This article originally appeared on www.tenngrand.com
The Australian Open first round continues on Tuesday, when all four of this past week’s finalists have intriguing showdowns on their hands. Ricky Dimon of The Grandstand and Pete Ziebron of Tennis Acumen preview four of the best matchups and make their picks.
(1) Tomas Berdych vs. (WC) Alex de Minaur
Ricky: de Minaur has been the story of 2018 so far. The 18-year-old Australian reached the semifinals in Brisbane and went one step further in Sydney, finishing runner-up to Daniil Medvedev. Understandably, de Minaur got just a little tight in third sets against Medvedev and Ryan Harrison. Experience–not talent–will likely be the difference in this one. Berdych in 4: 4-6, 6-2, 7-5, 7-6(5).
Pete: Berdych had reached the quarterfinals or better in six consecutive Australian Opens until last year, when he ran into eventual champion Roger Federer in the third round. This year marks the 15th consecutive appearance for Berdych in Melbourne, while de Minaur sees his name in the main draw for just the second time. The 18 year-old has played nine matches in the last two weeks, winning seven and reaching the Sydney final. Berdych will recognize the exuberance that de Minaur brings to the court along with the ability of his game to spin the crowd into a frenzy. However, the Czech is more than familiar with the route to week two of this major and he elevates his game when necessary–extinguishing the hopes of the young upstart and the wild Australian fans. Berdych in 4: 6-2, 5-7, 6-4, 6-3.
Frances Tiafoe vs. (12) Juan Martin Del Potro
Ricky: Tiafoe drew almost everyone’s idol (Federer) in the 2017 U.S. Open first round. Now he has drawn his idol (Del Potro) in the Australian Open first round. Their only previous showdown came last season in Acapulco and it was arguably one of the 20 best matches of the year, with Del Potro surviving 6-4, 3-6, 7-6(1). The Argentine will be eager to finish this as fast as possible, coming off a runner-up performance in Auckland. Del Potro in 3: 7-5, 6-2, 7-6(3).
Pete: Del Potro will be participating in his first Australian Open since 2014. The two-time quarterfinalist nearly won the title in Auckland and competed well throughout the week, recording three straight-sets wins heading into the final. Tiafoe needed to qualify for the Aussie Open last year and has had the misfortune of having to play Alexander Zverev twice and Federer in his three major appearances last year. Now the young American faces a former major champion who is rolling into Melbourne in good form. Tiafoe will continue his upward trajectory this year, but his anticipated momentum will not get underway until Indian Wells and Miami. Del Potro in 3: 6-3, 7-5, 6-4.
(20) Roberto Bautista Agut vs. Fernando Verdasco
Ricky: It was Bautista Agut who took Del Potro down in Auckland. As that result suggests, RBA is a master at 250-point events; all seven of his career titles have come at the lowest ATP level. He has never done much of anything at slams. Moreover, Verdasco leads the head-to-head series 3-1 following a victory last year in Dubai. All four of the previous head-to-head contests between these two Spaniards have gone the distance. This one will likely do the same. Verdasco in 5: 7-5, 2-6, 6-7(4), 6-3, 8-6.
Pete: Bautista Agut arrives in Melbourne feeling good about his game. A pair of three-set wins last week in the Auckland semis and final will have him battle-tested and ready to take on his countryman Verdasco, who holds a 3-1 edge in their four previous meetings. Verdasco’s 2009 march to the Australian Open semifinals feels like ages ago and he has won just six matches in the last six years at the Happy Slam. Meanwhile, Bautista Agut has reached the fourth round in three of the last four years–including the last two. Bautista Agut in 4: 6-4, 4-6, 7-6(3), 6-3.
(WC) Thanasi Kokkinakis vs. Daniil Medvedev
Ricky: In the Aussies’ eyes, just a single first-round match is more intriguing: de Minaur vs. Berdych. This one became even bigger–and perhaps even tougher for Kokkinakis–when Medvedev captured his first ATP title on Saturday. The Russian leads the head-to-head series 2-0 with a pair of grass-court wins last summer, but Kokkinakis was more rusty at that point. He warmed up well at the Hopman Cup and has home-court advantage. Kokkinakis in 5: 3-6, 7-5, 6-1, 4-6, 6-4.
Pete: Somehow, two of the 13 matches that Kokkinakis played in 2017 were against Medvedev. They met in consecutive weeks on grass, with the Russian winning both times in straight sets. On Saturday, Medvedev battled both a young Aussie (de Minaur) and a vocal crowd in Sydney as he hoisted his first ATP trophy. Just a few days later, he has to face yet another young Aussie–this time in Melbourne.Despite having just four wins in his career in majors, Kokkinakis battles hard and is always a tough out. The full week of match play that Medvedev has under his belt from Sydney will be enough to be the difference in this match as he seeks just his second lifetime win at a major. Medvedev in 5: 4-6, 6-3, 7-6(4), 5-7, 6-3.