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Three to See, Day 4: No. 5 seed Aryna Sabalenka, meet giant-killer Shelby Rogers
Plus, thoughts on Andy Murray vs. Thanasi Kokkinakis and Tommy Paul vs. Alejandro Davidovich Fokina.
Published Jan 18, 2023
Aryna Sabalenka vs. Shelby Rogers
Rogers has a well-earned reputation as a giant-killer. Ash Barty, Simona Halep, Petra Kvitova: The American has knocked them all out of Grand Slams that they looked ready to contend for.
While Rogers is known for Slam surprises, Sabalenka is known for Slam implosions. The power of her baseline attack often makes her look unstoppable, but she has yet to reach a major final, and has made more than her share of early exits. But hope always springs eternal with a player of her explosiveness; after winning her first five matches of 2022, and a title in Adelaide, she looks unstoppable again.
Sabalenka is 2-0 against Rogers. Their most recent meeting, in Cincinnati last summer, went down the wire. As always with Rogers, the key will be to make her move before she can do the same to you. If anyone has the shots to do it, it’s Sabalenka. Winner: Sabalenka
Andy Murray vs. Thanasi Kokkinakis
The second round has been a Waterloo for the Scot and the Aussie. In six tries, Kokkinakis has never made it past this stage of his home Slam. Murray, meanwhile, spent much of 2022 winning one match and losing the next, a pattern that held true at the Australian Open and Wimbledon.
Each has high hopes for much more this time around. Murray comes in on the heels of one of his biggest recent wins, a five-set war with 2022 semifinalist Matteo Berrettini. Murray squandered a two-set lead, watched Berrettini squander a match point by missing the easiest of backhand passes, and then hung on for dear life in the deciding match tiebreak. This is the type of win he’s been after for two years.
Will that boost the 35-year-old’s confidence, or leave him gassed for the next round? Murray is 1-0 against Kokkinakis, but this is a different player than the one he played five years ago. Kokkinakis recorded three quality wins in the run-up to Melbourne, over Andrey Rublev, Miomir Kecmanovic and Maxime Cressy, and he dominated Fabio Fognini on Tuesday. Kokkinakis has been serving well; he won’t offer the obvious weakness that Berrettini does from the backhand side; and he’ll have the crowd on his side.
But will the local expectations help or hurt Kokkinakis? His 4-6 Australian Open record says it might not be a beneficial as it appears. Winner: Murray
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Tommy Paul vs. Alejandro Davidovich Fokina
If you want to get an idea of the depth of professional tennis these days, you could do worse than watching this match. Neither Paul nor Davidovich Fokina is ranked in the Top 30, and neither is among the top three men from their respective countries. But both of them bring proactive, entertaining, athletic, high-energy games to the court. Even if the star power is small, the match should be competitive, and the atmosphere should be spirited.
Paul and Davidovich Fokina have never faced each other, and there’s not much difference in their recent form; Davidovich Fokina has three match wins so far this season, and Paul has two. It’s hard to imagine one of them gaining the upper hand for three sets in a row. Hopefully it goes back and forth for five. Winner: Davidovich Fokina