The second round of the Australian Open will continue on Thursday, when Rafael Nadal returns to the court to face fellow veteran Marcos Baghdatis. Fabio Fognini, Benoit Paire, Alexander Zverev, and Gael Monfils are also in action. Ricky previews and predicts some of the most intriguing Day 4 matchups.
Marcos Baghdatis vs. (9) Rafael Nadal
Nadal is dominating the head-to-head series 8-1, including 4-1 on hard courts and 1-0 at slams (6-1, 7-5, 6-3 in the 2006 Wimbledon semis). They most recently faced each other two years ago on the grass courts of Stuttgart, where Nadal prevailed 7-6(5), 6-7(4), 6-2. The world No. 9 has been in relatively encouraging form since returning from a wrist injury that sidelined him from the recent fall swing. He won the six-man Abu Dhabi tournament before officially beginning the season in Brisbane, where he lost a three-set quarterfinal to Milos Raonic. Nadal opened in Melbourne with a 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 defeat of Florian Mayer, while Baghdatis got a second-set retirement from Mikhail Youzhny. The Cypriot is playing decent tennis at the moment, but he does not have enough physically to seriously challenge Nadal in a best-of-five.
Pick: Nadal 3
Benoit Paire vs. Fabio Fognini
Paire vs. Fognini in something like the first round of a Challenger event would be especially outstanding. You would expect both of these guys–yes, even these guys–to be relatively motivated in round two of a major, but the shenanigans will still be plentiful. Additionally, the tennis will at times be awesome and at other times (the majority of the time, probably) dreadful. Fognini scored an encouraging straight-set victory over Feliciano Lopez on Tuesday, while it’s hard to gauge Paire’s level after he got a retirement from Tommy Haas. Of two mercurial contestants, Fognini–yes, Fabio Fognini–is most reliable.
Pick: Fognini in 5
Radek Stepanek vs. (11) David Goffin
Stepanek may be 38 years old and outside the top 100, but he cannot be discounted. On any given day, he still has enough left in the tank and enough veteran guile to pose a threat to just about anyone on tour on any given day. It has already been a positive Aussie Open for the Czech, who qualified and then rolled over fellow veteran Dmitry Tursunov 6-2, 7-6(1), 6-3 in round one. Goffin surprisingly had to go five sets with American qualifier Reilly Opelka but survived 6-4, 4-6, 6-2, 4-6, 6-4. Although Opelka basically took the racket out of Goffin’s hands, this should be a much better matchup for the 11th-ranked Belgian. He loves a target, and Stepanek will give him just that by venturing into the net as many times as possible.
Pick: Goffin in 4
(24) Alexander Zverev vs. (Q) Frances Tiafoe
Zverev went up against one of the other rising young Americans last summer in Washington, D.C. and it was beatdown city, as he hammered Taylor Fritz 6-4, 6-2. Now the 19-year-old German is facing one who is not as proven as Fritz but may have just as much if not more talent. Tiafoe is in the midst of the best Grand Slam of his brief career, having qualified for the main draw before ousting Mikhail Kukushkin in four sets. The 18-year-old is a significant underdog on paper, but he is in strong form and Zverev is coming off a surprisingly tough five-setter against Robin Haase. This could be competitive.
Pick: Zverev in 4
(15) Grigor Dimitrov vs. Hyeon Chung
This could be a slam semifinal in three years or so, depending on how Chung develops and how Dimitrov progresses. Right now, though, this belongs exactly where it is: in the second round. Chung suffered a bit of a “sophomore slump” last year and currently registers outside the top 100. Dimitrov, on the other hand, heated up dramatically throughout the second half of this past season and maintained momentum by winning the Brisbane title earlier in January. The 15th seed has a clear edge in this one, but it should be entertaining.
Pick: Dimitrov in 3
(6) Gael Monfils vs. Alexandr Dolgopolov
When these two are at their absolute best, this is worthy of a major semifinal. Monfils has been at his absolute best over the past year…when healthy. The Frenchman was a question mark (from a physical standpoint, as usual) going into the Happy Slam. but he appeared to be 100 pecent in a straight-set rout of Jiri Vesely in the first round. Dolgopolov, on the other hand, had not won a match since mid-July until he defeated Borna Coric (who has not won a match since mid-August) in a difficult opening-round contest. Not unlike Dimitrov-Chung, this does belong in the second round at the moment. And Monfils will treat it as such, likely advancing in mostly no-nonsense fashion.
Pick: Monfils in 4
Topics: 10sballs.com, 2017 Australian Open, Alexander Zverev, Alexandr Dolgopolov, AO17, Atp World Tour, Aus Open, Australian Open Tennis, Benoit Paire, David Goffin, Fabio Fognini, Frances Tiafoe, Gael Monfils, GRIGOR DIMITROV, Hyeon Chung, Marcos Baghdatis, Melbourne tennis, Radek Stepanek, Rafa Nadal, Ricky Dimon, Sports, Tennis News