In a tournament that has already seen its fair share of upsets, the Australian Open could be set for more drama when the third round gets underway in Melbourne on Friday. Just the first two rounds have left the women’s draw without more than half of its seeds, while on the men’s side 14-time Grand Slam winner Rafael Nadal has long since bitten the dust.
Two fellow contenders for the men’s title will now be aiming to make sure they don’t go the same way. For Roger Federer the threat may feel particularly real, given it was at this stage that he bowed out of the Australian Open a year ago. And this time around he’ll be going up against a talented and in-form Grigor Dimitrov.
The 24-year-old’s game has been likened to that of Federer since first arriving on tour, but he has so far struggled to live up to that lofty comparison. After reaching the Wimbledon semifinals in 2014, he took a step back last year, explaining why he is seeded at just 27 for the Australian Open. Yet prior to arriving in Melbourne he reached the quarterfinal in both Brisbane, where he pushed Federer to three sets, and the final in Sydney.
“He’s on a high right now,” Federer said of Dimitrov after beating Alexander Dolgopolov in straight sets in the second round. “I think it's a tough draw, to be honest. He's got the game to be really dangerous. He's fit enough for a five-setter, so, I’ve definitely got to bring my best game to the court.”
It was Andreas Seppi who ousted Federer in the third round a year ago, and now the Italian will aim to cause an even bigger upset when going up against world No. 1 and defending champion Novak Djokovic. On paper it should be a straightforward win for the Serbian, having beaten Seppi in all 11 of their previous meetings. Yet the fact that Federer held a 10-0 head-to-head advantage over Seppi before his defeat last year should warn Djokovic against any complacency.
Still, Djokovic, who will be moved away from the main court at Melbourne Park, the Rod Laver Arena, to the first night match on Margaret Court Arena, has looked in imperious form so far this year. As well as demolishing Rafael Nadal in the final in Qatar, he has breezed through his first two matches in Melbourne. And in his sights is a sixth Australian Open title and equaling the record of Australian great Roy Emerson.
Perhaps the most fireworks on day five could arrive in the final match of the night on Rod Laver Arena. That’s when the unpredictable Nick Kyrgios will go up against sixth seed, and last year’s semifinalist, Tomas Berdych. Elsewhere, two former Grand Slam finalists, Kei Nishikori and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, as well as former U.S. Open champion Marin Cilic will aim to book their place in the last 16.
On the women’s side, two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova and world No. 2 Simona Halep have already been sent packing. On Friday, the dominant world No. 1 will be looking to ensure she stays on track to defend her title. Serena Williams has so far shown little sign of the knee injury that forced her withdrawal from the Hopman Cup two weeks ago, and will now meet Russian teenager Daria Kasatkina. The 18-year-old, playing her first Australian Open, will be a heavy underdog, but she can call upon the experience of beating Serena’s sister Venus in Auckland at the start of 2016.
“Yeah, I don't think it's going to be easy,” Williams said after beating Hsieh Su-wei in round two. “Any time someone is beating Venus they are more than likely playing really good. So I definitely will be ready for that. I obviously will ask Venus what she thought of the match.”
The day’s play begins on Rod Laver Arena with another teenager, 12th seed Belinda Bencic, attempting to keep her run going up against experienced Ukrainian Kateryna Bondarenko. Following that contest, former champion Maria Sharapova will try to stop American Lauren Davis from reaching the fourth round of a Grand Slam for the first time.
Schedule (all times EST)
Rod Laver Arena (7 p.m. start)
Belinda Bencic vs. Kateryna Bondarenko
Lauren Davis vs. Maria Sharapova
Roger Federer vs. Grigor Dimitrov
Not before 3 a.m.:
Serena Williams vs. Daria Kasatkina
NickKyrgios vs. Tomas Berdych
Margaret Court Arena
Guillermo Garcia-Lopez vs. Kei Nishikori
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga vs. Pierre-Hughes Herbert
Agnieszka Radwanska vs. Monica Puig
Not before 3 a.m.:
Novak Djokovic vs. Andreas Seppi
Carla Suarez Navarro vs. Elizaveta Kulichkova
Dominic Thiem vs. David Goffin
Anna-Lena Friedsam vs. Roberta Vinci
Federico Delbonis vs. Giles Simon
Kristina Mladenovic vs. Daria Gavrilova
Show Court 2
Margarita Gasparyan vs. Yulia Putintseva
Following a women’s and a men’s doubles match:
Marin Cilic vs. Roberto Bautista Agut
7 p.m. – 11 p.m.: Tennis Channel
11 p.m. – 7 a.m.: ESPN2