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TenniStory: Hubert Hurkacz is a nice guy who isn’t finishing last

Daniil Medvedev vs. Sebastian Korda

Do people really circle upcoming matches on their draws? Do they even have draws that would allow them to make circles? I have my doubts. But if they did, this third-round encounter deserved the honor. Medvedev nearly won the Aussie Open last year, and Korda has broken out of the gates as quickly as anyone in 2023. The American beat Andy Murray and Jannik Sinner on his way to the Adelaide final, where he came a point away from doing the same to Novak Djokovic.

There has been one significant development since the draw was made: The top seed in this quarter, Rafael Nadal, has been eliminated. That raises the stakes of this match; Medvedev and Korda both might feel that if they just get past this round, they’ll have a good shot at reaching the semis or even the final. That will be especially true for the lower-ranked Korda. He’s 0-1 against Medvedev; after winning the first set of their only meeting, in Bercy last fall, he was convincingly beaten. Whatever he could do, Medvedev could do more creatively.

Korda is playing better ball than he was then, but is he ready to cross the finish line against an elite opponent if he sees it coming toward him? He wasn’t against Djokovic two weeks ago. Winner: Medvedev

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Medvedev nearly won the Aussie Open last year, and Korda has broken out of the gates as quickly as anyone in 2023.

Medvedev nearly won the Aussie Open last year, and Korda has broken out of the gates as quickly as anyone in 2023.

Madison Keys vs. Victoria Azarenka

Did you know that Keys has never beaten Azarenka? Vika’s 3-0 record, which includes a win in Guadalajara as recently as last fall, came as a surprise to me. The American has had the higher ranking of the two recently, and I’ve always thought of her as a player who can beat anyone on any given day.

Has that day finally come for her against Azarenka? While Vika is the two-time title winner in Melbourne, Keys likes Australia, too. She made the semifinals last year, and she came out looking sharp in United Cup this season.

But at 33, Azarenka has been making unexpected—to me, at least—late-career inroads. She’s in the Top 25 again, she reached the fourth round at the US Open and the semifinals at the WTA 1000 in Guadalajara, and she won her last match, against Nadia Podoroska, 6-0, 6-1. She seems to be one good win from being a threat again.

But I don’t think she’ll get it here. These days, Keys at her best should have enough, even if Vika is on her game, too. Winner: Keys

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While Azarenka is the two-time title winner in Melbourne, Keys likes Australia, too. She made the semifinals last year.

While Azarenka is the two-time title winner in Melbourne, Keys likes Australia, too. She made the semifinals last year.

Hubert Hurkacz vs. Denis Shapovalov

For a third-round match, this is a pretty high-level affair. Hurkacz is ranked just outside the Top 10, and Shapovalov’s current spot, No. 22, doesn’t quite do his talent justice. Both of these guys have contended for Slam titles before, and probably will again.

Hurkacz leads their head-to-head 3-1, but they haven’t faced off since 2021—which, in the life of a tennis player, is about five hot-and-cold cycles ago. After a long cold spell, Shapovalov finally began to warm up at the US Open, and seems poised to have a much better 2023. Hurkacz had mostly treaded water for the past half-year, but at 25 the Pole should be entering his prime. He came back from a two-sets-to-one deficit against Lorenzo Sonego in his last match, which might keep him from panicking if he falls behind again.

Hurkacz is the steadier and better player over the course of a season, but Shapovalov seems due for a Top 15 win. Winner: Shapovalov

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