ostapenko pushed Krejcikova to 6-4 in the third set in the third round. Keys can copy a lot of Ostapenko's game plan while knowing she has the added benefit of generating plenty of free points with the serve, which is something the Latvian struggles to do.