Ricky Dimon of The Grandstand and Joey Hanf of Cliff Drysdale Tennis preview and pick the four best men’s singles matches on Friday at the Australian Open. The headliner, of course, is a third-round showdown between Roger Federer and Tomas Berdych.
(10) Tomas Berdych vs. (17) Roger Federer
Ricky: Get your popcorn ready for this matchup, which generally takes place much later in tournaments but is happening in the third round now since Federer is down to No. 17 and Berdych is down to No. 10. The 35-year-old Swiss has dropped because of a knee injury that sidelined him for the rest of 2016 after Wimbledon. Berdych has dropped because of consistently underwhelming tennis. Federer’s 2017 comeback has been encouraging for the most part, with solid play at the Hopman Cup and through two rounds in Melbourne. Federer leads the head-to-head series 16-6, including 3-0 at the Aussie Open. Federer in 4: 6-7(4), 6-3, 7-6(4), 6-3.
Joey: If I based my pick on how Federer played Wednesday against Noah Rubin alone, I would not even consider him in this match. As somebody who has watched virtually every Federer match over the last 10 years, I can safely say that was some of the worst tennis he’s played since 2013. Obviously he’s only played a handful of matches in his return from injury, but to me his forehand looks significantly less effective and he even looked tired in the third set against Rubin. Berdych has looked good in this tournament, but he too is getting up there in age. How many chances does he have left? My brain tells me to pick Berdych here; he is hitting the ball so much better from the ground. But instinct tells me that the Czech is going to get a little tight, and Fed will rise to the occasion. Federer in 4: 6-4, 3-6, 7-6(4), 6-3.
(12) Jo-Wilfried Tsonga vs. (23) Jack Sock
Ricky: Sock is the most in-form and arguably the best player outside the top 10 right now. He went 3-1 in singles at the Hopman Cup, won the Auckland title, and so far in Melbourne has crushed Pierre-Hugues Herbert and Karen Khachanov. Tsonga made mostly quick work of an easy draw (Thiago Monteiro and Dusan Lajovic) to reach the third round. The Frenchman generally performs well Down Under and he is a former runner-up of this event (2008), but he is always a question mark physically. There are no questions with Sock at the moment. Sock in 4: 7-5, 4-6, 7-6(7), 6-3.
Joey: I’m looking forward to this one. I feel like Tsonga is going a little under the radar in Melbourne; he didn’t have a great 2016 and is now (somehow) 31 years old. He’s always played like a young guy; lots of energy and emotion. Sock started this year very well, winning a battle with Sousa for the title in Auckland. He is still ripping the forehand from all parts of the court. I am notorious for picking against Sock in matches, but I have to give him a lot of credit because he has truly done some hard work to get physically fit. When you run around that many backhands, you need to be in incredible shape, and he now is. I’ll take Sock–he’s feeling confident. Sock in 4: 6-4, 7-5, 6-7(4), 6-4.
(27) Bernard Tomic vs. Dan Evans
Ricky: Evans is basically an older (albeit by just two years), smaller version of Tomic. The Brit was a wild man off the court in the early stages of his career, wasting a whole lot of talent. He finally buckled down and hard work is paying off in the form of three consecutive trips to the third round of slams. Evans finished runner-up last week in Sydney and dropped a combined one set to Facundo Bagnis and Marin Cilic earlier this week. Tomic, whose fitness is well less than 100 percent right now, could barely stand up at the end of a tough four-set win over Victor Estrella Burgos on Wednesday night. Evans in 4: 5-7, 6-4, 6-3, 6-1.
Joey: The battle of the bad boys…. Both of these guys have gone through some tough times on and off the court in their career. But although many may dislike them, they are unmistakably fun to watch. Evans is playing the best tennis of his life, and Tomic always plays a little more inspired in Australia. There will be plenty of slice backhands; I can assure you that. Other than that, who knows what shenanigans are going to take place out there. Don’t know why I’m feeling confident in Tomic, but I am! Tomic in 3: 6-4, 6-4, 6-4.
Mischa Zverev vs. Malek Jaziri
Ricky: Zverev is coming off a 9-7 in the fifth set win over John Isner in the second round that he undoubtedly should have lost. The veteran German saved two match points and held serve from 0-40 down three different times. Not surprisingly, Zverev had much more left in the tank late in the fifth set than did Isner. Still, a four-hour and 10-minute affair is less than ideal heading into another best-of-five contest two days later. Jaziri, on the other hand, has not dropped a set and did not even play a tiebreaker against Go Soeda and Alexander Bublik. Additionally, the Tunisian is 2-0 in the head-to-head series against Zverev. Jaziri in 4: 6-4, 6-7(6), 6-3 6-2.
Joey: I woke up fairly shocked to see that the elder Zverev had beaten Isner; I fell asleep while the American was cruising. Mischa has had a really solid 12 months after contemplating retirement for some time. He plays the rare style of serve-and-volley but also grinding from the baseline. He doesn’t hit too big from the back of the court but makes a ton of balls. Jaziri has quietly jogged into the third round, and he does have weapons. His forehand is very good and his backhand has nice variety. I’ll take the Tunisian based on rest and energy levels. Jaziri in 3: 7-6(4), 6-4, 6-3.