The following article originally appeared on The Grandstand:
The Australian Open third round begins on Friday, and it begins with a bang in the form of Jo-Wilfried Tsonga vs. Nick Kyrgios and Grigor Dimitrov vs. Andrey Rublev. Ricky Dimon of The Grandstand and Pete Ziebron of Tennis Acumen preview four of the best matchups and make their picks.
(17) Nick Kyrgios vs. (15) Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
Ricky: You know it’s a stacked part of the draw when Kyrgios vs. Tsonga isn’t the matchup most people wanted to see. That distinction belonged to Kyrgios vs. Denis Shapovalov, and it looked like that one would come to fruition until Tsonga stormed back from a 5-2 fifth-set deficit to defeat the 18-year-old Canadian. It was an awesome but also extremely tough win for the Frenchman, who struggled just a bit physically in the process. Building on it will be even tougher against Kyrgios, who has been the tour’s best player through two-plus weeks. This could end in straights, but it also wouldn’t be Tsonga vs. Kyrgios without some kind of drama mixed in. Kyrgios in 4: 6-3, 6-7(3), 6-4, 6-4.
Pete: The fact that Andy Murray is not playing the Australian Open must give Kyrgios the exact feeling that Roger Federer gets whenever Nadal is eliminated from the draw. Kyrgios fears no one and has defeated his biggest ATP rivals–except Murray…and also Tsonga, for that matter. The sample size in this head-to-head is just one, with Tsonga winning in three sets last year in Marseille. Expect Kyrgios to recognize the immediate opportunity he has this year; he is undefeated, having won Brisbane earlier in January. Tsonga is fortunate to still be in the draw, surviving Shapovalov in a second-round thriller. Youth wins out as Kyrgios defeats one of his former idols. Kyrgios in 4: 7-5, 4-6, 6-3, 7-6(4).
(3) Grigor Dimitrov vs. (30) Andrey Rublev
Ricky: This is a rematch of a second-round showdown at last year’s U.S. Open, where Rublev pulled off a stunning straight-set upset. Both players have only soared higher since then. Rublev ended up reaching the quarterfinals in NYC and he is already seeded for a Grand Slam at 20 years old. Dimitov won the 2017 Nitto ATP Finals. As such, this could be the most competitive and highest-quality match of the entire third round. Dimitrov needed five sets to beat Mackenzie McDonald on Wednesday night, but Rublev has also played a ton of tennis already in 2018–including a five-setter against David Ferrer in round one. Revenge will be taken. Dimitrov in 5: 3-6, 6-2, 6-7(4), 6-4, 6-3.
Pete: Dimitrov was arguably the hottest player on the ATP Tour last year for the first six weeks, winning two titles and reaching the Australian Open semifinals. He then cooled off considerably before winning Cincinnati and the ATP Finals to end the season. Ironically, it was Rublev who derailed the Bulgarian’s momentum following Cincy, taking him out in straight sets in the second round of the U.S. Open. Dimitrov was taken to five sets in the second round this fortnight, while Rublev defeated two former major finalists in his opening two rounds. Going the distance in his last match will cause Dimitrov to wake up, as he has his sights set on a deep run in Melbourne. Rublev, meanwhile, will continue to learn and improve this year. Dimitrov in 4: 6-3, 6-3, 3-6, 7-5.
(24) Diego Schwartzman vs. Alexandr Dolgopolov.
Ricky: This is the second consecutive hard-court slam at which both of these guys have found success. Schwartzman went all the way to the U.S. Open quarters, while Dolgopolov advanced to the fourth round before running into eventual champion Rafael Nadal. So it’s no surprise to see them in the last 32 of this event–especially not in the case of Dolgopolov, who made a quarterfinal run Down Under in 2011. They just faced each other in Brisbane, where the Ukrainian prevailed 6-4, 7-6(3). He should be able to get the job done again, but Schwartzman is a gritty competitor who won his first-round match 11-9 in the fifth set over Casper Ruud. Dolgopolov in 5: 6-3, 7-5, 4-6, 1-6, 6-2.
(10) Pablo Carreno Busta vs. (23) Gilles Muller
Ricky: This should have been Gilles vs. Gilles…. (Gilles Simon was actually the betting favorite against Carreno Busta in round two). But the Spaniard got a break when Simon took the court injured and retired early in the second set. Muller, on the other hand, needed five sets to outlast Malek Jaziri on Wednesday. But it wasn’t too grueling of a battle and Muller–now healthy following an injury last fall–should recover without much trouble. On a relatively fast surface, the lefty’s big-serving game will likely have an edge over the counter-punching of a struggling Spaniard. Muller in 4: 7-6(3), 3-6, 6-4, 6-3.
Pete: Prior to last year, Carreno Busta had won just seven matches in four years at majors. His surprising march to the U.S. Open semifinals capped an impressive 11-3 mark in slam play in 2017. Muller enjoyed the majority of success in his career last year, winning his first two ATP titles. The Luxembourgian defeated the Spaniard in the opening round in Melbourne three years ago and after that Carreno Busta won their next two matches, each on clay. Both players enjoyed the best season of their career in 2017 and the winner will have an opportunity to establish a solid foundation for success in 2018 by reaching the fourth round. Carreno Busta can fondly recall his impressive hard-court run last year in New York and do his best to replicate that performance again in Melbourne. Carreno Busta in 4: 7-6(5), 6-7(3), 6-4, 6-4.