Jan 20, 2023

2023 Australian Open ATP & WTA Round Three Day 2

ATP Singles :
Rublev vs Evans :

If you enjoy people getting upset, you’re gonna love Rublev. Yesterday Rublev played great. It’s a new season, Rublev is healthy, the balls are slow enough to give him time to cover the court, and he’s crushing it. He was up two sets on Ruusuvuori, and despite Emil starting to find his range, the outcome looked assured. He got issued an audible obscenity warning for cursing in Russian (якобы) and he argued it for a while. This resulted in ragemode, and he was quickly broken and gave up the set. Not a big deal here, but being that visibly wound up is a slight weakness in big moments. The tour is generally pretty sporting, but in a pressure moment, knowing Rublev will lose it, do people take an extra second before he serves? Will they encourage rowdy fans to make noise when he’s in a tough scoreline? Are players going to exhale louder if they think it might be bothering him? It’s little things that make you vulnerable. We all watched a marathon match with Murray and Kokkinakis constantly monitoring each other looking for cracks. At the highest level, where Rublev is aiming, you need to have composure. In Rublev’s defense, maybe he didn’t curse. Still, who cares what warning the umpire gives you; take a deep breath, and continue playing tennis.

Evans had a gift of a draw so far, playing Bagnis who’s not a great threat on hardcourt and Chardy who’s solid but is a bit past his prime and coming off a two year layoff. Dan and Rublev have met a couple times before, with Evans winning the most recent match on hardcourt 6-4, 6-4 in Montreal last season. Here, Rublev has looked much sharper than Evans, but I would still expect this to be somewhat close. Evans footspeed can frustrate Rublev, and his slice gets pretty low at times which can frustrate Rublev. Also sometimes there’s wid which can frustrate Rublev. Also sometimes there’s nothing to get upset about which can frustrate Rublev. I still like Rublev, and I think it’ll take a strong performance in the next round by Rune to get him. Rublev in 4-5.

Rune vs Humbert :

Kudla fought pretty hard in his match with Humbert, but he wasn’t able to defend well enough to have a chance. When Humbert had time on his forehand, he was able to find clean winners over and over. It’s good to see Ugo playing solid again, and he has a pretty big cheering section that’s giving him a little chestpuff during the late moments in matches. His resurgence sets up an interesting match against a guy who’s not really a known quantity at this event. Holger Rune is playing well, and ended last year playing incredibly. He’s moved from +2000 pre-tournament, to +3000 once the draw came out, to +800 this round in the futures markets. This is partially because of Novak’s injury and partially because he’s rolling through this draw. Beating Cressy in straight sets is real tough, and Rune broke him in each set.

For the most part, I expect Rune to win this. He’s more physically strong than Humbert, and he’s been playing tour tennis for a solid stretch now. My hesitation is his loss to Nishioka a week ago. He started off great but seemed to lose the plot on his shot selection. It is tough to beat lefties, and Humbert holds his swings very late so it’s a tough defensive test for Rune. Rune in 4, and if it’s 3 I think you’ll see his odds drop again.

Dimitrov vs Djokovic :

It’s funny for there to be a huge question surrounding Djokovic’s injury when it’s pretty apparent that his movement is hindered. He appears to have a hamstring/hip issue and against Enzo Couacaud (not pronounced at all how I was pronouncing it btw so be glad this isn’t a podcast) he played as if he was injured. We’ve all been there. You get injured, your mobility is limited, and you decide you’ll just get super accurate and win anyway. It’s almost always fool’s gold, and the injuries compound when you favor something. This makes the odds of Djokovic winning multiple difficult rounds from here on out nearly impossible. Questions abound though, because we have seen several examples recently of players claiming major injuries and winning major titles. There’s no treatment he can really receive other than stabilization and painkillers, so we need a real offensive threat to see how he handles the situation. The swing for the fences Djokovic is tremendous to watch, and he appears to be wincing moving towards the sidelines but he also made a number of tremendously quick moves to shots.

Dimitrov is in great form, and he’ll show us whether Djokovic’s injury will get worse if he faces a real challenge, or if it’s pretty much as is and he can grit through it and be 80% of himself. 80% Djokovic is 100% better than Dimitrov. Grigor is playing near his peak, having just rolled Djere in 3 sets. Traditionally, this is where Dimitrov folds. He’s just a cut below the top players in terms of mettle and consistency on the court, and there’s something to be said for having every shot making things difficult because it’s hard to have a defined game in the big moments. There are too many ifs in this matchup to really know what’s going to happen. We hope Djokovic stays healthy enough to play, especially since Dimitrov seems primed to offer a real challenge. I don’t think Dimitrov winning changes a lot about the texture of the draw as far as 2nd tier contenders (Medvedev/Rune/etc) but it would really spark back up the “heir apparent” chatter that used to surround Dimitrov. If he’s moving okay, then Djokovic serves too well to lose. His backhand is a lot better than Dimi’s, and his forehand has been properly warmed up since he was looking to get aggressive against Couacaud. Djokovic in 4 or Dimitrov via forfeit.

Popyrin vs Shelton :

What? The line for this is even odds. Popyrin is playing incredible tennis right now. He’s serving huge, his forehand is hitting clean winners, and his backhand is fairly reliable. He just beat Taylor Fritz in a match where Fritz didn’t really play that bad. For him to still be slated at even odds with Shelton is kinda wild, because for me Shelton winning this match right now would be a huge upset. Don’t tell that to Shelton though, who just triumphed against Jarry in an amazing contest that I worry a lot of people missed. Shelton has the serve to hang even with Popyrin, and what I’ve liked this week is how solid he’s been from the baseline. He’s crushing forehands down the line, and he’s a little bit bigger than Popyrin which can pay dividends in what I expect to be a serving battle.

Popyrin will get the added bonus of the crowd getting involved, and the Aussie crowd is borderline interference when an Australian is out there. I’m not sure this will really bother Ben, as he gets pretty fired up without any outside assistance. If it sounds like I’m warming up to believe in Ben Shelton, I might be? Popyrin did play 5 with Tseng and he’s just had the best win of his career (at a major). It could be a spot for a slight letdown, and preseason if you asked who’d have a better year I’d have gone with Shelton. Playing lefties is always tough and the tour doesn’t really have many huge serving lefties at this point so it presents a unique challenge.

On paper, Popyin is having the higher tier year. Wins against Fritz and FAA mean he should be favored here. I’m expecting a shootout, and Popyrin has indicated he’s done a lot of hard work in the off-season so if he’s to be trusted, he should have the edge in a long match. Popyrin in 5.

Wolf vs Mmoh :

This is a very surprising pair to be in a third round at any ATP event. J.J. got the benefit of a somewhat injured Diego Schwartzman. He refused to withdraw but he just wasn’t able to push himself physically. As a result, he left a lot of balls short and Wolf has real nice power on his forehand wing. This match is on his racquet as well, but this appears to be a new Mmoh. It’s hard to talk about the win against Zverev as a huge event in terms of win prediction, as Zverev appears to be there for the taking at this point. He’s lost to Lehecka (doesn’t look so bad now that he beat Norrie), Mmoh, and almost went down the Varillas. He looks okay physically, but it’s clear he’s not feeling sharp out there. I’ve thought of Mmoh as a pusher in the past, but I only really assigned him that moniker because it explained why he was losing matches. If he’s winning, I have zero problem with his style.

Wolf is the bigger hitter and is pretty fresh for this match. Mmoh has come through qualifying so he’s spent a bit more time on court. Given his fitness levels though, he should be okay. Wolf won their previous two matches in straight sets, and I expect him to prevail here as long as he’s fresh. Mmoh’s resurgence is great to see, but I think he’s going to be slightly less able to produce here. Wolf in 4.

Berrettini Kokkinakis Murray vs Bautista-Agut :

Murray should stop taking wild cards. Murray should let the younger players have a shot. Murray should play a more aggressive style. Murray can’t move. Murray is going to get tired. Murray should stop yelling at his box. Murray is washed. Lots of Murray opinions have flown around the past few seasons. All of them true, but none of them can take away the tennis he has played this week. Andy is doing to these young stars what he has done for a long time; exposing his opponents backhands. To be blunt, Berrettini and Kokkinakis’ backhands are not technically sound, and are not complete. As a result, they faltered in key moments. As a result, they both wound up trying to cover that wing enough that Murray’s somewhat diminished forehand was able to find inside in winners over and over. Kokkinakis’ problem in this one was the inability to hit backhands without intent. Murray is able to swing over and over and drive the ball cross-court to safe targets where his opponent can’t really do a lot but has to deal with the pace. Kokkinakis wound up pushing a lot of his in and just trying to keep them low over the net. The one thing this week that Murray has still struggled with is lateral movement. He has the best defensive lobs in the game, but they’re still lobs, and he’s still far off the court when he’s hitting them.

When you’re done point at the issues with Kokkinakis’ game, (and those issues are minimal), it’s time to admit what a ridiculously high level contest this really was. There was a few hour stretch where it seemed like Murray just would not miss. His play at net was incredibly clutch, and his serving is much improved from anything we’ve seen in the past few seasons. His fitness also seems to have made huge progress as back to back 5 setters is something he just couldn’t do last year. Kokkinakis and Murray were incredibly clutch saving break points, and Thanasi’s serve is the type of weapon that makes him a great big-match player. Also, frosted tips. Pro tip : frost ur tips.

RBA almost lost to Brandon Holt, but when he found his second gear he never dropped out of it. It was pretty clear RBA’s legs are getting a bit tired, as Holt was able to find a lot of clean winners in the match. He just isn’t able to go 5 sets with that caliber of player yet. I’m not sure who’ll be more tired here, Murray with two five setters or RBA with one after a title run the week before. From the odds (-450 for RBA) and the H2H (RBA has won almost all their hardcourt meetings and all the recent ones) it would seem that this is the end of the road for Murray. RBA’s backhand won’t break down, and he’s able to move the ball without errors or exertion which is something Berrettini and Kokkinakis really aren’t known for. Standing O for Murray regardless of what happens, but this is probably a match where he won’t have a safezone to hit to. RBA in 4.

Paul vs Brooksby :

Tommy Paul survived the ADF 5 set curse. It was a classic shootout and Fokina has shown that without form or consistent results he’s able to elevate against the game’s second tier stars. I’m not sure when he’ll develop consistency and patience, but those are the two things missing from his game. He’s a bit like Shapovalov where he’s too willing to shoot in the big moments, and he’s always looking to create. It’s good to play aggressive, but tennis is a game of measured aggression rather than nonstop assault. I was excited for Tommy Paul to have a good shot against Ruud, but Brooksby went ahead and stole that opportunity. Jenson was a wall, and Ruud just couldn’t find offense in these conditions. Brooksby won almost all the backhand exchanges, and his ability to flatten out cross-court forehand on the run really took away Ruud’s ability to work his inside-in forehand. It always felt like Ruud would get going, but these conditions just don’t favor his game. I think we’ll see the normal Ruud return at the next few events, but this AO is very much favoring the flat hitters and defenders and Brooksby is built for these conditions.

All value on Brooksby has been pulled in this round. He’s down at +127 which, despite the conditions, is a fairly big hedge against exposure by the books considering Tommy Paul is playing well, is more experienced, is physically stronger, and won their last match 6-2, 6-3. It’s enough to make me expect a close match, and Brooksby’s ability to defend and make the game boring is really going to pay dividends at times against Paul who is almost nonstop offense. Tommy’s serving will be a key here. Brooksby is fairly accurate, but it’s not a huge delivery. Paul is able to really get enough pop on his serve that he’s moving forwards on the next ball generally, and his footspeed means he’s often closing out points at net quickly. I don’t see a real way to know who wins here. The dog is getting a boost here from the conditions, and the favorite has just played 5 with a guy who I think is a bit worse than Brooksby. Paul in 5.

WTA Singles :
Gracheva vs Pliskova :

Considering Varvara Gracheva is just 22 years old, a big run here at a major is something that should get a bit more fanfare. It’s just two rounds, but it’s the quality of play that has been so impressive. Gracheva is creating really sharp angles and her play reminds me a bit of Goffin at the moment. Here she arrives and is +300 against Pliskova. This is more about Pliskova’s level than Gracheva’s helplessness here. For reference, Sonego was +300 against Sonego and had a 5 setter. Murray was +300 against Berrettini and won. It doesn’t preclude you from winning, but books can’t allow people to just dunk on Pliskova’s solid play, especially since she’s won hardcourt majors before. This is one where I expect Gracheva to just lose the serving battle. Pliskova is vulnerable at times to good defenders, but Gracheva’s game is more about smooth offense and flat forehands/backhands. Conditions suit her so she’s dangerous, but like some of the other matches this is one where she’d basically be announcing herself as a threat for the title if she’s able to beat Pliskova. Expecting a really high quality contest given the clean hitting of both players so far. Pliskova in 2.

Volynets vs Zhang :

I somehow thought Volynets was from Australia, and that’s a whoops. The American scored one of the biggest upsets of the season in beating Kudermetova in round two, and this match has to be winnable given her result in that one. Zhang rolled past Martic with solid hitting and good defense. When she’s on, she seems almost at the top tier and her forehand can be really scary. Don’t get too scared though, Zhang is pretty chill. I’m not sure that Volynets can beat Zhang here, but it could be close. She doesn’t really have the type of overwhelming offensive power that usually sends sends Zhang home. Zhang in 2-3.

Linette vs Alexandrova :

Taylor Townsend could easily have been in this match. She was dominant in the first set, and Alexandrova looked completely rattled. The second and third were roller coaster rides of break points saved and lost. Honestly, when Alexandrova hit the court, she looked inevitable. When she didn’t, she lost. Not complicated, but it wasn’t the consistent play that saw her zooming through the first round. It leaves the door open for Magda Linette, who seemingly had no shot at times during her match with Kontaveit but won anyway. Kontaveit in a rhythm is scary, and her power lets her hit past most opponents. I often see Linette playing marathon 3-setters and often admire her ability to move the ball well on the run, and it was that experience that seemed to get her through. She’ll be the more consistent player I think against Alexandrova, but it’s the same power differential that gave her trouble against Kontaveit. If Alexandrova has time, she’s somewhat unplayable. Hard to know who’ll rise to this occasion, but Magda is a bit more battle tested. Linette in 3.

Siegemund vs Garcia :

This is one of the only matches that might be straightforward in this round. Caroline Garcia dealt with a very tough version of Fernandez and her offense didn’t falter. Her composure used to look like nerves, but now her stoic nature as she progresses through games is becoming a real attribute. She has a chance to make the finals here with Jabeur (the last player to really dismiss her) out of the tournament. Siegemund pulled off a great win against Begu and continued her H2H dominance against her. Her she has a tougher task. Begu is going to win a lot of her points in long baseline exchanges so Siegemund has a chance to utilize her depth and consistency. Garcia is going to attack everything, and I just don’t see Siegemund’s serve being effective enough to keep her out of trouble. Garcia in 2.

Sabalenka vs Mertens :

These two have been doubles partners for a long time and they’re very familiar. The trouble for Mertens is she doesn’t really win their singles matches. Sometimes familiarity can create a real mental hurdle as your opponent seems to just be everywhere you’re hitting and you wind up second-guessing yourself. That seems to be the case here, and those Sabalenka wins came when she was playing a good bit worse than she currently is. Her ballstriking is really clean this week, she’s serving incredibly, and she seems focused which is always the biggest Sabalenka issue. Mertens is playing solid so I wouldn’t write her off, but Sabalenka should win this in 2.

Giorgi vs Bencic :

Tricky time for me here. I watched Bencic really play hesitant against Liu once she was down in the scoreline. It was a pushy affair and her contact was a bit puffy at times. At the same time, Giorgi was battering away at shots and hitting clean against Schmiedlova. I actually expected the odds here to be a bit closer as a result, but Bencic is something heavy like -450. The books have been pretty solid this week, and the assumption I guess is that the B game from Bencic only comes out when she can’t afford errors, and that Giorgi’s aggression/unforced errors here will allow Bencic to play free also. I’ll buy that narrative, but I don’t like paying a lot for someone who struggled with their contact in a previous round. Bencic in 2, but if she starts slow the way she did against Liu Giorgi will likely wind up in a third.

Vekic vs Parrizas-Diaz :

Ya’ll mind if I flail? Samsonova came into her match with Vekic seeming like a good shout for a deep run here, but she struggled to keep the ball on the court. There was no second option either. Vekic hit the ball solid, but Samsonova’s timing was very rough and she didn’t back off. It’s a much needed result for Vekic, who will be able to have at least a year on tour now. I keep talking like she was going to be outside the top 100 but that wasn’t really a huge concern, it’s just tough when you return from injury to play freely until you have some ranking points to sit on. Vekic is favored here but would she be if these two played in the second round? Nuria has just beaten Potapova 2,3 and beat Haddad Maia. I do think this match will show us whether Vekic caused the Samsonova issues or not, because these conditions suit NPD and her extremely flat forehand has been causing major issue for her opponents. Vekic in 3.

Fruhvirtova vs Vondrousova :

This is a must-watch match. YOU MUST WATCH IT. Not really, but it has the potential to show us a lot about the future of the tour. Vondrousova strikes me as a veteran, but she’s still only 23 years old. This means her tactics can improve and her strength can as well. Jabeur was all out of sorts in their second round match, but Marketa played solid and the defensive pressure she applies can unravel a lot of opponents. Whether it will do that to Fruhvirtova will be interesting. These two are from the same country so they won’t be unknown to each other, and they played once on clay (4,0 for Vondrousova) so there’ll be relative comfort. Linda has seemed a bit behind Noskova in terms of readiness for the tour, but against Birrell there was some really clean hitting. These ball being a bit slower seem to be helping her, and there are times where Fruhvirtova looks like the next great champion to arrive on tour.

Since Vondrousova wins via defense and variety, Fruhvirtova will get a lot of chances to play here. I don’t think she’s physically there yet to win long matches on tour, but she might have a good chance here since Vondrousova doesn’t hit huge. It’s a lot of variety and low forehands from Vondrousova, and traditional lefty patterns might not work great against Fruhvirtova. This section of the draw has really opened up as far as seeds, so this will be one Vondrousova feels she needs to get, despite me hoping for a junior phenom to have a career performance. Vondrousova in 3.