2018 Australian Open QF Preview: Rafael Nadal vs Marin Cilic

AORAFAMC18

(1) Rafael Nadal vs (6) Marin Cilic

Rafa Tops Saucy Schwartzman

For the first time in Melbourne, the top seed was pushed some as Rafael Nadal battled (24) Diego Schwartzman in the fourth round. Schwartzman showcased the same flair and desire we saw from him during last year’s U.S. Open run. His big hitting ground strokes caused a few anxious moments for Rafa before he steadied for the 6-3, 6-7 (4), 6-3, 6-3 win. Schwartzman had 58 winners, but 68 unforced errors. Nadal had a solid 46 winners, but was shaky at times early with 52 unforced errors. The top seed had 52 unforced errors TOTAL in the previous three rounds combined.

His serve was leaky as well with Nadal forced to save 18 break chances. He had not faced more than six since his opening round win over Victor Estrella Burgos. His win rates were his lowest of the tournament at 63 and 61 percent respectively for his first and second serves. What Rafa did do well was forcing Schwartzman to continue running for the entire match on defense and weathering the Argentine’s big hitting winners to craft sevem breaks of serve on 18 chances. Nadal called the match a confidence builder as his first “big” match of 2018 and proving to himself that he could come through four grueling hours on court.

Cilic Notched First Quarterfinal Since 2010

The Australian Open hasn’t been Marin Cilic’s best tournament by a long shot. Since making the semifinals in 2010, the Croat had only been as far as the fourth round once until this year. He changed that by toughing out a game (10) Pablo Carreno Busta 6-7 (2), 6-3, 7-6 (0(, 7-8 (3). It was a bit cagey for Cilic who lost break leads in two of the four sets despite pressuring PCB into six breaks of serve on 14 chances. Cilic himself was broken four times, one more than he had experienced through three rounds. His first serve was popping with an 81 percent win rate and he was adequate, but not great with his second at 50 percent.

Not coincidentally, his lowest first serve rates of 77 against Vasek Pospisil and 81 against Carreno Busta have been the two matches where he dropped a set. The ground game was huge with 73 winners and 45 unforced errors. Cilic has topped 50 winners three out of four matches and better than 60 in two matches. I think the things Cilic did well against PCB are the same things he needs to be eager to do against Nadal. He didn’t cling to the baseline, choosing good spots to come in and attack. That’s a big plus I think with his serve to be able to try some of those tactics with Nadal.

The Formula

Nadal has only dropped one set out of of the last 12 played against Cilic, which has him ahead in the head-to-head 5-1. Cilic’s lone win came in their first meeting in Beijing back in 2009. Rafa has won four of those last five meetings on hard courts with one indoors in Basel. Last year, they met twice with Rafa prevailing 6-1, 6-2 in Acapulco and 7-5, 7-6 (3) in Shanghai. In both cases, Rafa really did a number on Cilic’s serve as he won 42 percent of the points in Shanghai and a whopping 51 percent off Cilic’s serve in Acapulco. It’s not surprise then that he broke the Croat seven times on 22 chances. Cilic broke Nadal just twice on 12 chances.

There is the obvious starting point in this match-up; the Cilic serve vs the Nadal return. No one sets up deeper than Rafa on return. It really doesn’t matter much who he plays these days, his comfort level is playing super deep behind the baseline on return. This simply affords Rafa the best chance to read the serve and react. As that match wore on in Shanghai, Nadal kept creeping in and becoming more aggressive as he got a better read on Cilic’s serve. Watch where he sets up shop and you’ll have a good idea of how well he thinks he’s seeing the sixth seed’s serve.

It’s imperative that Cilic is landing his first serve and not allowing Rafa too many second serve chances. On the other side, expect Nadal to again target the Cilic backhand frequently on serve. Staying away from Cilic’s power forehand makes sense whenever possible. Rafa is looking to craft court position with his serve, so he’ll try to extend the Croat in one direction of the other to get him on the move. That allows Nadal to look to the next shot and the one after that. I literally don’t think he is looking to put a player away within one or two exchanges. Nadal wants to make his opponents run, especially a power guy like Cilic. You take the legs, you hinder the serve. Tennis 101 for great returners and defenders.

That obviously means it is on Cilic to try to be aggressive and shot in his points. He will need to take chances or get run into the ground. Schwartzman did this well, but still succumbed to getting into too many lengthy rallies with Nadal. If the shots are going into double digits in the exchanges, you’ll expect Nadal to win most of those rallies. That is why I think Cilic has to be prepared to come to next off his serve more than just a few times. Even if Nadal hits passing shot winners, put some pressure on the top seed to do just that. If you sit back and let the rally start, you know what is coming and you know how it usually turns against you.

Cilic is a really good mover for his size, but the thing Nadal has done well against him in the past is forcing him to move east to west from shot to shot. If you dissect what Nadal does best, it is just that. He doesn’t just engage you in long rallies where you can go toe-to-toe with him from the baseline forehand to forehand or backhand to forehand, he makes you move almost every single shot. He has a purpose and intent to each ground stroke and the more you recognize that, the more you appreciate that he does. Look for Nadal to target the backhand when Cilic is on the move. The Croat’s two hander is potent, but better when he can set up stationary and wallop it. On the run, it’s far less effective.

The Pig-nosticator

There’s really not a good would to negate Nadal’s game plan of running you ragged, other than to go for winners when you think you have an opening. Cilic has to look for those openings and not be afraid to try it even when there are not great openings. You simply do not want to engage in that type of war with Rafa over five sets. The other thing you must do is pressure Nadal’s serve. You could see when Schwartzman was having his best runs, that he was frustrating Nadal with the big hitting forehands or backhands that landed in for winners … and he was forcing Nadal to see break points. If you can do both, you can stick with Nadal.

But can you do that consistently for three sets to win? That is the question and the proving ground for Cilic today. The history says he can’t. Nadal may look vulnerable early until he gets a read on Cilic’s serve, but if he gets a read on it and starts getting good returns. That’s what the tables turn and Cilic will be up against it. It’s a big fat duh that Cilic needs to keep himself in this match early, i.e. not falling down 0-2. I don’t think he’s built for that comeback against Nadal.

I can see this being more competitive like their recent Shanghai clash, but that could still mean Rafa scrapping out a straight sets win. For Cilic, a lot of it is mental. He talks a good game about believing in himself more since winning the U.S. Open, but he also always qualifies that he can beat anyone “if” he’s playing his best. The BEST in the world can win when they are not playing their best. Guys who think they require a perfect plan and execution against the best are far less likely to achieve success in my opinion.

Problem solving during a match against a variety of opponents especially the top tier guys, is the hallmark of Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal when they are fully fit. I don’t think Cilic possesses that against the best in the business, of which Nadal is still one.

Pig’s Bottom Line: Nadal wins in straight sets

Advertisements

2018 Australian Open QF Preview: Grigor Dimitrov vs Kyle Edmund

AOGRIGSKYLE18

(3) Grigor Dimitrov vs Kyle Edmund

Dimitrov’s Best Comes Against Kyrgios

Up until his fourth round clash against Nick Kyrgios, Grigor Dimtirov had left a lot to be desired in his run in Melbourne. That changed with a scintillating 7-6 (3), 7-6 (4), 4-6, 7-6 (4) win over the 17th seed from Australia. Dimitrov defended well against the aggressive tactics of Kyrgios and more importantly, cleaned up his serve. After struggling the previous two rounds, the third seed landed his first serve consistently at 70 percent. That helped make his still faulty second serve less of a problem, although he still won just 40 percent of the points. Off his first serve, he won 80 percent and smashed 16 aces. He would be broken three times, but on just five chances. Double faults again were more of an issue than you’d like with Dimitrov tallying seven.

Still, he found his best in the biggest moments of that match. Dimitrov had just 27 unforced errors and a whopping 64 winners. That’s monumentally improved from the last two rounds where he totaled 113 unforced errors combined against Mackenzie McDonald and Andrey Rublev. I think part of that is attributed to Dimitrov making a concerted effort to get around to more forehands. I saw it in return and in the ground rallies. It was a smart move considering his backhand had been misfiring a lot through the first three rounds. The biggest key though was his movement and defense, some of the best I’ve seen from Dimitrov since this last time last season.

Edmund Powers Past Seppi

Things didn’t look great for Kyle Edmund early against Andreas Seppi in round four. He took a medical timeout with the score sitting at 6-5 and needing to hold serve to get to a tie break. The Brit was experiencing discomfort in his serving shoulder. After a rubdown, he did hold, but Seppi took the opening set 7-6 (4). Edmund was not deterred however as his shoulder held up and allowed him to power past the Italian 7-5, 6-2, 6-3 over the final three sets. It was especially impressive considering the early shoulder trouble and having to come back from an early break down in set two. The win put the 23-year-old into his first Grand Slam quarterfinal.

For the match, Edmund smashes 22 aces and was dominant with his first serve sporting an 80 percent win rate. His second was solid at 58 percent and he was broken just the one time on six chances. His ground game was a bit sloppy early with 40 total unforced errors in the match. Edmund would tally 63 winners. He also gradually worked into Seppi’s service games as the Italian appeared to be suffering from a shoulder issue too. Edmund broke Seppi five times on 15 chances. Since beating (11) Kevin Anderson in five to start the tournament, he has not had to face a seeded player. This will be a step up, but with his big first serve and forehand – the Brit won’t be without a chance.

The Formula

These two have met twice with Dimitrov winning both times in three sets. The most recent came in Brisbane earlier this month. That is where Edmund suffered an ugly ankle spraind that botched his chance to knock off Dimitrov. The Bulgarian won 6-3, 6-7 (3), 6-4. The injury occurred at 4-4 in the final set and Edmund was clearly hampered as Dimitrov closed it out. I think Edmund will be keen to prove that he can beat Dimitrov after two close calls. Dimitrov won their other meeting on hard courts in Washington, D.C. in 2017 7=-5, 4-6, 6-3.

Dimitrov has been able to match Edmund serve for serve in the previous two meetings. He has been consistent with the first serve winning 82 and 83 percent of the points and his second winning 62 and 68 percent. The double fault issue has been apparent in both matches though with nine doubles in each match-up for the Bulgarian. You get the feeling all of these doubles are going to catch him at some point. Edmund has only broken Dimitrov once on ten chances and in Brisbane, he only saw two chances total. Dimitrov oppositely has broken the Brit four times on 16 chances combined.

Both matches, Edmund has not been able to boost his first serve win rate into the 80s where it needs to be, winning 75 and 74 percent. I think that is where we start in this match-up with first serve. Dimitrov elevated his against Kyrgios and Edmund has to figure out how to contend with that. Dimitrov did a really good job of stretching the Brit out wide to the forehand side and the backhand some as well to negate his power on return.

It helped set up Dimitrov with some quick 1-2 punches off his serve for easy points. Dimitrov offered good variety in his serve pattern, so Edmund was unable to adjust as well on return. Edmund tried adjust to a deeper position in return, but he just could not find the right measure on Dimitrov’s serve to be effective enough. Edmund did have success in coming in with some aggressive returns on second serve and that is always a good idea, especially if Dimitrov reverts to having issues landing his first serve.

As for Edmund’s booming first serve, his best efforts in Brisbane came when he handcuffed Dimitrov with body serves. The Bulgarian was forced to either chip back with backhands or take an awkward position to get to his forehand. Obviously, he’ll need to mix it up, but the body serves might be his best shot to get Dimitrov into poor position on return and help Edmund create some good chances off the second ball.

Into the ground rallies, Edmund has the power forehand that can dominate the action. He’s going to have to go for it in rallies to avoid falling prey to Dimitrov’s defense in long rallies. I don’t think Edmund can afford to get involved in a bunch of those, so look for him to take some aggressive shots early whether they work or not. Targeting Dimitrov’s backhand is still a good idea to me, make him prove he can hit it with consistency and purpose. If Dimitrov is flicking in too many slice backhands, Edmund has to be able to pounce on those and go for big shots off either wing.

The Pig-nosticator

 

This should be a good one and don’t overlook Edmund, even though he doesn’t have the experience at this stage of a Grand Slam. Having just played Dimitrov a few weeks ago, I think that takes some of the nerves out of this and he’s got nothing to lose in this spot. Most are already drooling about a Nadal-Dimitrov rematch before either sets foot on court for their quarterfinal today. As usual with a player with less experience, I think the need to get off to a good start though is higher. Winning the opening set would be a big boost to Edmund’s confidence, while it likely would not rattle Dimitrov one way or the other.

I do think this is a dangerous spot for the third seed, coming off an electric win and the unavoidable look ahead to the semifinals, possibly against Rafa. I think that is where a lot of the battle lies for Dimitrov in this one: staying focused on Edmund. If he does, the Brit has proven tough on him twice and may have beaten him earlier his year if not for the injury – he’s got the weapons to trouble the third seed. If Dimitrov sticks to a game plan of working Edmund around the court and staying aggressive with his forehand though, I think he wears Edmund down gradually. If not, the Brit has the ability to pull of an upset that wouldn’t be that far fetched.

Pig’s Bottom Line: Dimitrov wins in five sets

2018 Australian Open R4 Preview: Tomas Berdych vs Fabio Fognini

AOBERDFOGS18

(19) Tomas Berdych vs (25) Fabio Fognini

Berdych Seeks Another Aussie Quarterfinal

Without a ton of fanfare, Tomas Berdych is in position to make his 7th Australian Open quarterfinal in the last eight years. Berdych powered past Juan Martin Del Potro in the third round 6-3, 6-3, 6-2. DelPo was obviously compromised from the previous round with low energy, but Berdych also played a solid match. The Czech slammed 20 aces and sported a 77 percent win rate off his first serve. His ground game was relatively clean with 52 winners and 28 unforced errors. Berdych was into Del Potro’s serve routinely, winning an astounding 26 of 34 points off the Argentine’s second serve and taking a solid 38 percent off his first serve. The 19th seed would convert on seven of 18 break points. Berdych saved seven of nine against his serve.

Berdych has maintained his best weapon well through three rounds this week, his first serve. He is winning just over 80 percent of the points played off his first serve. His second serve does remain an issue with the Czech winning right around 44 percent for the tournament. He has done a solid job on saving break chances against his serve, saving 14 of 21 break chances during the first week. His ground game has been a bit up and down, but he is coming in with confidence off of his best performance – even if Del Potro wasn’t up to snuff.

Fognini Secures Best Finish in Melbourne

The 25th seed from Italy survived a stern test from Julien Benneteau in the third round. Fognini won the back and forth match 3-6, 6-2, 6-1, 3-6, 6-3. It was typical Fognini with a lot of winners (57) and a lot of unforced errors (51). As per usual, Fognini also faced a lot of pressure on his serve. The 25th seed was forced to face 14 break points, saving all but three of them. He did a solid job when he saw break chances from Benneteau, converting on seven of 12. For the week, Fognini has done a masterful job of pressuring his opponents. He has crafted 40 break chances and converted 18 times.

The win marks the second time in Fognini’s career that the 30-year-old has made the fourth round in Australia. The last came back in 2014. This traditionally had been the Italian’s worst Slam with first round exits in seven of his previous ten trips down under. This is just the fourth time in his career that he’s made round four at a Slam and only once has he progressed past this point. That came at the French Open in 2011 when he beat Albert Montanes 11-9 in the fifth set. Fognini would withdraw from the tournament following the match due to a leg injury.

The Formula

This will mark the fifth time that Berdych and Fognini have met with the series split at 2-2. Berdych won their lone Grand Slam meeting in straight sets at the 2011 U.S. Open, where he bageled Fognini in the last two sets. Their last meeting was on clay in Rome in 2015. Berdych prevailed 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (2). Three of the four meetings were on clay with Fognini winning twice. The hard courts in Melbourne might favor Berdych’s power advantage, but the Italian is a shot maker who can use quick conditions to his benefit as well.

A big difference maker in this one could be serve. Berdych has done a better job through three rounds of landing his first serve consistently. It’s a huge plus when he does this with his second serve being problematic. When the Czech is in rhythm with his first serve, he’s getting quick points. Berdych’s best success this week have come when he’s used his power and precision on serve to push his opponent back or wide with that first serve. In turn, the second ball is usually an easy put-away for the Czech. That’s a winning formula against most players.

For me, Fognini is going to have to try and be aggressive on return. When he hit solid returns against Benneteau, it got him into the rallies right away. The Frenchman’s best success came in targeting Fognini’s backhand. I went back to the tap from the Sydney International earlier this month when the Italian faced a power player in Daniil Medvedev. The Russian also had success going after Fognini’s backhand side on return, both down-the-T and into the body. I’d expect Berdych can find similar success if he follows that pattern to get into positive court position.

I think a more aggressive posture from Fognini on return would also allow him to get to net more often, an area where he thrives from his doubles experience. When Berdych is forced into second serves, that is where Fognini should pounce. In the ground battle, Fognini isn’t going to be reserved. He goes for winners and let’s the chips fall where they may. His forehand is probably the more consistent power, but his two handed backhand isn’t bad either. For Berdych, getting around to the forehand is paramount. He’s been using the slice off his backhand to do this and the more forehands he hits, the better his chances to create winning rallies.

The Pig-nosticator

The court plays to Berdych’s strengths, but that doesn’t mean Fognini isn’t without a chance in this one. His grip it and rip it style can cause nightmares for anyone. I think the big thing to watch in this one is how many times Berdych is forced to go to the second serve. The higher that number climbs, the better the chances that Fognini gets the upset win. For Fognini, I think his serve needs to provide purpose. Too often, he seems to just be happy to get it into play to get a rally going. He needs better consistency with precision to force Berdych into poor court positions.

Fognini is a more experienced and better hard court player since that meeting over six years ago in New York. It will be interesting to see if he can paint enough lines with those power ground strokes to bother Berdych. He’s one of those guys who can lock in and frustrate the hell out of an opponent by doing this and it’s always his best chance on this surface. Mentally, Berdych has to be prepared to deal with periods where Fognini could be in the zone. He’ll need to continue to take care of his serve and hope that the Italian can’t keep that up consistently.

I do expect that Fognini will push Berdych some in this match, but I think the Czech power on serve will be the edge here as long as he can land that first serve with consistency. He’s been 59 percent or better in that category through three rounds. If he hits around that percentage again, I think he gets it done.

Pig’s Bottom Line: Berdych wins in four sets

2018 Australian Open R4 Preview: Grigor Dimitrov vs Nick Kyrgios

AOGDNK18

(3) Grigor Dimitrov vs (17) Nick Kyrgios

Focused Kyrgios Thriving

This season started off differently when looking at Nick Kyrgios. The brash, often hot-headed Aussie had spoken openly about his philanthropic side and wanting to help kids. It has given him more of a purpose on court with money won going towards those efforts. So far, so good. Kyrgios came to Melbourne with expectations swirling around him from the Aussie faithful after winning the Brisbane International. To date, he has not disappointed at the Australian Open. His latest win came over Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. It was a stern challenge, but one Kyrgios passed 7-6 (5), 4-6, 7-6 (6), 7-6 (5).

Kyrgios overcame a pretty great performance from Tsonga, who has nearly untouchable on his first serve – winning 87 percent of the points. Kyrgios in turn, won 79 percent of his first serve points. They matched each other with 28 aces. Tsonga scored two breaks on five chances, while NK got just one on four chances. Kyrgios’ best moments came in the tie breaks obviously and his low unforced error count (34) was a big boost with Tsonga having 16 more winners, but also eleven more UEs than his Australian counterpart. Kyrgios’ rally from down 2-5 in the final set tie break to reel of five points was electric for the crowd and showed another hint of the “new” Nick.

Dimitrov Wins, But Still Seems Off

The third seeded Bulgarian came through a tough test of his own in round three, surviving 30th seed Andrey Rublev 6-3, 4-6, 6-4, 6-4. It was a more inspiring effort than his five set roller coaster against Mackenzie Macdonald in round two, but Dimitrov still leaves you with that feeling that he’s not found his best yet in 2018. Both Dimitrov and Rublev alternated with struggles on serve and in their ground games. They combined for a ridiculous 28 double faults and it was Dimitrov surprisingly with more (15). His second serve was a big trouble spot again with the third seed taking just 38 percent of the points played.

Both players were under pressure on serve with Dimitrov seeing 19 break points off the Russian’s serve, cashing in on six. Rublev could only convert four of 15 and missed some key opportunities to put more stress on Dimitrov. The Bulgarian did find better rhythm with his groundies later in the match to tally 45 winners with Rublev only sporting 29. Dimitrov’s unforced error count was poor though with 61 and Rublev tallying 59. It wasn’t the cleanest match, but for Dimitrov, it did show good mentally that he was able to overcome a slew of mistakes to beat the guy who took him out at last year’s U.S. Open in straight sets.

The Formula

This is meeting number four between Dimitrov and Kyrgios and their second encounter this season. Kyrgios broke a two match losing skid when he topped Dimitrov 3-6, 6-1, 6-4 in the Brisbane semifinals earlier this month. Kyrgios finally made some inroads on Dimitrov’s serve that had troubled him in the Bulgarian’s wins over him at Indian Wells in 2015 and Cincinnati last summer. Dimitrov had win rates well over 80 percent on his first serve in the wins, but fell to 73 percent in Brisbane. After breaking Dimitrov just twice in the two previous matches, he would pressure him into three breaks on six chances in Brisbane.

Kyrgios said after beating Dimitrov that he switched up his tactics from the previous meetings and it worked. He was aggressive all-around, coming to net and going for big returns. It’d be difficult to think that NK won’t employ similar tactics in this match. Let’s start with the obvious, Kyrgios should have the edge in serve. So far in Melbourne, it’s been solid, but not quite at that elite level. NK has only won over 80 percent off his first serve once in three matches. He has been broken three times on just nine chances, so he’s still doing a good job of not letting opponents have too many chances.

Dimitrov’s serve just flat out needs to be better. The third seed has allowed 26 break chances against the last two rounds and if he’s giving out double digit chances against Kyrgios, that is deadly. Second serve is going to be a massive talking point for Dimitrov in this one. To win two straight matches with your second serve win rate at 38 and 28 percent is pretty impressive, usually that’s a death blow. Credit a decent first serve percentage, averaging 66 percent in those two matches, as part of being able to overcome the bad second serving. Dimitrov will need that first serve consistency again, but really does have to find something more on second. If I am the Aussie, I’m super aggressive on all second serves from Dimitrov.

For Kyrgios, that aggressiveness he talked about incorporating last time against Dimitrov should be a game plan again with his own serve. Nick utilized this well in Brisbane, coming to net to put pressure on Dimitrov off his serve. He had success doing that consistently, but didn’t overuse it either. Kyrgios did a good job of stretching Dimitrov on return with power up-the-T and out wide and that will be another key. The more he gets Dimitrov off balance on return, the easier it is for Nick to finish with a quick 1-2 punch.

For Dimitrov, he’ll need to find more on return. He’s just chipping or flipping the ball back a bit too much against big servers. He did it against Rublev, but was fortunate not to pay for it too much. Against Kyrgios, the Aussie showed that he can take mediocre returns and convert those into quick and aggressive points. I think Dimitrov needs to be aggressive in return. He set up in a normal position against NK in Brisbane, so he has the opportunity to hit solid returns if Nick isn’t hitting his spot. I think if Dimitrov simply is happy to chip it back, he is putting himself into losing court position more often than not.

The Pig-nosticator

Dimitrov still needs to avoid getting into too many baseline to baseline clashes. Rublev had his best success against Dimitrov in those situations and Kyrgios has better variety and power to exploit those changes. For me, Dimitrov’s lull to start 2018 has involved his lack of aggression at times. He’s been too keen on getting into rallies and a lot of that starts with lackluster returning. That’s why I think his chances in this one hinge on him being the guy who turns up the aggression. You know Kyrgios will bring that, but Dimitrov simply cannot try to be a defender and expect to find consistent success.

Look for Kyrgios to go after the backhand of Dimitrov, which has been the more exploitable wing of late. For Dimitrov, he’d do well to do the same – but caannot simply settle for flipping slice backhands back and forth. That is where I think his aggressiveness needs to be on display. The player who does a better job of turning those defensive backhands into offensive forehands will likely have the leg up in this match-up. The key stats likely will be Dimitrov’s second serve win rate and the number of break points allowed. The higher he is on second serve winners and lower he is on break chances allowed, the better shot he has to fend off the 17th seed.

To me, all of Dimitrov’s work in 2018 has been less than what you would expect from someone that is being talked about as a true contender in Melbourne. I think it will take something special for him to win tonight. This is Kyrgios’ country and he is getting another match under the lights in front of a friendly crowd that is growing to embrace him. Dimitrov is capable of stepping up, but I just have not seen it consistently so far to make me believe he wins this one.

Prediction: Kyrgios wins in four sets

The Ocho v.2: Australian Open Week One

Ocho

Each week in this section, you’ll find the eight players or doubles teams that I found to be the most influential in the previous week. This time, it’s the eight who made waves in Melbourne as we turn towards the second week of the tournament.

Hyeon Chung
Number one on this list with a bullet. Not only has the 21-year-old Korean knocked out the #4 seed in singles in Alexander Zverev, he teamed up with Radu Albot to oust the defending doubles champions too! That’s one killer week. Chung’s level headed play and consistent ball retrieval skills have been a joy to watch and they absolutely frustrated Zverev to the point of insanity in Chung’s 5-7, 7-6 (3), 2-6, 6-3, 6-0 win. Chung and Albot were resolute in their doubles play in beating Henri Kontinen and John Peers 6-4, 7-6 (5). About the only complaint for Chung this week is his decision to abandon doubles to focus on singles. Hard to blame him as he’s made his first fourth round at a Slam and plays Novak Djokovic next.

CHUNG

Julien Benneteau
The “other” 36-year-old in the draw crafted perhaps the second best upset behind Chung’s, but one that was far less expected. Benneteau took out (7) David Goffin in the second round. After looking like a quick out after dropping the opening set 6-1, Benneteau beat the heat and Goffin 1-6, 7-6 (5), 6-1, 7-6 (4). Benneteau disaplayed guts and grit with temperatures soaring over 100 degrees farenheit, wearing down Goffin with timely serves and great volley play at the net. Benneteau would go five sets in round three against Fabio Fognini, ultimately losing but providing one of the tournament’s better upsets.

Novak Djokovic
The 14th seed makes this list because we just didn’t know what to expect of the six time Australian Open champion. Through three rounds, he’s looked pretty solid overall while trying to find his groove. He beat both Donald Young and Albert Ramos Vinolas in straight sets. Sandwiched in between was a four set win over Gael Monfils in the heat. That was an important result for the Serb, proving his own match fitness on a supremely hot day. His new service motion seems to be working consistently with a 77 percent win rate on his first serve. He’s only been broken four times on 16 chances. We’ll find out a lot about Djokovic as the competition gets tougher, but so far – the elbow has held up and his hopes of another championship are soaring higher.

Leander Paes-Purav Raja
If you missed Paes and Raja’s three set win over (5) Jamie Murray and Bruno Soares in round two, you missed the highlight doubles match of the tournament. If not for the Simona Halep-Lauren Davis drama, it might be THE best match of the tournament period. Paes’ enthusiasm was infectious for his otherwise subdued partner as they crafted one of the many seeded upsets in the doubles draw 7-6 (3), 5-7, 7-6 (6). For the 44-year-old Paes, it’s an opportunity to make a deep run at Slam that have been fewer and farther between the last five years or so. This duo seems to have great chemistry that is still developing with this being their first full year together after forming their partnership at last year’s Winston-Salem Open. A win gets them into the quarterfinals, where we might get a battle of tennis royaly if Lleyton Hewitt and Sam Groth win their fourth round match.

Purav Raja Leander Paes

Tenys Sandgren
The 26-year-old American has surpassed his career win total at the ATP level with three wins this week. For a player who had never won a Grand Slam match and was only in his third main draw at a Slam, this first week has been a huge surprise. Sandgren hot his maiden Slam victory with a neat straight sets win over Jeremy Chardy and then took advantage of a less-than-fit (9) Stan Wawrinka in round two for one of the best wins of his career. Sandgren followed that up with a nervy 5-7, 6-3, 7-5, 7-6 (5) win over Maximilliam Marterer to get to round four. He may not go any further with a date against (5) Dominic Thiem next, but Sandgren can take confidence from this week and perhaps do kind of a re-set on his career with a big boost coming in the rankings.

Pablo Carreno Busta
PCB was on the original “Ocho” list for all the wrong reasons. Coming to Melbourne, Carreno Busta had lost nine of his last ten matches dating back to his semifinal loss to Kevin Anderson at the U.S. Open. The Spaniard had lost his first match at a tournament six times in that stretch. To be honest, much was not expected for the 10th seed this week. Now, Carreno Busta has completed the Gilles double by taking out Gilles Simon and Gilles Muller and all of a sudden, he’s got a three match win streak.

On top of that, he’s still alive in the doubles draw with Guillermo Garcia-Lopez as play enters the third round there. With all of the upsets in doubles, the Spanish duo has a legit shot to get to their second straight Slam quarterfinal. Kudos to PCB for persevering through a losing streak and turning the ship around in the right direction.

Sam Groth-Lleyton Hewitt
another tremendous doubles match that got buried for many was Sam Groth and lleyton Hewitt crafting 7-6 (2), 4-6, 7-5 upset of third seeds Jean-Julien Rojer and Horia Tecau. By now most should know, Hewitt came out of “retirement” to pair with Groth, who is playing his final tournament before retiring. The 36-year-old Hewitt (there’s that magic number again) has said it’s been a lot of fun through two rounds. Scoring the big upset win is a highlight for Groth on the back-end of a career that never really took off in singles. The 30-year-old has been a mainstay in doubles though with two titles to show for his career and some legendary wins in Davis Cup alongside Hewitt and John Peers.

Jennifer Brady-Vania King
The final spot on the list this week goes to a WTA tandem who scored the biggest scalp of the ladies draw without much fanfare. Jennifer Brady and Vania King, teaming up for the firs time, knocked out third seeded Aussies Ash Barty & Casey Dellacqua in straights in round two. The same Aussies who came off a spectacular 36 win season in 2017. A season where they made the WTA Finals as one of the top doubles teams and tallied three Slam quarterfinals, including making the French Open final. The 28-year-old King is a seasoned doubles vet, having won both the Wimbledon and U.S. Open doubles titles way back in 2010. She’s made two quarterfinals in Melbourne before and will be hoping to lead the charge with Brady for another.