THE second round of matches in the men’s singles at the 2020 Australian Open begin on Wednesday in Melbourne and Sean Calvert is back to preview the action.
The weather conditions could well play their part again on Wednesday, with the forecast suggesting some very strong winds of around the 40kph mark, which, if correct, will surely cause one or two problems.
There’s also rain the forecast for later in the day and it’s set to get up to around 31C in the shade by early afternoon, so a typically unsettled Melbourne day is in prospect.
Round two of the Australian Open men’s singles has produced 22% underdog winners in the last 10 years and 50% of its matches have featured at least one tie break.
Of the conditions this year, Pierre-Hugues Herbert had something interesting to say after he played a five-setter on Tuesday: “The courts are much slower, the balls are fast, but only for a couple of games. In these conditions you have to be a little more patient.”
Fabio Fognini added: “”I don't really like the balls. “When they are new, they are really fast, but after 10 minutes, they become like an orange. It's hard to move the ball.”
Of Wednesday’s underdogs Yoshihito Nishioka, Tommy Paul, Benoit Paire, Marton Fucsovics, John Millman and maybe Gregoire Barrere all hold decent chances, while Cristian Garin and Tennys Sandgren may do better than expected.
Matteo Berrettini vs Tennys Sandgren
Berrettini needs matches after injury and while this sort of tricky-looking encounter could be very helpful for him long-term this fortnight I’m happy to side with over games here.
Sandgren has a really impressive record so far in his Australian Open career, with a 5-2 win/loss mark that features wins over the likes of Wawrinka, Thiem and Chardy.
His hold/break total in those seven matches is a very healthy 109.2 and that consists of 90.2% holds of serve (and 18.5% breaks).
That sort of serving prowess at this tournament and the generally fairly weak return game of Berrettini suggests this could be a long day for the Italian and that’s without factoring in the strong winds as well.
The other interesting one is Cristian Garin, who has played a whopping 0.41 tie breaks per set in his 10 career matches on all surfaces against the big servers in my database.
He faces another one of those on Wednesday in Milos Raonic and having played six tie breaks in seven sets (the other set score was 7-5) against John Isner and Reilly Opelka in the last eight months (on indoor hard and clay) a breaker or two seems possible here.
Garin’s held serve 83.6% of the time in those 10 matches, while Raonic’s struggles with injury has seen him break serve just 14.2% of the time in his last 12 months at main level on all surfaces.
Given that the players are saying how fast the balls are early on I’m of a mind to risk the 3.25 about a set one tie break here, while the +5.5 games on Garin is also an option, but a bit short for me at 1.63.
Of the underdogs I mentioned, Yoshihito Nishioka has beaten Dan Evans twice already (2-0 head-to-head) on outdoor hard and may be facing a fatigued Evans after the Brit had to come from 0-2 down in round one on top of a heavy workload in Davis Cup and Adelaide back-to-back.
The wind may help Evans against a lot of players, but Nishioka moves really well, too, so chances for the Japanese player in this one for sure.
On current form Benoit Paire could overturn his 1-4 career series deficit against Marin Cilic, but surely the Frenchman is feeling it physically now after 29 sets of tennis this season already, compared to the 10 of Cilic.
But it’s Benoit, so anything’s possible, and it’s tough to back Cilic at 1.39 given his form of the last year or so.
Tommy Paul has been in good form so far this year and if it is as windy as they say I wonder how the questionable ball toss and second serve of Grigor Dimitrov will hold up on the day?
Dimitrov has also had problems with blisters on his right hand, so a possible opportunity for Paul exists here, but maybe the wind will be more of an issue on the roofless outside courts (this one is on Margaret Court Arena).
I had Marton Fucsovics on my list of possibles for round one and if he plays his best level (and isn’t injured again) the Hungarian has the tools to upset young starlet Jannik Sinner.
It surely won’t be easy to hit the ball as aggressively as Sinner does if it turns out to be really windy and that price looks short on the Italian.
We got what we needed from Dennis Novak in round one against Hubert Hurkacz before the Austrian faded and Hurkacz made the comeback, but I wonder what that’s taken out of the Pole?
Hurkacz has played plenty of tennis now in the first few weeks of the season and an opponent like John Millman will make him work for every ball, plus I’d have Millman down as a better mover and therefore perhaps with an advantage on a windy day.
Again, perhaps the better shelter on Margaret Court will help as regards the wind, but Millman loves the night matches, saying: “The more rowdy they are, the drunker they are, the better – I love it!”
Gregoire Barrere has been showing up well lately, winning six of his last eight matches and he should really have won one of those that he lost against Sam Querrey in Adelaide.
He says he enjoys playing lefties, such as Guido Pella, and this match represents a fair chance for the Frenchman to show what he can do on a big stage.
“I generally like to play left-handers because they play a lot on my backhand, which I like to lean on a lot,” Barrere said of the Pella match.
Sam Querrey is a favourite that really should be winning on a hard court against Ricardas Berankis, but in this wind and with his record of failure at the Australian Open I wouldn’t be backing Querrey at 1.35.
If the forecast is right this could be a very interesting day indeed on the outside courts and Berrettini and Raonic could be tested, as could plenty of players if the wind is as strong as expected.