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Ricky’s picks for Day 8 of the Australian Open: Djokovic vs. De Minaur and Wolf vs. Shelton

Novak Djokovic will be back on the court for Monday’s fourth-round action, and this time the crowd will be against him with Alex de Minaur on the other side of the net. A more surprising matchup features Americans J.J. Wolf and Ben Shelton.

Here are my previews and picks for the two showdowns.

(22) Alex de Minaur vs. (4) Novak Djokovic

Djokovic and De Minaur will be going head-to-head for the first time in their careers when they battle for a quarterfinal spot at the Australian Open on Monday. Looking for his 10th title Down Under, Djokovic’s path through the first week was not entirely smooth. He dropped a set to Enzo Couacaud in round two and struggled for a while with Grigor Dimitrov on Saturday night before getting the job done 7-6(7), 6-3, 6-4.

De Minaur has also surrendered just one set (to Adrian Mannarino in the second round) while destroying Yu Hsiou Hsu and Benjamin Bonzi. Unfortunately for the 24th-ranked Aussie, he consistently crashes out of Grand Slams in the third and fourth rounds. Only once has he advanced to a quarterfinal (2020 U.S. Open) and that was in part due to a favorable draw in which he faced Vasek Pospisil in the last 16. Djokovic’s leg issue does not appear to be of any real concern–at least not during actual points–but the bottom line is he isn’t playing at a dominant level. Although this should be relatively competitive because of De Minaur’s determination and defensive skills in addition to a raucous Aussie crowd, he doesn’t have the firepower necessary to defeat Djokovic.

Pick: Djokovic in 4

Ben Shelton vs. J.J. Wolf

On the whole it is a surprising fourth-round lineup at Melbourne Park, and the most unexpected matchup of all is without question Wolf vs. Shelton. It’s a showdown between fellow Americans and recent college stars, and one will improbably find himself in the quarterfinals of the season’s first Grand Slam. Wolf has advanced with victories over Jordan Thompson, a hobbled Diego Schwartzman, and lucky loser Michael Mmoh. Shelton also capitalized on a favorable draw to get here, beating Zhizhen Zhang (in a fifth-set tiebreaker) and both Nicolas Jarry and Alexei Popyrin in straights.

Although this is obviously whole different ballgame from college tennis, both guys know to handle intense pressure and rowdy environments. However, Shelton may be even more equipped for the big stage. The 20-year-old upset Casper Ruud at the 2022 Cincinnati Masters and his defeat of Popyrin silenced a lively night-session crowd in John Cain Arena. Shelton also has an easier time winning free points thanks to his huge serve, which will come in handy in the pressure-packed moments. Look for the 2022 NCAA singles champion to prevail in a spirited, high-quality contest.

Pick: Shelton in 4

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