Ricky Dimon of The Grandstand and Pete Ziebron of Tennis Acumen preview and pick the four best men’s singles matches on Wednesday at the Australian Open. Nick Kyrgios is taking the court and so are a throng of Americans, including John Isner and Jack Sock.
Andreas Seppi vs. (14) Nick Kyrgios
Ricky: These two guys squared off in the fourth round of the 2015 Australian Open and it was a showdown that won’t soon be forgotten. Just 19 years old at the time, Kyrgios battled back from two sets down to score an epic 5-7, 4-6, 6-3, 7-6(5), 8-6 victory. Unless the Aussie’s knee issue flares up, there is no reason to think this one will be so complicated. He thoroughly beat down Gastao Elias 6-1, 6-2, 6-2 on Monday and Seppi, despite a decent four-set win over Paul-Henri Mathieu, is clearly past his prime. Kyrgios in 3: 6-3, 6-4, 6-4.
Pete: Kyrgios may or may not be aware of the fact that Seppi defeated Roger Federer at the Australian Open two years ago. Either way, it really won’t matter–as Kyrgios will take the court and play his game no matter whom he faces on the other side of the net. This game-plan (or lack thereof) by the young Aussie works against much of the ATP field. Seppi, who was seeded last year in Melbourne, now may tumble outside of the top 100 if he fails to win this match. The game of the Italian is respected in the locker room, but Kyrgios has no fear of anyone on tour–except Andy Murray. Kyrgios will once again be in full flight and on to the third round. Kyrgios in 4: 6-2, 7-5, 4-6, 6-3.
(10) Tomas Berdych vs. Ryan Harrison
Ricky: Harrison was the victim of bad draw after bad draw at slams in the early stages of his career. But a bad draw this is not. The 24-year-old American clobbered Nicolas Mahut in his opener and now faces an opponent who is dangerously close to plummeting out of the top 10. Harrison lost their only previous encounter, but it was via an encouraging 6-4, 6-7(2), 6-4 scoreline last summer in Toronto. Expect something similar on Wednesday, with the underdog putting up a real fight before Berdych’s experience proves to be the difference. Berdych in 5: 6-7(5), 6-3, 4-6, 7-6(3), 6-2.
Pete: The top quarter of the men’s draw is absolutely loaded, with the winner of this match having to most likely face Federer in the third round. Berdych takes care of business in the early rounds of majors, having reached the fourth round or better in his last eight such appearances. Harrison will bother him for a while out of the gate, as he will be attempting to reach the third round of a slam for the second consecutive time and match his career-best slam result. The American has an opportunity to see how his game matches up against a solid foe, and he will have to settle for that as his only take away from the contest. Overall, the complete game of the Czech will make inroads and he should mostly cruise. Berdych in 3: 6-4, 7-5, 6-4.
Karen Khachanov vs. (23) Jack Sock
Ricky: Sock is off to an outstanding start in 2017. He went 3-1 in singles at the Hopman Cup and then captured his second career ATP title in Auckland. The 24-year-old American had underwhelmed at slams until last summer’s U.S. Open, where he upset Marin Cilic before losing to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in in a four-set fourth-rounder. Interestingly, Sock’s path to the Aussie Open quarterfinals is the same–but in reverse order: Tsonga in round three and Cilic in round four. Of course, he first has to get past Khachanov. The 20-year-old Russian is an up-and-coming talent who lifted an ATP trophy last fall in Chengdu. Huge baseline hitting is sure to be on display from both men in this one, but it’s Sock who has been here before. Sock in 4: 6-2, 6-7(6), 6-3, 6-3.
Pete: Sock won his second career title last weekend in Auckland. He appears ready to take the mantle from Isner as the top American this year and maintain that distinction going forward. Yet, one wonders how good he can be if he decides to dedicate himself to a serious fitness program. Khachanov appeared briefly on the radar of tennis aficionados as a 17-year-old in 2013, when he defeated Janko Tipsarevic to reach the quarterfinals of the 250-point event in Moscow. He shot up the rankings with the Chengdu title last October and now finds himself in the second round of a major in as many appearances, this time against a talented American. Sock has been around the block considerably more than his Russian opponent and this fact makes the difference in the match. Sock in 4: 6-7(5), 6-2, 7-5, 6-3.
(19) John Isner vs. Mischa Zverev
Ricky: This matchup is nowhere near as good for Isner as his 2-0 head-to-head series lead suggests. Their first meeting can be discounted because it came back in 2009. They just recently faced each other last fall in Paris, where Isner prevailed 7-6(8), 6-4 on his way to the final. But Zverev had played a ton of tennis heading into that event and must have been fatigued. It was also on a relatively fast indoor hard court. This time around Isner will have to deal with oppressive heat, which he has never liked. The 6’10”’ American has also never liked playing lefties, his two wins over Zverev notwithstanding. This has major upset potential for the in-form German. Zverev in 4: 7-6(6), 6-7(7), 6-4, 7-6(4).
Pete: Isner fired 33 aces in his opening-round match en route to a four-set victory over Kravchuk. He can expect a comparable performance in the next round against the veteran Zverev, as well. It is a bit surprising that the lanky American has reached just one quarterfinal appearance in a major in his career. However, Isner finished 2016 strong in reaching the Paris Masters ginal (lost to Murray, whom he may meet again in the Aussie Open round of 16). Zverev will consider his berth in the second round a success, as he recorded just his second win ever at the Australian Open with a straight-set defeat of Garcia-Lopez. The lefty will perform well for a set and a half before the 19th-seeded American begins to take over. Isner in 3: 7-6(4), 6-4, 6-3.