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What the second week might bring at the Australian Open

Wimbledon is the only Grand Slam event at which there is no play on the middle Sunday. It emphasizes something most elite players will confirm: The first and second weeks at a major are two different tournaments.

Look at it this way: The first three rounds at a major are basically qualifying for the 32-player main event that commences at three of the Slams on Sunday, or Monday at Wimbledon.

So, with that in mind, let's look at the draws for this upcoming week:

Best fourth-round matches

No. 4 seed Stan Wawrinka versus No. 13 Milos Raonic: It's surprising how little attention Wawrinka has been receiving given that he won the title in 2014 and reached the semifinals last year. Raonic, though, has used his monstrous serve to crush all in his path this year, including Roger Federer.

"I still think it depends a lot of my game, of what I'm going to do, of where I'm going to be on the court, the way I'm going to serve," Wawrinka said of his pending meeting versus Raonic in his most recent Aussie Open news conference. "In general, I always find some solution to break his serve, even [though it] is really tough."

Wawrinka has won all four previous meetings against Raonic.

No. 5 Maria Sharapova versus No. 12 Belinda Bencic: Eighteen-year-old Bencic is the most highly touted young player on the WTA Tour. A startling detail: She beat all of the top-five players she faced in 2015. Sharapova, though, is a seasoned champion. Both players unexpectedly lost sets against their third-round opponents, so the outcome here might hinge on which player more successfully exploits the other's lapses. This is their first meeting.

Luck of the draw

Carla Suarez Navarro: The Spaniard knows the meaning of the expression, "When it rains, it pours." But for her, it's a good thing. She played against qualifiers in the first two rounds and her third-round opponent retired mid-match with a back injury. Her fourth-round opponent, Daria Gavrilova, ousted two-time Wimbledon champ Petra Kvitova in the second round.

Andrey Kuznetsov: He demonstrates why so much of the bracketology that goes on after the draw is released can go right out the window once the first ball is hit. Ranked No. 74, Kuznetsov drew a qualifier in the first round, won his second match and, thanks to the upset of Rafael Nadal, found himself facing No. 87 Dudi Sela, 30, in the third round. Kuznetsov won that match too. Now, he faces the second-lowest seed in the fourth round, Gael Monfils. But give Kuznetsov some credit -- the key to his run was a quality second-round upset of No. 30 seed Jeremy Chardy.

Contenders best positioned for the final (top half)

Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams: Both world No. 1s ripped through their early matches as if they had been away from the game and practicing to return for years. Post 2015 burnout? Letdown? Boredom? Not a chance.

The secret? Williams might have been speaking for both of them when she told the media the other day, "I never think I'm playing fantastic, as [my coach] Patrick [Mouratoglou], or anyone [says]. I'm always very hard on myself. I always feel like there's room for improvement. I've never had that problem."

Djokovic remains on track for a much-anticipated semifinal clash against No. 3 seed Roger Federer, while the greatest impediment for Williams going forward might well be a quarterfinal matchup against Bencic, if she advances past Sharapova.

Contenders best positioned for the final (bottom half)

Andy Murray and Victoria Azarenka: Murray's coach, Amelie Mauresmo, missed Wimbledon in order to give birth to her first child. Wouldn't it be ironic if Murray pulled out of the Australian Open before he lost, as the No. 2 seed has vowed to do, should his wife Kim go into labor?

Murray seems well-positioned to reach his fifth final. Sure, he's a tight 8-7 in matches against Wawrinka and 3-3 versus Raonic, but he would have to play only one of them. And it sure beats having to play Djokovic or Federer.

The resurgent Azarenka, seeded 14th, could not have asked for a kinder path. Williams, her most dangerous rival, is in the other half. The seedings in the bottom half have been decimated, with No. 2 Simona Halep and No. 3 Garbine Muguruza both out. After No. 7 Angelique Kerber, a tough opponent for sure, the next highest seed Azarenka would have to face in the entire half is No. 15 Madison Keys.

Best-case scenario for American fans

How about this? Into the fourth round in Melbourne for just the second time in his career, John Isner will go on to survive in the bottom half and hit 65 aces in a 7-6, 7-6, 7-6 upset of top-seeded Djokovic in the final. Meanwhile, how about Serena Williams and Keys battling it out for the women's trophy?

Biggest surprises so far

You probably couldn't have come up with a more dangerous first round for still-struggling No. 5 seed Rafael Nadal than Fernando Verdasco, but the upset was still wince-inducing, and potentially dispiriting for Nadal.

The early exits from Halep and Muguruza once again raise questions about how likely either of them will become the kind of dominant champion the tour could really use once Serena is gone.