Jan 20, 2023

2023 Australian Open ATP & WTA Round Three Day 1

McDonald vs Nishioka :

I heard a lot of “Nadal’s injury aside, McDonald was the better player for the first two sets” comments being thrown around. I understand Nadal’s hip issue because apparent in the third set, but he was not himself at any point this week. Mackie played a great style of tennis to get the win, but it was a formula that was going to pay off. Had Draper’s body not given up on him, he was likely to get the win also. Nadal was making poor contact, the balls are not moving through the court for him because he hits with so much topspin, and he has a foot injury that he’s favoring heavily, which causes compounding injuries. Great win for McDonald, but for analysis purposes I don’t see him as a different player post-match. Nishioka won their recent meeting in Adelaide 3,4, and I’m expecting a similar plot here. Nishioka is a little bit better defensively, and he’s gotten here with about two less hours on the court by virtue of winning in straight sets. McDonald will have the emotional dump of a huge win to come back from, and he trails in the H2H so this is an uphill battle.

The reason why I’d give McDonald a chance is because of the unique conditions here in Australia. The slow balls and fast courts are giving a huge edge to players who hit flatter. It’s been reflected in the odds a handful of times but yesterday was the first day it was absurdly clear. Gracheva is Federer with these balls. Parrizas-Diaz can beat Haddad Maia and keep Potapova below 6 games. Brandon Holt can hit clean winners past RBA every other point. Medvedev is joyously scrambling around the court seeing how hard he can hit the ball and still not miss. It’s just a really unique set of conditons and Mackie’s best attribute is his aggressive almost overhand ability to flatten shots out with his forehand. If Nishioka doesn’t keep to Mackie’s backhand, it could be very close. The odds also (at -160 for Nishioka) aren’t really reflecting Nishioka’s good form and past dominance in a major way. There could be some “public just watched Nadal lose to McDonald so they’ll bet on him” baked into it, but I think it will take a little more than usual for Nishioka to win here. Nishioka in 4-5.

Khachanov vs Tiafoe :

Kubler and Khachanov played a 70 shot rally. I wasn’t tuned in at the time, and I haven’t watched the replay yet. Honestly, it’s a pretty big commitment. Feels about the same as when people recommend I watch One Piece. Khachanov has always been pretty solid at tennis, but he’s starting to get past the rough early round losses against grinders. In the past Kubler might have had a shot, but here it felt like he had to redline throughout while Khachanov could just stay the course. Tiafoe enjoyed his 2nd round match, and him and Shang had a bunch of ridiculous rallies. Shang has a lot of style and his ability to go up the line when running to his forehand wing is something we’re seeing more lefties on tour develop (Shapo, Draper, Moutet, WHERE YOU AT NORRIE?)

I like Tiafoe in this matchup but it should be dead even. The conditions slightly favor Tiafoe since his serve is a little faster/more varied than Khachanov’s in big matches and his backhand is pretty flat. These courts are not putting you on a string just because you take a little off a shot either. We saw Ruud/Nadal try and fail to implement the heavy topspin forehands as a strategy, and Murray just punished every inside in forehand Kokkinakis hit last night. I’m overstressing the conditions, but they’re having a real effect on the results. Tiafoe is on a 7 match win-streak and he’s fresh. Both players are still improving, so this match does feel like it has some career implications. The total is set at 41.5 which is about as high as you’ll see it in a non-servebot match. Should be absurdly good, but I think Frances has the slightly more repeatable offense as the match goes on. Tiafoe in 5.

Hurkacz vs Shapovalov :

I’ve made some chirps about Shapovalov gaining weight in the form of muscle and this making him more consistent even though his shot selection is still that of an excited dog when the doorbell rings. This is the big test for whether he’s aware of how effective his power can be without going for huge winners. Hurkacz may have gone 5 with Sonego, but he’s a very consistent player and he won their previous meeting in Miami. Those courts are somewhat similar to Melbourne, and Hurkacz has thrived there. It’s a mental test here for Denis. He can return well enough to get into rallies, but Hurkacz will be putting balls in play also. When they’re in rallies, Hurkacz tends to be a little more passive than you might expect for a tall guy. This actually makes him a pretty good candidate to earn unforced errors from Shapovalov. If Shap can register this (or if his team can) then he’ll play a bit more reserved and know that he’s safe working long points and also that he’s gradually taking Hurkacz’ legs out from under him.

I see this going two ways. One, Hurkacz walks around as usual and is just a bit more reliable on serve in big moments. Two, Shapovalov digs in and isolates Hurkacz’s backhand until his first serve suffers. I’m not sure which will come, and neither are books as they’ve made this a pickem. Shapovalov is the flight risk, but this is also the best tennis he’s ever played. Hurkacz in 4 or Shapovalov in 5.

Korda vs Medvedev :

Millman put up a great fight against Medvedev, but it wasn’t really concerning for me. Daniil looked like he was having fun. I’ve mentioned that at times it looks like peak Djokovic wants the ball to come back. When you really get to that flow-state level, you’re just enjoying the game. You still want to win the rallies, but you’re not concerned about losing them. Medvedev was swinging for the fences, and the ball was landing in the court. Slow balls you can’t hit by him, and fast courts that benefit flat hitters. A guy who’s quietly been thinking about revenge for a year, who has dominant wins against everyone left in the tournament. The guy who always beats him out with an injury. The guy who can beat him at his peak struggling with an injury issue that is unlikely to heal mid-tournament. It’s a good spot.

Even with all that stuff going on for Medvedev, this is still a tricky match. Korda has the same sense of urgency as a manatee, and probably eats more leafy greens judging by his lustrous follicles. Can he be found munching on seagrass in the canals of Florida? You tell me. Accurate comparisons aside, Korda is in his best form. He’s serving great which can bother Medvedev (some tough L’s to Opelka/Pospisil stand out), and he hits big enough in rallies and is consistent enough that he isn’t trying to beat the clock like Kokkinakis was against Murray. Korda should be the same in the fifth as he is in the fourth. Getting there is the tricky part. I do think he’ll win a set here, because Medvedev in his zeal against Millman did get himself broken a handful of times, and Korda’s backhand is way more effective than Millman’s. Expecting 4-5 sets here and this is a real good look at the title situation. If Med wins here in 4 and Djokovic looks hindered or vulnerable against Dimitrov, I think the favorite for the title switches. Medvedev in 4.

Tsitsipas vs Griekspoor :

Griekspoor beat Botic in straight sets, and the oddsmakers made him +800 against Tsitsipas. I get it, but I don’t like it. He’s really good at trading power and he’s in a great rhythm. Stefanos has been rolling, but against whom? Halys who was never regarded as a tour threat until he servebotted Djokovic? Hijikata whose progress I love but who would be a pickem against basically any Challenger champion? I’m loving Tsitsipas’ focus on the court, but I’m not sold on him being mentally strong yet when he’s playing for himself. Team Greece gave him much-needed structure, and the normal tour tends to devolve players thinking into combative “gotta beat him” or selfish “i wanna win nooooo” instincts depending on how the play is flowing. Individual sports are tough, and this will be a good visual of Tsitsipas’ level against a good challenge. Griekspoor can’t beat the best Tsitsipas, but the best Tsitsipas will need to show up to ensure that this isn’t a close contest. I think Tsitsipas will blink, and I don’t expect Griekspoor to be physically fatigued enough not to be able to hang in for a few sets. Tallon’s forehand can get a bit predictable going crosscourt and Tsitsipas can probably hurt him from there. Should be good though. Tsitsipas in 4.

Fucsovics vs Sinner :

Another -1000 classic. Fun fact : Fucsovics has beaten Sinner twice in the past three years, including in 2020 at this exact tournament. Their positions on tour have kinda fluctuated since then, but Sinner’s has gone steadily up and Fucsovics has been gone and back several times. He got a big boost from a quick win against Lloyd Harris, who was a bit flat in their second round. This is one where Fucsovics probably can’t win, because his backhand just isn’t that great, but I am always hesitant to predict a blowout where a player has had success in the past. Jannik is an overwhelming baseliner, and he’ll have a safe haven in Marton’s backhand. I’m interested to see if there’s a dynamic present that led to Fucsovics winning in the past. Sinner in 3-4.

Lehecka vs Norrie :

These two just played in Auckland, with Norrie winning in 3 close sets. Lehecka is off to his best start ever, and is probably doing enough here to establish himself on tour for at least a few years. He has a tremendous motor, and really pressured Chris Eubanks from start to finish. Breaking a server like Eubanks multiple times in a match is impressive. I’m aware, like we all are, of the wall that Norrie can be, but Lehecka will feel relatively comfortable here with the opponent which is a big key at a new format. Cam has had some slow starts, so the first set will probably be important for Lehecka to get on board. There are just a lot of matches in this round where the underdog is dangerous, but the favorite feels inevitable. A good day to skip as far as betting, and a great day to tune in and watch a great upset story. If Norrie serves well, he should win in 4. If he has to push his way through this, it may get dangerously close. We’ve seen a lot of frontrunning underdogs get reeled in this week, but I don’t think Lehecka is the guy you want to do that against because his game is predicated on big hitting over long durations, and Norrie’s first serve can disappear at times. Norrie in 4-5.

Cerundolo vs Auger-Alliassime :

Another -1000 piece of glorious disrespect. Cerundolo’s big hardcourt results as in Miami, and those conditions feel similar to these. The snooze button on Felix’s phone probably is worn out at this point. Molcan opened up their match playing great, and he opened up a two sets lead. Up two set, he was still only like -180 against FAA. Felix just seems better at tennis than a lot of players, and once they’re unable to rush him he dominates things with his forehand. How many 0-2 comebacks have we watched him pull off at the majors. It does feel a bit like Nishikori, where his stats are remarkable for 3rd setters but it’s because they’re in matches where he never should have been in a 3rd set. Molcan took it well, but it is a hard loss to eat and the inevitable feeling about it even in the third set is just heavy on an opponent. Cerundolo stayed solid against Moutet, who threw his usual tantrums and racquets while Francisco focused, hit heavy forehands, got Moutet moving, and won the match. The main thing I saw Cerundolo doing well (besides heavy forehands) was closing to net. Every time Moutet opened his racquet face or let himself drift deep, Ceru closed the angle. I think if FAA starts off slow against, Cerundolo will apply the same pressure.

The odds make me think Felix will get going sooner than later, but I expect some good tennis here, not a blowout. The tricky part is that Cerundolo’s backhand isn’t really great, and being a claycourter he does tend to play at a slower pace than Felix usually pushes. FAA in 4.

WTA Singles :
Swiatek vs Bucsa :

If you thought I complained a lot about -1000 being too much, wait til you hear about the -3333 Swiatek is listed at. What in the what? Bucsa is a really dangerous opponent, comes from Spanish tennis so you know she’s got good fundamentals and training, and she just beat Andreescu. Like everyone else, I think Swiatek is going to win, but I have some reservations about her level until I see it against a top name. This is the round before the round, with Collins/Rybakina waiting in the next match. Bucsa’s power has kept her ahead of her opponents, so it’ll be interesting early to see how Swiatek trades. The conditions aren’t ideal for her forehand, but tennis has been trumping flat hitting here this week at the top level so Iga is still likely to control this. Great streak for Bucsa and she, like the rest of the Spanish next gen, is going to be really good this season. Second big test for Swiatek; Bucsa’s offense does come with some errors at times, so she should be able to regroup if Cristina gets a lead. Swiatek in 2 (probably one close and one not so close).

Rybakina vs Collins :

A lot of rematches on tour this week because of all the warmup events. Adelaide featured a 3 set loss for Collins against Rybakina, but I didn’t see it. Elena rolled in round two beating Juvan 2,3. Collins had a real tough test against Muchova, but got it done in the end. I see this as being a frustrating matchup for Collins. She gets fired up and she tries to dominate baseline exchanges, but Rybakina hits bigger than her. She’s also not very reactive at all, so I do think Danielle will be doing a lot of unfulfilled staring across the net to see a reaction. Collins being a great competitor gives her a shot, but this is uphill as far as tennis. Rybakina has a much better serve, and a huge forehand. Collins backhand is better, but when the ball is coming back heavy it can be tough to avoid the tape. I expect this to be even but it feels like Rybakina wins this 2/3 times. Rybakina in 3.

Baindl vs Ostapenko :

Anna Bondar had that match wrapped up. Ostapenko seems a bit out of shape, and Bondar’s serve and forehand were firing. Once Jelena got a read on it though, she was a constant presence in Bondar’s mind. 2/3 tennis is a sprint, but Ostapenko backs herself to find her range even when she’s in trouble. She’ll hit 40 unforced errors if you hit 40 first serves, but that’s really tough to do. Up next is Baindl, who pulled off the upset against McNally. Baindl is actually the player who ended Ostapenko’s title defense in RG. She’s just going to be looking to win the unforced error/winner count against Jelena here, and with Ostapenko not at her fittest there is an outside chance of that. Baindl has great staying power in rallies, and she’s familiar with her opponent and has been way more active on tour. The trouble is on serve. Baindl will be giving Ostapenko a ton of chances to swing freely since her delivery is a bit slow. I’m sort of leaning into the upset here, as the H2H is close and Ostapenko will have to do a lot of work to win. Baindl in 3.

Pera vs Gauff :

So there is a lefty thing apparently. Pera can be really sharp, but Zheng shouldn’t lose to her. This is something like 4 losses to lefties in 5 matches against them. Regrettably, this one was over so quick that I didn’t catch much of it. I did catch Gauff and Raducanu though, which was really amazing in the second set. Raducanu was outclassed as far as consistent and pace early on in the match, but she dug in and the two really played some classy rallies. It was also a good sign for Raducanu’s fitness to hold up, as she’s struggled with injuries. My take on Gauff is pretty simple, I don’t think there are many players that can hit through her right now. She’s so fast and she’s hitting her backhand down the center of the court when she’s pulled wide with good depth and pace. It just makes it tough to really create for her opponents. Gauff’s forehand still finds the bottom of the net when she swings too fast or tries to do too much, but having Pera’s backhand as a clear target will likely make her a bit more consistent on that wing. If this were Zheng vs Gauff I’d have it dead even, so I’m hesitant to doubt Pera in this spot. Again though, I suspect Zheng has a problem against lefties, and this would be the win of Pera’s career. Gauff in 2.

Pegula vs Kostyuk :

Conditons are perfect for Pegula. She’s crushing the ball, and it’s slow enough that you can’t get it by her. This should have some fireworks in it since Kostyuk is curretly swinging for the fences AND clearing the net. This will be the first match where we see if Pegula’s level is about easy competition, or if she’s a real threat for this title. Marta should see success here, but her proclivity for closing to net when it’s not time to may hurt her. Pegula is really stable on the move and she’s pretty good at keeping her passes low. Pegula’s playing well and it probably won’t disappear. I think Kostyuk can win a set, but I don’t think she can maintain the level that it will take to win the whole match. Pegula in 3.

Krejcikova vs Kalinina :

This is actually starting while I’m finishing this but I’m not tuned in so these are technically pre-match thoughts. The Murray match running late has me on 3 hours of sleep right now, but now that I’ve learned he’s an automatic 5-set win I can sleep through his next match. Krejcikova has been finding her game again. She might be up against it here though. Kalinina’s offense is legit. She outlasted Kvitova, and with Krejcikova still a tiny bit rusty, Anhelina could earn some unforced errors if she plays well. Krejcikova is the one who has to do less to win, as her consistent hitting and base level is more repeatable, but I don’t think it will score so easily on Kalinina unless she’s forcing things. Kalinina in 3.

Azarenka vs Keys :

Azarenka always wins this matchup, so it’s pretty alarming to see Keys around a pickem with her. Azarenka is also playing very well, so I still give her a slight edge. Keys is crushing the ball, but she hasn’t hit that consistent level that saw her make a deep run here last year. Her backhand was ripping stuff down the line then, and like most 3rd rounds here, this is a spot to see if either of these players will elevate to the moment. As they’re playing now, they both probably crash out in the quarterfinals at best. If Azarenka wins in straights, it is most likely due to Madison’s errors. If Keys wins in straights though, we can talk about a run to the semis. Azarenka in 3ish.

Zhu vs Sakkari :

Sakkari was extremely rattled against Shnaider, who basically won the match but lost the war. She applied constant pressure with her forehand crosscourt and came up with 39 winners. In the end, Sakkari’s physical strength prevailed as she was able to force 52 unforced errors with her defending. I think the stat name is a bit misleading sometimes. If you’re playing uphill and need to go big, those aren’t unforced errors. If you’re feeling pressure because of Sakkari’s footspeed and push the ball a bit long, that’s a forced error to me. Sakk attack somehow also went into the negative on winners to unforced (32,40), but she’ll be happy with this win. The “oh she almost lost here, so Zhu has a shot” narrative popped up in my head, but I think Shnaider is a lot better than Zhu. It really was an incredible performance and she’s going to have a solid year. Zhu is winning with power and stability. Teichmann had a hard time creating, and Zhu seems to be getting better week by week this year. At her best, I think she plays even with Sakkari. Maria has shown that she can play top level tennis, but that it doesn’t happen for a full match if there’s adversity. She gets into bad mental states on the court, and she can lose confidence in her swings. The dropshot happy urge is also there in pressure moments, which is something that takes time to get rid of. She still should win though, because Zhu is just a test of your ability to defend for 2 hours. Sakkari in 3.