We are just about to tip-off the men’s final 16 at the Australian Open. Everyone’s there. Roger Federer. Rafael Nadal. Andy Murray. JW Tsonga. Stan Wawrinka. Kei Nishikori. Milos Raonic. Hell, even Gael Monfils and Grigor Dimitrov decided to join the party. But not Novak Djokovic.
Djokovic’s loss was the story of the first week in Melbourne. And very nearly the second story was going to be the decline of Rafael Nadal.
Yesterday, Nadal very nearly joined Djokovic on a flight out of Oz but he fended off the powerful teen Alexander Zverev. If not for those fifth set cramps, Zverev would have won that match.
What I saw from Rafa was a guy who had lost his fastball. That is, there was no pop on that serve and the forehand just wasn’t as punishing as it once was. And above all, in the fifth I just didn’t see that confidence. Once he gave back that break you could see the doubts, the demons from losses to Fernando Verdasco here last year and Lucas Pouille at the US Open returning.
But credit to Rafa for even getting to a fifth.
The 19-year-old Zverev was in control leading two sets to one. He was ripping his serve, ripping that backhand> He simply looked the better player. That is until the teen let down a little in the fourth and Nadal got his teeth back in and held on to force a fifth.
Rafa was in charge early with the break but once again couldn’t keep the kid down. Zverev drew back even until the cramps, the fatigue set in.
I was rooting for Rafa, but fact is, he’s in real trouble. I just don’t how he wins another Slam unless he gets that power back. And how does he? At least he got that win. Another 5-set loss would have been devastating.
“For the confidence, for lot of things, are very important to win these kind of matches,” Nadal said. “I worked a lot during all December to have the chances to compete well this these kind of moments. Even if I start the match with some nerves, I think I was able to came back well.”
As for Zverev, the gushing the media has done is warranted. He’s good enough to win a Slam, get to No. 1 and he showed why again. But I’m looking forward to the next time he faces Rafa.
“I absolutely love tennis,” Zverev said. “I absolutely love the process. It’s exciting for me. I think I can see how I’m getting better. I can see how I’m getting better in five sets.
“it’s exciting. I think it’s going to be an exciting year for me.”
Moving on to tonight’s matches as the fourth round begins…
Stan Wawrinka v Andreas Seppi
Wawrinka has dominated the Italian who has never been beyond the last 16 in a Slam. And we know how great Stan is the later it gets in these events. Stan punishes the Seppi second serve and powers his way to victory.
The pick: Wawrinka in 4
JW Tsonga v Dan Evans
This Dan Evans kid is quite a story. Virtually out of the game, the 26-year-old has rebuilt his game, finally harnassed his talent, to become a serious player. He’s proving that match point he had against Wawrinka at the US Open was no fluke. He made the Sydney finals and this week upset Marin Cilic and Bernard Tomic, two decent wins.
But Tsonga’s hot, he loves playing in Melbourne, and you know what that means.
The pick; Tsonga in 4
Andy Murray v Mischa Zverev
Who would have believed Mischa would go further than Alexander of the Zverevs? I certainly didn’t. But here he is, the 29-year-old journeyman who’s is coming back from injury and he’s playing the best tennis of his life, knocking on the Top 40.
Mischa’s run ends today against Murray. Zverev has been serve-and-volley machine all weekend, which works great against a John Isner or a Malek Jaziri, but not against a premier returner like Murray.
This should be an easy day for the Scot.
The pick: Murray in 3
Roger Federer v Kei Nishikori
In the main event tonight (or this morning), the question is, which Federer shows up? The one we saw against Berdych or the one we saw in the first two rounds against Jurgen Melzer and Noah Rubin. If it’s the latter, he loses.
If it’s the Federer we saw Friday night, then he’s in with a chance. A great one. The difference is, once Berdych saw Federer was in full flight, he was resigned to losing, and that was five minutes into the match (What else do you expect from Tomas?).
Nishikori won’t do that. Nor will he let Federer dictate. So it’s a different match than playing Tomas. Kei’s going to make Roger work out there tonight. He’s got one of the best backhands, he’s always looking to attack and take an offensive position in the court. So Roger will have to be on his game because Kei’s Noah Rubin times ten!
But after that Berdych win, I think Roger has to be feeling really good about things. Rubin got his game into form and Berdych gave him that confidence. He’s 35, so he’ll have good days and bad days. But after picking him to lose the other night, I ride him here. Though I could easily see it going the other way. Ha ha!
The pick: Federer in 4
Other than the Federer-Nishikori match, it’s a pretty straightforward day. No way Murray loses. Both Evans and Seppi could create the upset but both are going to be outpowered. And that’s the theme of the day: Power.
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