Australian Open Day 5 matches to watch
Bernard Tomic took down Fernando Verdasco in five sets and Sam Querrey in four on his way to a third-round matchup with Alexandr Dolgopolov. (Reuters)
It's still an odd sight to pull up the daily order of play and see Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer playing on the same day, back-to-back, no less. The top men should progress on Friday (Nadal is 2-0 against Lukas Lacko and Federer is 9-1 against Ivo Karlovic), so here are the other matches I'll be watching on Day 5.
Bernard Tomic vs. Alexandr Dolgopolov (first night match, Rod Laver Arena): Andy Murray tapped Tomic as one of the players he enjoys watching and said he'd be tuning into this match. "There will be some junk in that match, for sure," Murray said. Indeed there will be. Few players are as unconventional in their shot-making as these two. While Tomic may not overwhelm with power, he uses constant variety to ensure that the match is played on his terms. Dolgopolov's variety doesn't have quite the same effect, but creative use of his backhand slice combined with his athleticism can be dangerous. Just ask Robin Soderling, who suffered a five-set upset loss to Dolgopolov here last year. (Here's Bruce Jenkins' piece on Dolgopolov written after his run in Moselle last year.)
Tomic is 0-3 against the Ukrainian, though their last two matches went the full three sets (at Shanghai and Sydney last year). The Australian has showed impressive focus in the tournament, and his unflappable nature could be the difference here against the unpredictable Dolgopolov.
Victoria Azarenka vs. Mona Barthel (first match, Hisense Arena): This will either be Azarenka's first test of the tournament, or she'll continue steamrolling into the fourth round. She's dropped only two games in two matches, but with Barthel she runs into a confident player who has won 10 consecutive matches. Eight of those victories came at Hobart, where Barthel emerged from qualifying to win her first WTA title. The 21-year-old German shouldn't trouble Azarenka, but never underestimate what a player can do on the big stage when she's riding a streak with absolutely nothing to lose.
John Isner vs. Feliciano Lopez (third match, Hisense Arena): Who likes aces? Do you like aces? Well, then this is the match for you. Isner finished second last year with 811 aces and Lopez was third with 734. Surprisingly, the two have met only once, last year in Paris, where Isner won 6-4. 6-2, blasting 11 aces to Lopez's three. The big question (no pun intended) is whether Isner has had time to recover, both physically and emotionally, from his controversy-marred five-set win against David Nalbandian on Wednesday. Apart from struggling with what he described as a "gnarly" blister on his big toe, Isner said he wasn't feeling too bad after that match.
Jelena Jankovic vs. Christina McHale (fourth match, Margaret Court Arena): This is a winnable match for McHale, who upset No. 24 seed Lucie Safarova in the first round and rallied from a set down in her second-round match against Marina Erakovic to make the third round of a second straight major. That's great progress for the 19-year-old. Jankovic, meanwhile, hasn't made the fourth round here since 2009 and showed some shaky form early in her second-round match against Kai-Chen Chang.
McHale has been steadily racking up top 20 wins, most notably beating Marion Bartoli at the U.S. Open last year. This is a great opportunity for the young American to make the fourth round, where she might get a crack at Caroline Wozniacki, whom she beat the last time they faced off, in Cincinnati last year. Caroline Wozniacki vs. Monica Niculescu (second match, Hisense Arena): If you've never seen Niculescu play her funky game, take this opportunity to do so. With no topspin forehand to speak of, the top-ranked Romanian has climbed her way into the top 35 on grit and guile. She slices, she dices, she screams and she shouts, and somehow it works for her. Her junky game isn't everyone's cup of tea (I put myself in that category), but it can be entertaining to watch. She hasn't taken a set off Wozniacki in their two career matchups, and I don't expect her to here. But this match could still be a spectacle.