Each day during the Australian Open, Richard Pagliaro will preview three must-see matches—and offer his predictions.
1. (2) ROGER FEDERER vs. BERNARD TOMIC
Third Round; Rod Laver Arena, first night match
Head-to-head: Federer leads 3-0
Tomic has called Federer his favorite player and now gets another shot at the Swiss, who showed him the door with a fourth-round thrashing last year. The 43rd-ranked Aussie looks like he'd rather bob and weave than stand and slug. But just when you think he's cornered, he’ll unload a staggering shot. He can blast his backhand and his rapid-action serve — he seems to strike the toss on the rise — is a weapon tough to read. He has not dropped serve and is serving 71 percent with 32 aces in two matches.
Tomic plays his best tennis Down Under. The 20-year-old Aussie was impressive defeating No. 1 Novak Djokovic in the Hopman Cup exhibition earlier this month and served notice he's ready for Roger: "'I'm ready. I mean, I'm not going to say, I don't have the belief," Tomic said. "I do have the belief now."
The 6’5” Tomic isn’t as quick as Federer, but he’s seldom looked rushed breezing to a seven-match winning streak, including his first ATP title in his first Tour-level final in Sydney earlier this month. Tomic has bamboozled seeds here before, but beating Federer with finesse is like trying to take down Shakespeare in Scrabble.
Look at how Federer performs facing talented players in their home majors — Lleyton Hewitt at the Australian Open, Gael Monfils at the French Open and Andre Agassi and Andy Roddick at the U.S. Open — and notice he almost always bursts out of the blocks quickly to take charge and mute the home crowd. Tomic relishes these moments, but Federer is playing for his record-extending 250th major victory for a reason — 11 consecutive fourth-round appearances here means he usually wins these early tests — and while the rematch may excite, I favor the four-time champion.
THE PICK: FEDERER IN THREE SETS
2. (13) MILOS RAONIC vs. (17) PHILIPP KOHLSCHREIBER
Third Round; Court 3, fourth match
Head-to-head: First meeting
Fresh off the Auckland final, Kohlschreiber is playing for his fourth trip to the Australian Open round of 16. The German’s versatile one-handed backhand gives him a winning pattern against the Candian’s sometime creaky two-hander. Kohlschreiber has defused explosive servers in past majors — he edged Andy Roddick at the 2006 Australian Open and defeated John Isner at the 2012 U.S. Open. His first serve has much more sting than his 5’10” size suggests: He has not lost serve in two matches. Playing his 34th major, Kohlschreiber is the more experienced and agile athlete and will try to use the low slice backhand to befuddle the bigger man.
Raonic’s monstrous serve is a dual eraser on faster hard courts: It can deliver him from danger and demoralize opponents. Kohlschreiber makes an extreme grip change from his backhand to his western forehand—and can be vulnerable to the body serve as a result. Look for Raonic to bring the heat into the German’s hip to force short, self-preservation returns.
Tie breakers may come into play because Raonic seldom breaks serve and rarely loses it. Kohlschreiber is 5-1 in tie breakers this year; Raonic is 2-0. The Canadian has nearly six inches and 50 pounds on Kohlschreiber and I see him imposing his power to prevail.
THE PICK: RAONIC IN FOUR SETS
3. (14) GILLES SIMON vs. GAEL MONFILS
Third Round; Hisense Arena, first night match
Head-to-head: Simon leads 3-1
Frenchmen square off for the second time in Melbourne: Simon won their 2009 meeting to reach his lone major quarterfinal.
Eye-popping acrobatic retrievals can make Monfils stand out like bottle of champagne in a court-side cooler stocked with Evian. Monfils’ flashy shotmaking is intoxicating, but mind-numbing shot selection is a buzz kill. He served 29 aces and 23 double faults, including four doubles on four consecutive match points, in his 8-6 in the fifth-set win over Yen-Hsun Lu.
Cast as the proverbial clever counter-puncher, Simon’s sharp court sense, sneaky-fast serve, knack for knowing exactly when to strike down the line and ability to create angles when stretched out are all assets as well.
The 6’4” Monfils can dictate play when he’s serving with ambition and stepping closer to the line to attack shots with aggression. He plays empowered by the belief no shot is beyond his reach, but under pressure, Monfils often drifts back into the defensive spots behind the baseline relying on sprinter’s speed and expansive reach to play hit-and-chase tennis. It has been a road trip to futility against Simon, who typically plays closer to the baseline and hits flatter to take time away from Monfils and control the center of the court.
Monfils gives you moments of magic, but Simon sustains a higher lever and doesn’t squander points for the sake of sheer entertainment value either.
THE PICK: SIMON IN FOUR SETS