It’s Day Four in Melbourne as the second round continues. After a night that saw Marin Cilic and Nick Kyrgios fall as seeds, is there room for more upsets? Here are three matches that peak my interest where seeds may again find themselves in some trouble.
(30)Pablo Carreno Busta vs Kyle Edmund
This easily could be one of the more competitive and entertaining matches of the day. Carreno Busta was pushed by qualifier Peter Polansky into a fifth set before the Canadian retired down 0-3 in the decisive set. He cited the heat as the factor that caused him to throw in the towel. PCB was steady with his first serve, winning 83 percent of his first serve points. Polansky did take 55 percent of the second serve points however and broke the Spaniard four times on seven chances. Carreno Busta tossed in a ton of unforced errors with 50 to offset 53 winners. PCB was all over the Polansky serve for the most part as he crafted 20 break chances, cashing in on seven breaks. Although a bit sloppy, it’s a credit to the 30th seed to survive a hot day in Melbourne and come back from down two sets to one.
Edmund had no drama in a straight sets whipping of Santiago Giraldo 6-2, 7-5, 6-3 in round one. The Brit was nearly perfect with his first serve winning 39 of 43 points. He wasn’t terribly consistent getting it into play though at just 55 percent, which allowed Giraldo plenty of looks at his second serve. Edmund was solid enough, winning 57 percent of the points. He only offered up a single break point and was broken. He converted on five of ten chances from Giraldo. Edmund did well with his ground game, going big for 45 winners and only 29 unforced errors. As with Carreno Busta, the win was the first in the main draw for Edmund at the Australian Open.
These two have met just once before at a Futures event on clay back in 2013 that PCB won. It was zero bearing on this second round clash. Both of these 20-somethings have started coming into their own on this surface in the last year. Carreno Busta won his first ATP title outdoors on a hard court in Winston-Salem last fall. Edmund made his first fourth round showing at a Grand Slam at the 2016 U.S. Open, beating Richard Gasquet and John Isner along the way.
Carreno Busta is a shade older than Edmund at 25 with the Brit only 22. Both appear to be setting up as potential big time players. It’s just repetition and finding consistency now on the big stage that will decide whether they hover at their current levels or make a big push toward the Top 10 or Top 20. This is a big spot for both with a chance to get to the third round of a Grand Slam and a shot to likely go up against Novak Djokovic.
Serve will be a big starting point for both players. Both can hold swiftly when their first serves are in rhythm and they are landing it consistently. Obviously, any straying from that formula will give their opponent more looks at second serves. Both players are right around 50 percent for their careers as far as points won off their second serves. PCB has been a bit more clinical in converting on break opportunities at 42 percent for his career with Edmund at 35, so the Spaniard will jump on those break chances if they come.
Edmund has the bigger ground game with a massive forehand that is a major weapon. Not to say that PCB’s groundies are solid as well, but Edmund can reach back for some extra MPHs on the forehand. That is big, especially if he’s hitting it consistently for winners. Edmund also trained this past off-season with Andy Murray in Florida, so his conditioning should have improved as well as some advice to add a little variety to those groundies. He’ll need that to get past Carreno Busta.
The Pig’s Bottom Line
I really like both player’s games and this can go either way really. The most influential thing on the weather front today will likely be wind, with temperatures expected to be fairly mild again in the mid to upper 70s. For me, Edmund’s game seems just a little bit better suited to these courts and this surface. PCB has shown that he’s not your typical Spanish clay courter though, so this will be a dogfight. In the end, if Edmund find that service rhythm early, he wins this late.
Prediction: Edmund wins in five sets
(3) Milos Raonic vs Gilles Muller
If you fancy quick, aggressive tennis – this is your Huckleberry. Raonic dispatched of Dustin Brown 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 in straight forward fashion, while Muller faced a tougher test from Taylor Fritz. Muller edged that one 7-6 (6), 7-6 (5), 6-3. Serve was obviously big for both. Raonic winning 82 percent of his first serve points, scoring 18 aces and fending off the three break chances against his serve. Muller? He won 83 percent on first serve, walloped 30 aces and fought off six break points. Both were clean off the ground although Raonic did rack up quite a few more unforced errors in his match. That perhaps is to be expected playing a more quirky opponent in Brown versus a straight forward opponent like Fritz. The win runs Muller’s win streak to six matches dating back through his Sydney title run last week.
These two have met twice, but only one of the matches was completed. Their first meeting in 2011 at Wimbledon saw Raonic retire in the opening set after he slipped on the grass and injured his leg. The second meeting came in Valencia in 2012 with Muller edging Raonic 7-5, 7-6 (1). Muller broke Raonic twice on three chances in that match, while Raonic only scored one on five chances off the big lefty.
It’s safe to say both players are in different spots more than four years later. Raonic has turned into a much more complete player in recent years. His ground game has become more consistent and his willingness to come to net along with developing volley skills have made him a real threat at Grand Slams. That was witnessed last year as the Canadian made his first GS final at Wimbledon. For Muller, he won his first ATP title last week at the age of 33. A feel-good story for everyone who grinds through their profession and finally gets that golden carrot.
There’s no secret to the success of both players. Their games are built on a foundation of serving big and claiming easy points off of that. Raonic compliments that with the better overall ground game. Both have big forehands and Muller is surprisingly good when he does come to the net, but I’m sure he would prefer staying back along the baseline. Raonic would be fine with that as he has better movement and more shot making ability from both wings. Still, he’d do well to test the 33-year-old legs that have played a lot of tennis in the last ten days or so.
That means Raonic should make Muller commit to coming to the net. It doesn’t need to be the key part of his game plan, but it’s something he should sprinkle in regularly to secure this win. Muller obviously needs to continue to serve lights out to have any chance here. If he can push sets to tiebreaks, he’s had the early season success with a 5-0 mark to steal a set or two. Raonic has played just one tiebreak and lost it to Grigor Dimitrov in Brisbane. The third seeded Canadian is still a good tiebreak player, but he’s lost seven of his lost eleven dating back to last year. So, there could be a little mental block for Muller to try and take advantage of if the sets fall that way.
The Pig’s Bottom Line
This should be a prototypical serve versu serve match, where the sets are tight and a few key points may decide it. That is unless Muller finds himself finally saddled with fatigue from his heavier workload of late. Either way, if Raonic is professional and calm in his approach – this should be a win. I can see Muller getting a set, but the third seed prevails.
Prediction: Raonic wins in straight sets
(24) Alexander Zverev vs Frances Tiafoe
This could be a good battle between two young players with the 24th seeded German just a year older than his 18-year-old American counterpart in this second rounder. Zverev had some major struggles in his first round match against Robin Haase. Sascha was down a break in the fourth set as he trailed Haase two sets to one before mounting a comeback. He won 12 of the last 15 games against his tiring opponent. Mentally, the 6-2, 3-6, 5-7, 6-3, 6-2 win should do wonders for the German phenom. It’s just his fifth five set match for his career and he’s now 3-2 in those matches. His serve will need to improve as he allowed 16 break chances and threw in ten double faults. Fortunately, Haase only broke him four times. Zverev showed his good return skills in breaking the Dutchman seven times on 14 chances as he really pounded the Haase second serve. Zverev finished with 53 winners and 46 unforced errors.
Tiafoe scored his first-even Grand Slam win over Mikhail Kukushkin in the opening round; 6-7 (3), 6-3, 6-2. He was in control throughout with a stiff first serve winning 81 percent of the points. He tosses in 13 aces and was broken just once on five chances. He converted six of 14 break chances against Kukushkin. Mentally, the win should be huge for him as well. Earning his first Grand Slam win comes just months after blowing an opportunity to do so last year against Isner at the U.S. Open. Tiafoe said after the match that the win really gives him plenty of belief moving forward.
Zverev and Tiafoe have never met on the ATP Tour. So this will be a first meeting, although both are somewhat familiar with each other as they came up through Juniors at the same time. They are fairly similar in style. Both like to hang back and hammer the ball from the baseline. Tiafoe has a huge windup on his powerful forehand, while Zverev’s motion is a bit more natural in my eyes. Both have solid two-handers on the backhand side, but I think Sascha’s is a more potent weapon. Both can serve big and that could be where this match is won or lost.
The Pig’s Bottom Line
That service consistency is a key to me here. Both can really pound on you with their first serves, but there will still be break chances for both. Sascha Zverev has shown to be a better returner at this stage and more capable I think of cashing in consistently on break chances. There is a chance that Zverev could be sluggish out of the gates. The five set match was taxing and it was in the heat. I think that is Tiafoe’s opportunity in this one. Strike early and put some doubt into Zverev’s mind. At the very least, let him know it’s going to be another long day to see if he can mentally handle it.
Prediction: Zverev wins in four sets