THE third round of the men’s singles at the 2018 Australian Open completes on Saturday, with eight matches scheduled on day six at Melbourne Park.
Andrey Rublev was a set short against Grigor Dimitrov on Friday in what was a pretty awful match in which the pair combined for a total of 120 unforced errors in four sets.
The heat probably didn’t help the quality of the match, but it was disappointing that Rublev wasn’t able to do more against another below par showing from Dimitrov.
The extreme heat period has left us and it’s back to a more manageable 25C in the shade in Melbourne on Saturday, but it’ll still be quite windy, with 23kph gusts expected.
Three underdogs appeal on Saturday, with Adrian Mannarino, Hyeon Chung and Julien Benneteau those that I like the look of at decent prices.
Dominic Thiem vs Adrian Mannarino
One of the factors that makes the Australian Open a real challenge for punters (apart from the time difference for us Europeans) is the heat and ability or lack of it of the players to recover.
It’s virtually impossible to know how Thiem will shape up after being forced to come from two sets down to beat Denis Kudla on a brutally hot day on Thursday and all we can do is look at precedents in that regard.
Novak Djokovic described conditions on Thursday as: “the hardest conditions I’ve ever played in,” and Thiem was playing at lunchtime for almost four hours, so the Austrian had it tougher than most.
Thiem has only ever played two five set matches at hard court majors in the past, winning them both and backing up with straight set wins the next round, but both were at the US Open and doing it here is another challenge.
His opponent on Saturday, Adrian Mannarino, was another that suffered in the heat for over three hours, so perhaps the heat exhaustion won’t be that much of a factor in this one. What interests me is the match-up.
It doesn’t look to me to be the easiest of match-ups for Thiem on a fast hard court, with Mannarino playing very flat and rushing the Austrian, so it’s surprising in that sense that Thiem is 6-0 against the Frenchman.
Looking deeper into their series the reason for the dominance becomes slightly clearer, with Mannarino folding badly after failing to serve out the opening set, losing the next seven games and essentially the match from a good position when they met in New York last season.
The time before that, also in 2017, was in Cincy at Masters level when Mannarino had two set points to win the opener (after Thiem had failed to serve it out) and was beaten 7-6, 7-6.
Other than on clay, where you’d expect Thiem to win with few problems, Mannarino has proven a tricky opponent for the Austrian and with more belief Mannarino could have won several of their career matches.
Maybe now after a great 12 months in which he’s compiled service hold/break stats that are very similar to those of Thiem on outdoor hard at main level the Frenchman can use these fast conditions to finally get a win over his rival.
Mannarino weighs in with a fine hold/break total of 107.3 (80% holds/27.3% breaks), with Thiem just ahead on 109.2 and in conditions and facing an opponent that are far from ideal for Thiem and after a bruising five setter in brutal heat he looks vulnerable here.
The flat hitting of Denis Kudla certainly caused plenty of problems for Thiem in the last round and on the same Margaret Court Arena as that match was played on it’ll be disappointing if Mannarino doesn’t go close on Saturday.
I had hoped for a bigger price on Hyeon Chung than 2.55 in his clash with Alexander Zverev on Rod Laver Arena at around 02:00 UK time and this looks too short.
Chung was a comfortable winner over Zverev on clay last season and while the German was much improved against Peter Gojowczyk in the last round he’s still a sketchy wager at short prices in majors for me.
The ease in the end of Chung’s win over Sydney champion Daniil Medvedev and the fairly average displays so far from Zverev this year have made Chung a bit short and he was facing a very tired opponent in very hot conditions in Medvedev.
So, I’ll pass on that one, and instead have a wager in what could well be a bit of a mismatch between two of the third round’s ‘lesser lights'.
Marton Fucsovics vs Nicolas Kicker
Former Wimbledon junior champion Fucsovics has taken his time to make his mark on the main tour, but he’s ben showing plenty of signs of finally doing so over the last six months or so.
Some fine performances have now culminated in a third round of a major thanks to a good win over Sam Querrey, who came into his clash with Fucsovics saying “I feel my game is at an all-time high. I'm striking the ball well and my confidence is high, and confidence is the most important thing in those big matches.”
Clearly that didn’t work out too well for Querrey, but he was outplayed by the improving Fucsovics and this clash against clay specialist Kicker looks like it should be a comfortable one for the Hungarian – provided he doesn’t get nervous.
Kicker is one of the most unlikely players to have made round three of a hardcourt major in recent times and he’s taken advantage of a poor Jordan Thompson and Lukas Lacko, who couldn’t handle the extreme heat.
In his half a dozen main level matches on outdoor hard Kicker has held serve only 66.1% of the time and Fucsovics dealt with him easily in Pune a few weeks ago, winning 6-0, 6-3.
Fast hard courts don’t allow Kicker the time he needs and what a great chance this is for Fucsovics to go on and play Roger Federer in the fourth round of a major.
The 3-0 to him or the -6.5 games look the wagers here.
Speaking of Roger Federer, surely the Swiss maestro won’t be losing to Richard Gasquet in the night match on Laver on Saturday night?
Gasquet’s very deep court position allows Federer to tee off and on a quick surface like this one on Laver the defending champion will get more than enough chances to break the Gasquet serve.
In their last 10 matches against each other on all surfaces Gasquet has held his serve only 63.8% of the time (Federer 94%) and in their seven career clashes on outdoor hard the Frenchman has only held 62.4% of the time (Federer again 94%).
The Gasman did play better than usual during their Shanghai clash last time, but it’s hard to see Federer not winning this one comfortably.
The final betting possibility is to take Julien Benneteau as a 3.05 chance against Fabio Fognini, who’s lost five of his last 12 as a 1.50 favourite or shorter on outdoor hard at main level.
My concern here is what Benny’s win over David Goffin in the heat took out of him, but backing Fognini at that price is dangerous, as he showed at the US Open last summer when losing to Stefano Travaglia as a 1.17 chance.
Both my outright Juan Martin Del Potro and his round three opponent Tomas Berdych suffered in the heat in round two and hopefully Delpo has recovered sufficiently to be able to compete here.
The Berdman’s hold/break stats against my ‘top-10 quality’ of opposition are weak, with 75.9% holds and 11.2% breaks, losing nine of 10 matches and if fit Delpo should be coming out on top there.
Tennys Sandgren has lost four of his last five matches at all levels to lefties (three in the last four months to Cameron Norrie) and I prefer the attacking game of Maximilian Marterer in that one, but how well has the German come out of that five setter in the heat against Fernando Verdasco?
Finally, Novak Djokovic is likely to be too much for Albert Ramos on a quick hard court, but 1.10 is a tad short this early into the Serb’s comeback and after a match in brutal heat last round.