By Matthew Marolf
Out of today’s 16 singles matches, seven will be contested between seeded players. On the women’s side, this is the first Major in over a decade that all top 10 women’s seeds advanced into the third round. With a lack of significant upsets through two rounds, we’re in for some marquee matchups as the first weekend of the tournament commences.
Karen Khachanov (16) vs. Nick Kyrgios (23)
When these two last met, Kyrgios turned a second round loss in Cincinnati into quite the circus. Nick was hit a record fine of over $100K, with his worst offenses including cursing at (and spitting in the direction of) the chair empire. In the second round two days ago, Kyrgios had a few similar outbursts directed towards his team. But otherwise Nick has appeared focused and motivated through two rounds.
Normally he would be an underdog against Khachanov in a best-of-five match, as the Russian has been the better player at the Majors over the past few seasons. However, Karen barely survived a gruelling second round match against Mikael Ymer on Thursday evening, which went over four-and-a-half hours and was decided in a fifth set tiebreak. Khachanov looked emotionally and physically drained following that encounter, and struggled to even get back to his feet when falling to the court after match point. With the Aussie crowd behind him, and a possible match against Rafael Nadal looming in the next round, I expect an inspired Kyrgios to prevail.
Elina Svitolina (5) vs. Garbine Muguruza
It’s startling to see no number next to Muguruza’s name, as the two-time Major winner is unseeded at a Slam for the first time in six years. That’s due to a dismal 2019 where she went 22-16 overall, and just 6-4 at the Majors. But she’s shown signs of rediscovering her confidence this month, with seven match wins to start the year. And she pulled out both her matches here in Melbourne despite suffering from illness. Muguruza made a coaching change in the offseason which should surely help her game, reuniting with Conchita Martinez, who helped guide her to a Wimbledon title a few years ago.
Garbine will need all the energy and confidence she can muster against one of the WTA’s best defenders. While Svitolina had a rough start to the year, losing 6-1, 6-1 to Danielle Collins in Brisbane, she’s yet to drop a set this week. She is 6-4 lifetime against Muguruza, and 5-1 on hard courts. I expect Muguruza to have a strong year ahead, but I suspect Svitolina will prove to be too much for her to handle on this day.
Stan Wawrinka (15) vs. John Isner (19)
Wawrinka’s had a rough road thus far, playing nine sets and over six-and-a-half hours through two rounds. By contrast, Isner has played two less sets and spent nearly two less hours on court. The American has benefited from drawing clay court specialists in his first two rounds. While Isner is the lower seed, he’s 3-1 against Wawrinka, though it’s worth noting three of those matches took place in 2011 or earlier.
But Stan has achieved significantly better results at this event, with Isner possessing almost as many losses as wins in Melbourne. And John has struggled to recapture momentum after suffering a stress fracture in his foot last March during the Miami Open final. With the Melbourne courts playing a bit slower than usual, and the weather a bit cooler, that will slow down Isner’s big serve, and allow Wawrinka extra time to set for his big groundstrokes. I like the Stanimal to reach the round of 16 here for the seventh time.
David Goffin (11) vs. Andrey Rublev (17)
It’s one of tennis’ speediest players against one of its biggest strikers. Their only previous meeting was also arguably the biggest win of Rublev’s career. In the fourth round of the 2017 US Open, the Russian prevailed in straight sets to reach his first Major quarterfinal. But soon after, a back injury would derail Andrey’s career, with his ranking dropping outside the top 100 a year ago. Rublev finally got his mojo back last summer, with wins in August over Roger Federer, Stan Wawrinka, and Stefanos Tsitsipas. And he’s only gotten hotter from there. In October, he won the Kremlin Cup in his home country on his 22nd birthday. He then went 4-0 at the Davis Cup in November. And Rublev is undefeated in 2020, already accumulating 10 match wins and two titles. Overall he’s on a 14-match winning streak, and is 22-3 since October.
While not quite as impressive, Goffin also had a nice summer and fall. And he went 3-1 to start the year at the ATP Cup, defeating both Grigor Dimitrov and Rafael Nadal. David’s defense will force Rublev to hit a few more winners than normal, and likely draw more errors. And as great as Rublev has been, the high volume of tennis he’s played this month will catch up with him sooner than later. However, I’m not betting against a player as confident as Rublev, who has the firepower to control his destiny in this match.
Karolina Pliskova (2) vs. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (30)
Is Karolina Pliskova finally ready to win a Major? The general consensus is she’s the best player yet to claim one, and she’s reached the second week at the last seven hard court Slams. She’s hoping the additions of Dani Vallverdu and Olga Savchuk to her coaching team will help get her over the hump. She certainly started off 2020 the right way, winning the title in Brisbane. And she’s the only player since September to defeat defending champion Naomi Osaka. Karolina faces a player today who likes playing in Australia.
Pavlyuchenkova has reached the quarterfinals in Melbourne two of the last three years. And the 28-year-old Russian is coming off a strong fall season, as she was a finalist in both Osaka and Moscow. The problem for Anastasia is she’s 0-5 against Pliskova, winning only one of the 11 sets they’ve played. They have similar styles, though Karolina possesses a bit more power, control, and speed. While Pliskova should comfortably advance, this match may be a good gage of how serious a contender she should be considered.
Other notable matches on Day 6:
Rafael Nadal (1) vs. Pablo Carreno Busta (27). Rafa has a history of dominating his fellow Spaniards, and he’s 4-0 against Carreno Busta.
Dominic Thiem (5) vs. Taylor Fritz (29). Both men survived five-setters in their last round. Thiem is 2-0 against Fritz, with two four-set victories at recent US Opens.
Simona Halep (4) vs. Yulia Putintseva, who upset Danielle Collins on Thursday 7-5 in the third.
Daniil Medvedev (4) vs. 20-year-old Australian Alexei Popyrin. They played six months ago at Wimbledon, with Medvedev prevailing in four.
US Open semifinalist Belinda Bencic (6) vs. Anett Kontaveit (28). They were due to play in this same round of last year’s US Open, but Kontaveit withdrew due to illness. Anett sat out the rest of 2019 as she battled that illness and also had a small operation.