Ricky Dimon of The Grandstand and Joey Hanf of Cliff Drysdale Tennis preview and pick the four best men’s singles matches on Tuesday at the Australian Open. Feliciano Lopez, Fabio Fognini, Gilles Muller, and Taylor Fritz are among those in action.
Fabio Fognini vs. (28) Feliciano Lopez
Ricky: The first time Lopez and Fognini faced each other was two days after Fognini upset Rafael Nadal at the U.S. Open. He was obviously never going to follow that up with another win. They also squared off last summer at Wimbledon, where Lopez came back from two sets down to prevail. Fognini has done nothing of late to suggest he is going to turn the tide. As long as Lopez is 100 percent (he gave Jeremy Chardy a walkover in Auckland), the Spaniard should get the job done. Lopez in 4: 6-4, 6-1, 2-6, 6-2.
Joey: This is my favorite first-round match. It’s wild to me that these guys are playing in the first round. Fogs didn’t fare well in 2016, but still has the ability to play at an insane level. Lopez keeps getting older…but he’s the one who is seeded! The shenanigans in this match should be epic. Fognini can get frustrated against big servers, and point penalties are certainly not out of the question. On the medium-slow hard courts of Melbourne, I think this match favors the Italian, who hit through the court from the baseline much easier than Lopez does. Still, this one could be classified as a toss-up. Fognini in 4: 7-6(7), 4-6, 6-3, 7-5.
Gilles Muller vs. Taylor Fritz
Ricky: Muller finally captured his first ATP title this past week in Sydney. The only bad news is that he has to make a quick turnaround for the season’s first Grand Slam. Fortunately, the 33-year-old is on the bottom half of the draw so he gets two days of rest instead of one. Fritz has not yet played this year and he may have spent the offseason more concerned with family matters than with tennis. The American could start a bit slow in 2017, while Muller’s momentum is likely to continue. Muller in 4: 7-6(4), 3-6, 6-2, 6-4.
Joey: Muller broke the spell of losing in ATP finals in Sydney, and he showed how much it really meant to him in post-match interview. I’m very interested to see how Fritz fares in 2017. I still believe he has the tools to be a great, great player. But the tour, after seeing him for nearly 10 months, has started to uncover some of his weaknesses. He moves okay for a big guy, but it’s what often gets exposed against the better players. This is an interesting matchup; the rallies should be pretty short, and those will benefit Muller. Fritz should try and extend points as much as he can as he’s the clear favorite in extended baseline rallies. I’ll take Fritz in a close one, with Muller having a bit of fatigue after a long week in Sydney. Fritz in 4: 7-6(4), 7-5, 6-7(5), 6-3.
Alexandr Dolgopolov vs. Borna Coric
Ricky: Coric clobbered Nadal (albeit a fatigued Nadal) at the Cincinnati Masters last August and has not won a match since. Dolgopolov has not won a match since last July. Someone is going to have to win this one. Both injury-plagued competitors have already taken losses in 2017. Coric fell to Hyeon Chung in Chennai, while Dolgopolov succumbed to Nadal in Brisbane and then to eventual champion Gilles Muller in Sydney. This one is tough to call, but Coric may want it more. Coric in 5.
Joey: This match one year ago would likely have drawn a lot more excitement. Coric is coming off a rather mediocre sophomore season on tour. After shooting up the rankings and beating many of the top players, the Croatian’s weaknesses began to present themselves. Quite simply, there is one thing holding him back; the forehand. His serve and backhand are elite shots, but his forehand is easily attackable and he struggles to generate his own pace. Dolgopolov has proven to be totally unpredictable over the span of his career. At his best he is an incredible shot-maker. At his worst he plays with no margin and can lose a match in record time. Still, he will likely be dictating points in this one, and look for him to utilize his slice backhand to Coric’s forehand. Dolgopolov in 4: 6-3, 3-6, 6-4, 6-2.
Mikhail Youzhny vs. Marcos Baghdatis
Ricky: The head-to-head series, which Youzhny leads 4-3, is basically a wash. They have met only once since 2010 and they have never faced each other on an outdoor hard court. In what is sure to be a ball-striking clinic from the baseline, I give a slight edge to Baghdatis based on current form. Youzhny led eventual champ Roberto Bautista Agut by a set and a break in the Chennai quarterfinals before collapsing. Baghdatis, the 2006 Aussie Open runner-up, is coming off a semifinal performance in Auckland. Baghdatis in 5.
Joey: This is a really good match and I don’t think a lot of people are talking about it. Yes, both players are well past their prime but Baghdatis has played well over the last 12 months and Youzhny has had a bit of a resurgence himself. This one just screams five-setter. The crowd in Australia loves the Cypriot, and it’s almost certainly going to be a must watch. They’ve played each other seven times,but only once in the last six years. I’ll take Baghdatis simply due to current form; he was striking it well in Sydney. Baghdatis in 5: 7-6(3), 4-6, 2-6, 7-5, 6-3.