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Ricky’s preview and picks for Day 5 of the Australian Open: Nadal vs. Khachanov and Shapovalov vs. Opelka

Rafael Nadal of Spain plays Marcos Giron of the United States in their first round match on Day 1 of the Australian Open tennis tournament, at Melbourne Park, in Melbourne, Australia, 17 January 2022. EPA-EFE/DAVE HUNT

By Ricky Dimon

Rafael Nadal will face familiar foe Karen Khachanov in round three of the Australian Open on Friday. A blockbuster slate of matches in the top half of the bracket also includes Denis Shapovalov, who is going up against Reilly Opelka.

Here are my previews and picks for two of the third-round matchups on Day 5 of the year’s first Grand Slam.

(28) Karen Khachanov vs. (6) Rafael Nadal

Nadal and Khachanov will be going head-to-head for the eighth time in their careers when they clash in round three of the Australian Open on Friday. All seven of their previous encounters have gone Nadal’s way, to the extent that this is one of the most lopsided matchups on tour right now. The 35-year-old is 16-1 lifetime in total sets at Khachanov’s expense. They have not squared off since 2019, when Nadal prevailed in a pair of tiebreakers at the Indian Wells Masters before getting the job done 6-3, 7-6(7) in the Davis Cup Finals.

After missing the last three months of 2021 because of a foot injury, Nadal is off to a roaring start this season. The 20-time Grand Slam champion triumphed at the Melbourne 250 and so far this fortnight has erased Marcos Giron and Jannick Hanffman in straight sets. Khachanov held off Denis Kudla in a fourth-set tiebreaker before easing past Benjamin Bonzi 6-4, 6-0, 7-5 on Wednesday. The 30th-ranked Russian is the kind of player that can give Nadal problems and their set scores have actually been close for the most part even though the Spaniard has taken almost every one. Expect a competitive contest, but there is no reason to think Nadal is bowing out at this point of the event.

Pick: Nadal in 4

Denis Shapovalov of Canada serves during the Men’s singles match against Laslo Djere of Serbia on Day 1 of the Australian Open, at Melbourne Park, in Melbourne, Australia, 17 January 2022. EPA-EFE/JAMES ROSS

(23) Reilly Opelka vs. (14) Denis Shapovalov

Tiebreakers can be expected to rule the day when Shapovalov and Opelka collide for the second time in their careers. Shapovalov played three of them against Soonwoo Kwon during a five-set victory on Wednesday and Opelka’s game style is obviously such that service breaks are few and far between. It is no surprise that their only previous meeting went to a third-set tiebreaker, won by Shapovalov 6-3, 3-6, 7-6(6) at 2017 Queen’s Club qualifying.

Opelka is looking good with straight-set defeats of Kevin Anderson and Dominik Koepfer–requiring only two tiebreakers in the process. Like most contests involving the 6’11” American, this one could go either way. But Shapovalov was a semifinalist at Wimbledon last summer and he is more likely to continue his Grand Slam success Down Under. In a best-of-five situation, the 14th-ranked Canadian should have the upper hand late in the proceedings.

Pick: Shapovalov in 4

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