Ricky Dimon of The Grandstand and Steen Kirby of Tennis Atlantic preview and pick the three best men’s singles matches on Saturday at the Australian Open. Fellow Swiss stars Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka are back in action with quarterfinal spots at stake.
(17) Roger Federer vs. (5) Kei Nishikori
Ricky: Like he often does in majors, Federer mostly sleepwalked past two qualifiers in the first two rounds. But when the going gets tough, the tough get going. Actually, it wasn’t even tough even though the 35-year-old Swiss got a bad draw on paper in the form of Tomas Berdych in the third round. It was supposed to be; but it wasn’t. Federer hammered Berdych 6-2, 6-4, 6-4 in a lightning-quick one hour and 30 minutes and the 17-time Grand Slam champion was every bit as awesome as the scoreline suggests. He is 3-0 in his last three matches against Nishikori and 4-2 overall. As good as Nishikori is (No. 5 in the world), he is–with a few exceptions–one of those guys who rarely loses when he isn’t supposed to lose but rarely wins when he isn’t supposed to win. Well, just watch Federer’s last three sets of tennis to know that Nishikori isn’t supposed to win this one. Federer in 4: 6-2, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4.
Steen: Federer leads the head-to-head series 4-2 and should his hopes should be boosted further by a confident round third-round showing against Berdych. The Swiss Maestro dismantled the Czech and is looking fresh and fit. Nishikori earned his second straight straight-set victory when he thrashed Lukas Lacko after being tested in round one. Nishikori is consistent enough to beat Federer, but Federer has more upside in this matchup and I don’t trust Nishikori’s serve. Federer in 4: 7-5, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4.
(4) Stan Wawrinka vs. Andreas Seppi
Ricky: By his own admission, Wawrinka is way better at the latter stages of Grand Slams than he is at the beginning. So it should come with no real alarm bells that the 2014 champion went to five sets with Martin Klizan in round one and came within one point of going to five sets with Viktor Troicki on Friday. Seppi’s run to the last 16 has come from just about out of nowhere, as the veteran Italian was a borderline disaster throughout 2016. And the road hasn’t been easy. Back-to-back tough tests against Nick Kyrgios (Seppi saved one match point) and Steve Darcis may have taken something out of him. Now into the proverbial second week, Wawrinka should pick up the pace. Wawrinka in 3: 7-6(5), 6-4, 7-5.
Steen: They haven’t met since 2014, but Wawrinka leads the head-to-head series 10-5 and he is facing an opponent who has spent a lot of time on court through three rounds. Wawrinka has not been at his best thus far, but he generally plays great in Melbourne and in the second week his game should improve accordingly. Seppi’s consistency has allowed him to sneak into the fourth round, but Wawrinka should win. Wawrinka in 3: 7-6, 6-4, 6-3.
Dan Evans vs. (11) Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
Ricky: Evans was no stranger to the third round of Grand Slams, and he played like someone who had been there before against Bernard Tomic on Friday night. The stage will be even bigger on Sunday, even though he is not facing an Aussie this time around. Although Tsonga is by no means the toughest possible fourth-round draw for Evans, it won’t be easy. The 2008 runner-up is a proven force Down Under and he made relatively convincing work of a red-hot Jack Sock in round three. Evans is playing by far the best tennis of his career these days and he won’t end his best slam run ever without a fight, but Tsonga will be too fearsome of a foe. Tsonga in 4: 6-3, 7-6(4), 3-6, 6-1.
Steen: Tsonga’s ability to attack the ball is likely to trouble the in-form Evans. The Frenchman is playing quite well at the moment, with just two sets dropped through three rounds. Evans has pulled two upsets to make it this far, though, and his form is better than it’s ever been. I’ll go with the unseeded Brit to make it a third upset in four matches. Evans in 5: 6-4, 4-6, 6-7, 7-5, 6-4.