Australian Open Day 6 picks, including Nadal vs. Monfils and Raonic vs. Dimitrov

pre-game photo

The Grandstand’s Ricky Dimon and Hasan Murad preview and pick the best men’s singles matchups on Day 6 of the Australian Open. This is the sixth of 13 installments of expert picks during the season’s first Grand Slam.

(1) Rafael Nadal vs. (25) Gael Monfils

Ricky: With Juan Martin Del Potro out of the tournament, this will be Nadal’s toughest test ahead of the quarterfinals and possibly prior to the title match (maybe not if he goes up against Andy Murray in the semis). Monfils is healthy and in rare form at the moment. He reached the Doha final (lost to Nadal in three sets) and has bullied his way past Ryan Harrison and Jack Sock so far in Melbourne. The Frenchman won 86 percent of his first-serve points against Harrison and 84 percent against Sock while facing–and saving–only one break point in two matches. With Monfils serving like this, a competitive, entertaining night session is in store. Nadal, however, conserved energy by making short work of Bernard Tomic and Thanasi Kokkinakis. Fully aware of more dangerous competition on the other side of the net, the world No. 1 will likely raise his level to an even greater height. Nadal 7-6(5), 6-7(4), 6-4, 6-4.

Hasan: It was almost two weeks ago when Nadal and Monfils competed in the Doha final. Then, the world No. 1 fended off Monfils’ salvo of groundstrokes to inflate his head-to-head series lead to 9-2. This will be just their second match in Grand Slam play after Nadal outshined Monfils 6-7(3), 6-3, 6-1, 6-3 in a physical fourth-round battle at the 2009 U.S. Open. Both men have been in superb form of late. Following a virtual walkover in the first round against Tomic, Nadal was very authoritative in a straight-set victory over the promising Kokkinakis. In his two matches so far, Monfils has derailed two young Americans in straight sets. The flamboyant Frenchman is playing consistently well enough to test Nadal, but the top seed looks ready to take on any challenge right now. The Spaniard is effortlessly changing direction with his forehand and with his serve working efficiently, Monfils will be outplayed. Nadal 6-4, 6-2, 6-4.

(11) Milos Raonic vs. (22) Grigor Dimitrov

Ricky: This has the potential to be a future Grand Slam final matchup. For now it comes in the third round, a stage which Dimitrov has never advanced past in his entire career. Raonic, on the other hand, has accomplished that feat four times–including twice in Australia and also in his last major appearance at the 2013 U.S. Open. It’s hard to see Dimitrov dominating this encounter simply because it is so difficult to break and win routine sets against Raonic, and any competitive match should favor the Canadian. That’s because of his superior ability to win free points at the critical moments and his Grand Slam experience. Raonic 7-6(5), 6-7(4), 4-6, 6-3, 6-4.

Hasan: Two of the most promising young players on the tour have split their two previous career meetings. This one will indisputably be their most important to date. The 11th-ranked Raonic did not lose serve in his relatively straightforward 7-6(9), 6-4, 6-4 victory over Victor Hanescu after a shaky four-setter against Daniel Gimeno-Traver in which the Canadian dropped three service games. Comparably, after struggling through his four-set win over American Bradley Klahn in the opening round, Dimitrov put up an outstanding display to dismiss an in-form Yen-Hsun Lu in three entertaining sets. The world No. 22 is the more complete player of the two, but Raonic has the advantage of being very reliable on his serve–especially in tight situations. Dimitrov’s lack of physical fitness might just be the separating factor at the tail end of what promises to be sternly-contested clash. Raonic 7-6(5), 4-6, 6-7(6), 7-6(5), 6-4.

(10) Jo-Wilfried Tsonga vs. (18) Gilles Simon

Ricky: Simon is like Tommy Robredo; you can doubt him at your own risk. The guy was not even supposed to show up for the Aussie Open after being relegated to crutches due to a Kooyong Classic ankle injury. Simon has simply laughed in the face of such a notion with two straight five-set stunners–one over Daniel Brands 16-14 and another over Marin Cilic after trailing two sets to one. Tsonga leads the head-to-head series by a modest 5-3, but he has won five of their last six hard-court encounters. The higher-ranked Frenchman is a proven force Down Under, having finished runner-up in 2008 and in addition to three more quarterfinals (including one semifinal). Cooler conditions will help Simon make it competitive, but a more well-rested and confident Tsonga should eventually overpower his countryman. Tsonga 6-3, 3-6, 7-6(2), 6-3.

Hasan: Simon has defied odds in both of his five-set tussles in the previous two rounds. The intrepid Frenchman saved seven match points against Brands and perhaps more amazingly beat an even better opponent in Cilic. As laudable his heroics have been so far, the Simon’s journey may conclude in his next match when he takes on a compatriot who did not drop a set in his wins over Filippo Volandri and Thomaz Bellucci. Tsonga leads their head-to-head series and is playing solid tennis right now. His attacking game will be too much for an energy-sapped Simon, whose inspirational run will come to an end. Tsonga 6-3, 5-7, 6-4, 6-2.

(27) Benoit Paire vs. Roberto Bautista Agut

Ricky: This is not quite reaching Tomas Berdych vs. Kevin Anderson levels (Berdych 9-0), but it will be getting there if Paire loses again. The Frenchman is 0-4 lifetime vs. RBA and 1-8 in total sets. They just faced each other in Auckland and RBA cruised 6-3, 6-4. The question is, however, if this is the dawning of a new Paire. The Frenchman showed uncharacteristic desire and fight to battle back from two sets and a break down against up-and-coming Nick Kyrgios. With the same attitude, Paire would have a chance to capitalize on an opponent coming off an emotional, career-defining win (RBA upset Del Potro in five sets). The thinking here, though, is that a positively on-fire RBA will have too much confidence in both his own game and his ability to beat Paire. Bautista Agut 6-4, 3-6, 6-2, 7-6(5).

Hasan: For a low-profile player it is onerously difficult to beat a top-five opponent at a Grand Slam, but it is perhaps even more challenging to replicate the high standard in the next match. It will be uncharted territory for Bautista after his blockbuster encounter against Del Potro in the second round. Stupendous shot-making bolstered by impressive fighting spirit allowed the Spaniard to clinch a 4-6, 6-3, 5-7, 6-4, 7-5 victory in nearly four hours. Paire’s previous match did not feature a high-profile opponent, but it still oozed drama. The Frenchman bounced back after finding himself two sets down against Krygios. Although the Australian teenager was afflicted with cramping in the final set, Paire did well to battle his own erratic game and stay composed to seal the match 6-7(5), 6-7(5), 6-4, 6-2, 6-2. Having beaten Paire comfortably in Auckland last week, Bautisa will like his chances to maintain his perfection in the head-to-head series. Bautista Agut 6-4, 5-7, 6-4, 7-6(4).

21 Comments on Australian Open Day 6 picks, including Nadal vs. Monfils and Raonic vs. Dimitrov

  1. After barely 4.5 hours sleep, I’m back. 😀

    A question from everyone: How do you think Rafa’s performance compared with his US Open’s level? I saw his 4th round 4-set match in US Open live last year. In my opinion, he plays even better now, compared with the US Open.

    He did hit some balls short or let it hanging. Monfils didn’t take advantage, as the commentators pointed out. Djoker probably will. But other than that, Rafa hit freely from both wings and paint the line/corner on so many points. He ran Monfils rugged from the first two games! Rafa’s intensity from the start was unreal.

    He’s well prepared and he really really wants this AO title. Vamos!!!

    • He is playing ridiculous right now, but I would still take USO2013. He was playing just as well then and also had an aura of invincibility after Montreal and Cincy. Everyone knew he was unbeatable.

      I think people (Djokovic and maybe 2 or 3 others) believe he can be beat right now. Do even if its not Rafa’s fault, I think that technically makes him “less good” than he was in New York.

      • Those people (including you?) probably thought of Rafa at his level after USO2013. But Rafa clearly was tired and not as motivated after USO as he is now. He has raised his level this year. Maybe because the knee treatment has made him feel a lot more comfortable and thus, more confident. And Rafa is clearly hungry for this title. He had his predatory glean in his eyes. Any players who watched the match should be able to see it. Rafa sent a message.

      • I rate this higher than USO 2013. Rafa is winning OZ….mark my words! rafa is brimming with confidence and so am I..

    • both technically and tactically, however, he appears to be as good as USO2013.

      But sample size is still small (2 blowouts and 1 retirement).

      • Rafa’s movement is better than it was at the 2013 USO. He’s moving better than he has in the last few years. Whatever they did to his knee is working. Also, I think that now he is being even more aggressive.

        Bottom line, I agree with vamosrafa!

      • I think NNY’s observation is spot on. It is rafa’s movement that has something special about it in this tournament (rafa also praised his movement in the presser). The way he is fluently moving is at least as good as ever ! And i think, it is this movement that is allowing him to be a tad more aggressive ! even with his backhand…. Rafa’s court positioning has been exceptional in his matches so far…

        I know the sample size is small …but the feeling I am getting about his game and his chances, is similar to the feeling I got in all of his winning runs in hard court the past… I remember when rafa blew away Haas and Gonzalez in the 2nd and 3rd rnds of 2009 Oz, I was secretly quite confident about his title chances…similarly ,his brilliance in the first 2-3 rounds of USO 2010 were enough to convince me rafa is ready to win ! got the same feeling at USO 2013 when rafa swept away dutra silva and dodig in the 2nd and 3 rd rnds…

        I know its not wise to be so confident so early but it is the years watching,following,analyzing rafa’s matches so passionately and meticulously that I am able to have this feeling/positivity or whatever 🙂 …just stating my feeling..may well be wrong ! and it might change in the next few rnds i rafa deviates from his brilliance (HOPE NOT)

        p.s, I am sure some of the other rafanatics get such confident feelings, no? …for me it is not about the scorelines, it is THE WAY rafa is playing …that takes into account every single part of his game

      • I’ve had the same feeling. I don’t know the game as deeply as you do but I have the same feeling, clearly about Rafa right now. Had it a few times in the past. I am soo looking forward to see him in the final. I’m sure he’ll be there. And if it’s Novak on the opposite side and Noval plays with confidence it will be a match to witness. And it won’t go near to six hours.

      • glad you feel the same way ,choloro 🙂 your knowledge and insights about rafa’s game are great and you are a very regular follower too ! yes, the final will be massive

    • This Euro Sports video shows every Monfils’ highlight shots. If you watch only this video, you can be excused to think Monfils won the match. LOL.
      The video on Aussie Open’s site I posted below shows all Rafa highlights.

    • vamosrafa,

      You are not alone! I am getting the same feeling. Also, these feelings started when I first saw Rafa at Doha. Even though he hadn’t been able to practice and was still rusty, the one thing that stood out immediately was his movement on the court. Also, he did come out very aggressive except for the match with Kamke when he seemed to retreat to some defensive play. So this started for me with his first tournament.

      Rafa has gained some speed. He’s moving faster than he did last year. The drop shot tactic hasn’t been working, because he is fast enough most times to get there and hit a winner. He didn’t have that speed last year. We know that the knee was bothering him somewhat, because he mentioned it at times. So he couldn’t move as freely as he might have wanted to do.

      Now he is moving with a great deal of confidence and freedom. As you said, this frees him to be even more aggressive. It was quite something to hear PMac waxing poetic about Rafa serving and then moving into the court to hit a great volley and close out the point quickly. He was more complimentary than I ever remember. .It’s gratifying to hear the guys on ESPN giving Rafa his due.

      I acknowledge that the sample size is small, but not when you factor in Rafa’s performances at Doha. It is more of a continuation of it. I also wondered why Rafa didn’t seem as rusty in these early matches and I remembered the great match play he got at Doha. Then he said that he would have the time to practice a lot before the AO. Obviously, he has been working on key aspects of his game since he won Doha.

      I can’t help but feel very good about the way Rafa is playing now.

      • feeling much more confident now as I have plenty of faith in your observations ! To be honest, I too have been really positive about rafa’s prospects since Doha ! His movement and court positioning and willingness to dictate from both wings was manifest in his matches in Doha ..he was just inconsistent there..I was just waiting for him to improve on that in the earlier nds here and he was done that ! hence, I am now getting that feeling…

        Another good thing is that rafa’s opponents are giving him such nice rhythm ! Nishikori is a tough player but I am sure rafa will play remarkably well and get more rhythm. The quarters against Dimitro/Agut will also serve the purpose. This is ideal preparation. No rhythm-disrupting giants or big servers in rafa’s path…

        BRING IT ON !

  2. I hope that Rafa has answered any doubters with how he is playing on this faster court at the AO. He looked totally comfortable out there.

    Here is a tweet from someone named Genny quoting Rafa on what happened.

    “Rafa on the rolled ankle: “Yes, I twisted it, I’ve made a bad gesture and got scared, but I’ve soon realized it was nothing,…” (1/2)
    “… a little pain at the beginning but it has gone away as the minutes went by” … type=story …

    Here is the English translation from vb forum member nou,amic from Juan Jose Mateo’s report in El Pais.

    “he ended up winning the match 6-1 6-2 6-3 in spite of going over on his ankle in the second set and limping back to his chair where he sat cursing his luck. “A little bit more and I was out of the tournament, but I was able to return to playing normally,” he was to say afterwards.”

  3. Q. Is this the best Nadal you’ve ever seen in the last years?
    GAEL MONFILS: ” Definitely today was in great shape. Much better than Doha, for sure.
    For me, yeah, I would say today was one of the best I haven’t seen for a while.”

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