(4) Alexander Zverev vs Hyeon Chung
Sascha Improves in Second Round Win
The fourth seed from Germany has made it through two rounds unscathed, but more importantly showed improvement from round one to round two. He did drop a set against Peter Gojowczyk last round in a 6-1, 6-3, 3-6, 6-3 win in round two. Still, Alexander Zverev was in control of that match for the most part. He walloped 25 aces and had a solid 79 percent win rate on his first serve. His second was equally good at 55 percent. Sascha would face just two break points, saving one. The ground game was fairly clean with 29 unforced errors to go against 46 winners.
The good thing for Zverev is all those numbers were better than his first round win over Thomas Fabbiano. His first serve win rate was only 71 percent against the Italian and he had a slew of unforced errors with 46. Most importantly, he dropped the number of break opportunities from a whopping 14 down to just two. It will be imperative for Zverev to minimize the chances that Chung sees against his serve if the fourth seed is going to grab another win.
After an injury-reduced first round win over Mischa Zverev, Hyeon Chung got a full match against Daniil Medvedev in round two. Chung won a scratchy first set in a tie break before rolling past the Russian 7-6 (4), 6-1, 6-1. Chung was all over the Russian’s serve, winning 40 percent off his first serve and 62 percent off his second. He would break Medvedev six times on 12 chances. Just as important, Chung took care of his serve well as he was broken just one time on three chances.
The Korean was a rock on serve, winning 85 percent of his first serve points and 69 percent of his second serve points. Off the ground, he had 39 winners to go with just 19 unforced errors. Chung is also playing doubles this week and helped craft the upset of the tournament yesterday. Pairing with Radu Albot, the duo stunned 2017 Australian Open champs Henri Kontinen and John Peers in straight sets in round two action. Confidence should not be a problem for Chung heading into this match.
Chung has notched a win over Zverev in their only meeting. It came on clay last year in Barcelona with the Korean topping Sascha 6-1, 6-4. The surface played to Chung’s favor with his defense and return troubling Zverev in slower conditions. Sascha won just half his service points for that match and was broken five times on ten chances. Chung was broken just once on two tries. He managed a 73 percent win rate on first serve and 53 percent off his second.
In watching the video of that clash, it was clear than Chung controlled tempo and court position for the majority of the match. It was a baseline basher which is fine for both, but Chung made Zverev do the majority of the running. Chung did a nice job of picking on Sascha’s backhand, not so much that it was full of errors, but he lulled the German to sleep by going backhand to backhand and then would do a quick switch to Sascha’s forehand. I’m not sure if Sascha simply got overexcited to get to the forehand and try for a winner or if he just broke down from the length of the rally – but Chung won a lot of those points with that pattern.
It’s going to be some 20 degrees cooler today in Melbourne, so Sascha can’t depend on getting an extra boost from the surface speed. Although the cooler temps should aid his own fitness against a very fit player. I think he’s got to focus on going for more aggressive shots early against Chung. If he allows himself to get into those long baseline exchanges, it favors Chung’s movement and propensity for knowing the right time to come to net to upset the flow of the exchange. I’d like to see Sascha take a step in off his serves, especially if he’s able to remain consistent with his first serve. That’s a big key in this one for me. When Sascha has a good first serve going, he’s much tougher to beat. That has been one part of his game that fluctuates a bit though, so consistency is key for him to win.
Chung will set up deep on return. He was routinely well behind the baseline on clay to get a loook at Sascha’s serve and I’d expect that to be a similar set-up today. Chung is really solid off both wings on the return and I noticed in Barcelona, he was aggressive on the second serve returns. That is something I also expect to see again, he’ll take a step or two in on those serves and go for quicker kill shots. Sascha must be solid with his second serve and probably would do himself a favor to go big on those more often and not just lay them in play. I think variety in Sascha’s serve patterns will be key to keep Chung off balance. If he goes to the well too often in the same situations, Chung will tee off.
Don’t fool yourself into thinking that Zverev is a big favorite in this one. He’s got the number next to his name, but Chung isn’t far off in talent from the German. I think Chung has the better defensive game and return as far as consistency. Zverev is a solid mover, but lets himself get engaged too much I think in matches where he is the one doing too much running. His return is adequate and sometimes above average, but I think it’s another area where he needs to find some aggression to limit the long rallies.
The key stats to watch in this one that should tell the story for me are Zverev’s first serve win rate and the number of break chances that each player offers off their serve. Both guys have been pretty consistent in save percentage on break points with Sascha slightly better for his career at 62 percent to Chung’s 58. Both convert a little over 40 percent of their opponent’s break opportunities – solid numbers.
If you go back and look at Zverev’s Grand Slam losses the last few Slams, especially the ones where he was an unexpected loser, his inability to convert break points has really hurt him. He needs to do a solid job there today against Chung, something he didn’t do particualrly well against Gojowczyk with 17 break chances and five converted. If he allows Chung to fend off multiple break chances, the frustration could grow and break down other aspects of his game.
In the end, this one has the feel of a long match. Four or five sets for me in this one and I think this is a huge danger spot for Sascha Zverev. The winner could get a crack at Novak Djokovic in the fourth round and that will have a lot of people posturing for a Djokovic-Zverev rematch after Sascha dismantled him in Rome last season. If Sascha isn’t careful, he may not have to worry about Nole.
The 20-year-old has only been to one fourth round at a Slam. This just smells like that tricky upset type of spot for Zverev against a quality, yet unseeded player. It’s happened to him several times at Slams against the likes of Borna Coric and Fernando Verdasco last year and Daniel Evans in 2016. I think this is a big proving spot for Zverev, but I really think Chung troubles him in this one.
Pig’s Bottom Line: Chung wins in five sets
(12) Juan Martin Del Potro vs (19) Tomas Berdych
Both Juan Martin Del Potro and Tomas Berdych survived the hottest day of this year’s Australian Open in their last match-ups. For Del Potro, it was a tense four set battle against Karen Khachanov. DelPo proved just better 6-4, 7-6 (4), 6-7 (0), 6-4. The Argentine did require treatment from the trainer quite a bit in the fourth set and appeared to have some sort of groin/thigh issue. His game still remained powerful enough as DelPo won 81 percent off his first serve, usually a key number for the 12th seed. The 12th seed chipped in 13 aces. He was broken just once on three chances. Del Potro saw plenty of opportunities against Khachanov’s serve with 15 break chances allowe. Del Potro only cashed on on three.
He did have a bit of trouble getting a read on the Khachanov serve with the Russian pounding out 28 aces. Del Potro was crisp off the ground however with 60 winners and 39 unforced errors. DelPo said after the match that he was happy to be back in Melbourne to experience that kind of fight, but admitted every part of his body was hurting. Certainly some of that was due to the heat, but it’s a little bit of a warning sign perhaps in the next round or two. I said before the tournament that Del Potro’s draw might not exploit any fitness issues as he appeared a bit gassed at the tail end in Auckland last week, but the weather + Khachanov did take a bit of a toll.
As for Berdych, he came through in four sets over Guillermo Garcia-Lopez 6-3, 2-6, 6-2, 6-3. Berdych was a shade sluggish at times, but mostly found enough on a brutal day to win. The 19th seed was solid at 80 percent for his win rate on first serve with eleven aces against GGL. He faced nine break points, saving six. The biggest struggle seemed to come with the ground game where Berdych had 39 unforced errors and just 42 winners. Against Alex De Minaur in round one, that ratio was 46:46. The Czech could definitely clean it up a bit in that area if he’s to contend with Del Potro.
Only Third Meeting Since 2016
Although these two have met eight times on tour, this will be just their third clash since 2016. In 2015, it was Berdych prevailing 7-6 (4), 6-2 at Indian Wells. Last summer, Del Potro won going away in Cincinnati 5-6, 7-6 (1), 6-0. In that match, Del Potro’s first serve was a beast, taking 88 percent of the points. He had 17 aces and Berdych had trouble matching his power. The Czech won just 69 percent off his first serve and allowed eleven break chances. Del Potro converted on four of those chances.
In watching tape of this one, Berdych’s serve seemed very predictable and Del Potro was getting easy returns back that helped craft him into winnable rallies. The other thing that stood out was Del Potro’ penchant for being able to deliver the ball low to Berdych. You always hear people saying the best way to win and wear down these bigger guys is to hit the ball lower and make them lunge. In a battle between two guys right around the same height with Del Potro listed at 6’6″ and Berdych at 6’5″, it was the Argentine who was able to make Berdych bend and lunge more. It was a big advantage that caused Berdych to make his share of unforced errors just about evey time that Del Potro made him work that way.
What I just touched on I think could be a key element in crafting victory for one of these players today. Make your opponent hunch down, lunge and extend to hit the ball. That negates their power and often leads to balls that fly into the net or out of play. Given that both may be somewhat fatigued after playing in the heat, it could be amplified if one of the other is able to execute this consistently. Today’s weather will bring relief, but I still think especially for Berdych that it would be wise to try and test Del Potro’s movement early.
First serves are huge for both with a lot of their success relying on good days in that category. When these two don’t get easy points off their firsts, they usually are up against it for the match. I would expect Berdych to try and attack the backhand return of Del Potro off his serv. Del Potro could go after either wing – looking to stretch Berdych out wide or up-the-T to throw him out of position. I don’t think the Czech has great recovery off those sort of serves and Del Potro will be able to position himself to get a good strike on a forehand if Berdych is slow to right himself on the next shot.
Off the ground, you know Berdych is going to test the backhand. One takeaway I had from watching parts of the DelPo-Khachanov match was seeing the Argentine vary his backhand more than I’ve seen in a while. He wasn’t just going with the slice floater to get it back across, he used his fair share of double handed backhands. I think he has to use that approach again. The slice is great to get the ball back in order to run around and hit the forehand, but the slice just flipped back across the net will get hit hard if Berdych moves in and attacks. The double hander from DelPo brings more power and depth to keep his opponents back, but he’s shyed away from it due to consistency issues.
If you’re Berdych, I think you want to get Del Potro on-the-run. Berdych for me is a better volleyer at the net than Del Potro and while the Argentine glides around well, he’s still not at his best when forced to move in. If Berdych can do this accurately, then he opens up the passing lanes for those passing shots that can win easier points. I think the strict baseline to baseine ralliesa are going to favor Del Potro more often than not. His forehand is just more powerful than anything Berdych has in his bag. If they go toe to toe from the baseline and Del Potro is hitting a lot of forehands, Berdych isn’t going to be in a winning position.
The intrigue lies with Del Potro. If he’s recovered, this is his match to lose. If he’s less than 100 percent, Berdych is smart enough to take advantage. I think the Khahcanov match took a little more from Del Potro than the Garcia-Lopez match took from Berdych, so I’d rate this pretty even. Del Potro is one of those players though who can look like he’s on death’s door and then pick himself up off the mat, so if he starts slow – don’t count him out.
I have a hard time picking this one because of Del Potro’s questionable groin/thigh issue last round. There’s really no way of knowing if that is a lingering problem or if it was limited to that match before the extra stress from the heat. That obviously can change the dynamic of this match entirely if DelPo is not close to 100 percent. I think Del Potro had to work harder than he expected last match with regards to running around the court and I think that might ultimately sap him of enough energy for Berdych to spring a moderate upset.
Pig’s Bottom Line: Berdych wins in four sets