1. (4) DAVID FERRER vs. (28) MARCOS BAGHDATIS
Third Round; Rod Laver Arena, second night match
Head-to-head: Ferrer leads 3-1
The charismatic Cypriot plays his most inspired tennis Down Under. If you saw his run to the 2006 final you know Baghdatis a superb shotmaker capable of rousing the fans and riding the wave of emotion.
Conditioning can be a factor if rallies are long and though the 30-year-old Ferrer is Baghdatis’ senior by three years, he is fitter. Revisit Ferrer’s gripping 7-6 in the fifth-set win over Janko Tipsarevic in the 2012 U.S. Open quarters for a reminder.
Baghdatis can bring the magic — one of his two career comebacks from a two-set deficit came against Ferrer at the 2010 Australian Open — and his ability to take the ball early and play down the line off both wings can pose problems. But the Bag Man has lost nine in a row against Top 5-ranked opponents and I believe Ferrer can dig a little deeper in a long grind.
Ferrer finds a way to win even when his best tennis eludes him — he claimed an ATP-best seven titles and Tour-best 76 wins last year and has won nine of 10 matches this year — and I see him fighting through here.
THE PICK: FERRER IN FOUR SETS
2. (10) NICOLAS ALMAGRO vs. (24) JERZY JANOWICZ
Third Round; Court 3, third match
Head-to-head: First meeting
Both of these explosive ball strikers are capable of blowing opponents away or blowing up in the process.
Almagro unleashes one of the most vicious serves of any 6-footer on Tour: He hit an ATP-best 48 aces in a first-round Wimbledon win last year, has 44 aces in two matches here and has dropped serve just three times.
Both men have been pushed to five sets already, Janowicz, who is bidding to become just the fifth different Polish man to reach the round of 16 at a major, made a spirited comeback from two sets down to edge Somdev Devvarman in a four-hour fight.
Almagro has tried to tame his temper, but still sometimes plays with the sneer of the edgy commuter you run into on the cramped subway car. Janowicz isn’t exactly a stoic either: He concedes he “went nuts” over a call in his round two win.
The 10th-seeded Spaniard is playing for his fourth consecutive trip to the round of 16, he’s very well balanced off forehand and backhand and he’s won five of his last six five-setters, the lone loss coming to Tomas Berdych in last November’s Davis Cup final. Still, the 6’8” Janowicz looks like he’s serving from the top of a flag pole and Almagro’s return game is not a strength so if the inspired Janowicz serves well, he’s got a shot for the upset.
THE PICK: JANOWICZ IN FOUR SETS
3. (15) STANISLAS WAWRINKA vs. (20) SAM QUERREY
Third Round; Margaret Court Arena, third match
Head-to-head: Wawrinka leads 2-0
Their two prior matches have been tourniquet-tight and this could be another close encounter.
Here’s the quandary Querrey poses: He can test seeds in majors, but has come up short at crunch time. I picked him to beat Wawrinka at the 2010 U.S. Open, and he nearly did, losing 6-4 in the fifth. I tabbed him to upset Marin Cilic at Wimbledon last June, and he came agonizingly close, falling 17-15 in the fifth. I respect Querrey’s game greatly; I just think he doesn’t apply its expansiveness enough. Querrey can play the kicker, create angles off his topspin forehand and he’s a good athlete who can volley. The problem is he dumbs down his game with a single-minded approach: Drive the ball deep and when in doubt hit harder or play closer to the lines.
Unless he has a huge serving day, which is entirely possible, I just don’t know that Querrey can hit through Wawrinka, who can drop several feet behind the baseline and trade ground strokes all day.
When Wawrinka turns his strong shoulders into that whipping one-handed backhand, he looks like he squeeze that shot into small spaces. Wawrinka typically plays with more variety, he’s better in five-setters (19-13 compared to Querrey’s 1-5 mark) and he is the pick.
THE PICK: WAWRINKA IN FIVE SETS