10sBalls.com • TennisBalls.com

Ricky’s Picks for the Australian Open Men’s Quarterfinals: Djokovic vs. Zverev and Dimitrov vs. Karatsev

Alexander Zverev is playing for his first Grand Slam win over world No. 1 Novak Djokovic. EPA-EFE/DEAN LEWINS

By Ricky Dimon

In the top section of the Australian Open men’s singles bracket, it’s the quarterfinal matchup we all expected to see: Novak Djokovic vs. Alexander Zverev. The other day-session showdown, however, is far more surprising. That pits Grigor Dimitrov against Aslan Karatsev.

Ricky previews the Day 9 action and makes his predictions.

(1) Novak Djokovic vs. (6) Alexander Zverev

Most Djokovic matches at the Australian Open are straightforward affairs–at least on paper. After all, he is an eight-time champion Down Under. As the clear-cut No. 1 player in the world right now, there generally wouldn’t be a reason to doubt that No. 9 is forthcoming. 

However, there is merit behind questioning Djokovic’s chances on Tuesday night. The Serb has been dealing with an abdominal injury and may not be 100 percent even though he got through his fifth set against Taylor Fritz in the third round and managed to beat Milos Raonic in four on Sunday. Plus, Djokovic has a tough matchup on his hands with Zverev. The seventh-ranked German has been in outstanding form dating back to last fall and he has defeated Djokovic twice. Yes, Zverev has also lost five times in this matchup; but his ATP Cup setback was a competitive three-set battle and that was when Djokovic was 100 percent.

The underdog will have to serve well and limit his double-faults to have a realistic chance, but if he does that an upset could be in the cards. 

Pick: Zverev in 5

Grigor Dimitrov swept US Open champion Dominic Thiem in the Australian Open fourth round. EPA-EFE/DAVE HUNT

(18) Grigor Dimitrov vs. (Q) Aslan Karatsev

Back in the 2000s, the Australian Open used to churn out surprising men’s singles finalists on a relatively consistent basis. Arnaud Clement. Thomas Johansson (champion). Rainer Schuettler. Marcos Baghdatis. Fernando Gonzalez. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.

Karatsev still has long way to go before he can think about joining that group, but the fact that he is still in contention for as much heading into the quarterfinals is nothing short of unbelievable.

Karatsev’s Australian Open journey began on a different continent. Ranked 112th in the world at the end of last season, the Russian obviously had to go through qualifying–which he did successfully last month in Doha prior to quarantine in Melbourne. Playing in the main draw of a slam for the first time ever at 27 years old, he has continued his run at the expense of Gianluca Mager, Egor Gerasimov, Diego Schwartzman, and Felix Auger-Aliassime. Karatsev humiliated Gerasimov 6-0, 6-1, 6-0, upset Schwartzman 6-3, 6-3, 6-3, and then came back from two sets to love down against Auger-Aliassime.

Dimitrov, it has to be said, hasn’t been required to do much this fortnight. The 21st-ranked Bulgarian ousted a past-his-prime Marin Cilic and wild card Alex Bolt in straight sets, got a retirement from Pablo Carreno Busta, and then rolled over a struggling Dominic Thiem 6-4, 6-4, 6-0 on Sunday.

Of course, it’s not like Dimitrov’s presence at this stage of the Aussie Open is any kind of fluke. The 29-year-old has now been to the quarterfinals of a slam six times and four have come Down Under.

Karatsev will actually dictate the outcome of this match with his power, but it will be a similar matchup to the one with Auger-Aliassime and Karatsev was almost toast after two sets. The underdog managed to come back and win, but Dimitrov has far more experience than Auger-Aliassime and at this stage of their respective careers is far better under pressure.

If Dimitrov can just withstand some early blows and make this an extended physical and mental struggle, he will have the edge late.

Pick: Dimitrov in 5

Ricky contributes to10sballs.com and also maintains his own tennis website, The Grandstand. You can follow him on twitter at @Dimonator.