The heat wave is set to continue in Melbourne on Thursday, as Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, Andy Murray and Maria Sharapova will be among the players looking to secure their places in the third round of the Australian Open.
Nadal has been able to avoid the brutal conditions thus far, after his first round match under the lights lasted just a single set before opponent Bernard Tomic retired. The top seed will face another Australian with even less experience in the second round, as he takes on 17-year-old wild card Thanasi Kokkinakis. While Nadal may require some time to adjust to vagaries of this year’s courts, he is unlikely to be troubled by a player ranked 570 in the world when the two take to the Rod Laver Arena in the third match of the day.
Kokkinakis had played just one main ATP Tour match before arriving at the Australian Open, where he disposed of Igor Sijsling in the first round. Nadal will be keen for an efficient display in temperatures that are again expected to rise into triple figures, but he may also be eager to send a message that he is primed to provide a stiff challenge to tournament favorite Novak Djokovic.
That pair currently look to be in a league of their own Down Under, but Federer and Murray will be looking to show that they can be a factor in the latter stages. Now aged 32, Federer’s flailing form in the last 12 months means that the sixth seed will be required to compete on Melbourne Park’s secondary show court, the Margaret Court Arena, for the first time since 2004. The surroundings are likely to present the Swiss great with more consternation that his opponent, Slovakia’s Blaz Kavcic.
While Federer’s chances of lifting the title are hampered by his adjustment to a larger racket head, Murray is still bouncing back from a back injury that ruled him out for the latter part of last year following the U.S. Open. Having breezed past Go Saeda in the opening round, the three-time Australian Open runner-up will be expected to do similar against French qualifier Vincent Millot during the night session on Rod Laver Arena.
The day is kicked off on the main court by third seed Maria Sharapova, who meets Italian Karin Knapp. The two have met just once before, when the Russian prevailed in straight sets at the 2008 French Open.
Meanwhile, Victoria Azarenka will continue her quest to claim a third straight Australian Open title when she takes a 2-0 head-to-head record into her second round encounter with Czech Barbora Zahlavova Strycova.
There is plenty of American interest too. Jack Sock faces the biggest test, with the 21-year-old going up against French 25th seed Gael Monfils, who disposed of another American, Ryan Harrison, in the first round. On the women’s side, Sloane Stephens faces Croatian Ajla Tomljanovic. Stephens is looking to reproduce her form in Melbourne Park 12 months ago when she ousted Serena Williams on her way to the semifinals.
Where to watch: Day four’s play at the Australian Open begins at 7 p.m. ET, with a live stream of all the televised courts available on ESPN3. Television coverage begins on ESPN2 at 9 p.m.
Sports reporter, mainly focusing on my native sport of soccer, but also dabbling in some tennis and Formula One.