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10sBalls Looks @ Djokovic, Del Potro, + Thiem Set For Tough First-Round Matches @ Australian Open 2018

A ball kid dries the court as play as suspended due to rain, during the first round match between Timea Babos of Hungary and CoCo Vandeweghe of the USA at the Australian Open Grand Slam tennis tournament in Melbourne, Australia, 15 January 2018. EPA-EFE/NARENDRA SHRESTHA



By Ricky Dimon


If the “Happy Slam” is to be a happy one for the likes of Novak Djokovic, Juan Martin Del Potro, and Dominic Thiem, they will have to be on top of their games right from the start. Djokovic (Donald Young), Del Potro (Frances Tiafoe), and Thiem (Guido Pella) all have difficult first-round matchups on their hands for Tuesday’s action.


Djokovic, of course, has issues beyond just his opponent. The 14th-ranked Serb has been sidelined since retiring from a Wimbledon quarterfinal match against Tomas Berdych last summer. With a revamped service motion that causes less strain on his right elbow, Djokovic is beginning his bid for a seventh career Aussie Open title.


Young will be no pushover. The 63rd-ranked American trails the head-to-head series 2-0, but was competitive against Djokovic on both previous occasions and he is coming off a fine 2017 campaign.


Unlike Djokovic, Thiem is actually 0-2 lifetime against his first-round foe. Pella took down the Austrian 6-1, 6-4 two seasons ago in Rio de Janeiro and 7-6(6), 6-4 this past fall in Chengdu. Moreover, the 56th-ranked Argentine is coming off a semifinal showing in Doha, where he eventually lost a three-set thriller against an in-form Andrey Rublev.


The good news for Thiem is that he also played well at the Qatar ExxonMobil Open, defeating Evgeny Donskoy, Aljaz Bedene, and Stefanos Tsitsipas in straight sets before withdrawing due to illness.


Del Potro and Tiafoe, meanwhile, will be squaring off for the second time in their careers. If it’s half as good as their only previous meeting, it won’t disappoint. At last year’s Acapulco event, Del Potro got the best of an extremely competitive and high-quality contest, surviving the young American 6-4, 3-6, 7-6(1).


Now Tiafoe gets another shot at the guy he idolized growing up.


“[Roger Federer is] too smooth to emulate,” Tiafoe said. “You can’t emulate a guy like him. He makes it look way too easy. My biggest idol was Del Potro, so playing him (last year) in Acapulco was amazing for me. Partly I liked him because he beat Federer [in the 2009] U.S. Open final. You know, (he was) just someone different. So (it’s) easy to like him and [Rafael Nadal] and all those top guys.”


“[Del Potro] was the first pro to every sign a ball for me,” Tiafoe added. “He’s always going to be one of my biggest idols…. He’s just an unbelievable player and person.”


Ricky contributes to 10sballs.com and also maintains his own tennis website, The Grandstand. You can follow him on twitter at @Dimonator.

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