By Alessandro Mastroluca

  • Nick Kyrgios [16] v Karen Khachanov [23]
  • Alexander Zverev [7] v Fernando Verdasco
  • Elina Svitolina [5] v Garbine Muguruza
MELBOURNE, Australia – Kyrgios aims to equal his best Australian Open performance facing Khachanov. Verdasco will test Zverev’s consistency on serve, Muguruza meets Svitolina

 

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Nick Kyrgios [16] v Karen Khachanov [23] | Khachanov leads H2H 2-0

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Prior to today, there have been 50 meetings between Russians and Australians at the Grand Slams, with Russian players winning on 27 occasions. Karen Khachanov is the higher-ranked of the two players in this clash, but Nick Kyrgios has had more success at the Australian Open to date as he reached the quarterfinals here in 2015, while Khachanov is aiming to move to the last 16 here for the first time.

The Russian won both their previous clashes, at junior level in Paris in 2013 on clay and in Cincinnati last summer coming back after losing the first set. He looked far from convincing in his five-set victory over Mikael Ymer in the second round, as he struggled to have an impact with his forehand. Should he, Daniil Medvedev and Andrey Rublev all win today, it will also be the first time that three Russian men have reached the fourth round in a major since 2007 Roland Garros.

He needs to find range and depth, to put a lot of balls in play during his return games not to lose his edge over Kyrgios, who looked particularly motivated and focused in his opening matches. Having a larger cause to fight for seems to help him, as it happens when he’s involved in a team competition. It won’t be an easy affair, however, for the lazy Australian. Capable of jaw-dropping winners, Kyrgios has won one of his last 10 meetings with Top 20 opposition at the Grand Slams.

Prediction: Khachanov in four sets

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Alexander Zverev [7] v Fernando Verdasco | H2H tied at 2-2

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Rafael Nadal will aim to extend a four-match winning streak against Pablo Carreno Busta, Taylor Fritz faces Dominic Thiem, Medvedev will make the challenge more daunting for Alexei Popyrin, who is attempting to reach the last 16 at a major for the first time.

Another match could offer relevant insights, anyway, the fifth career meeting between Fernando Verdasco and the No.7 seed Alexander Zverev. The German, billed as the next big thing three years ago, has struggled to live up to his full potential particularly at Grand Slam level. His physical and tactical limits frustrated his ambitions, and the pressure mounted. His serve, one of the keys for his success alongside the flat backhand return, deserted him almost completely for most of the 2019 campaign.

Before the Australian Open, he represented Germany at the ATP Cup, where he lost all the three singles matches he contested, even fuming against his father. In Melbourne, he regrouped in the opening rounds and completed his first wins of the season looking untouchable on serve.

Bidding to reach the second week here for the second straight year and equal his best Australian Open
result, he will need to beat Verdasco for the third time and maintain his recent serve percentages. The clash against the Spanish veteran will measure his ambitions and his chances to become the youngest Australian Open
men’s singles champion since Nadal won the title here in 2009.

Prediction: Zverev in four sets

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Elina Svitolina [5] v Garbine Muguruza | Svitolina leads H2H 6-4

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Elina Svitolina has clinched five of her six victories over Garbine Muguruza on hard-courts, but the Spaniard has won the last three meetings between the two in a major. The World No.32, making her eighth main draw appearance at the Australian Open, aims to equal her 2017 quarter-final run. Unseeded for the first time at a Grand Slam tournament for the first time since 2014 Roland Garros, she took out Shelby Rogers and Ajla Tomljanovic. Owning an impressive 13-1 win-loss ratio in the third rounds at this level, she hopes to beat a Top 10 player in a major for the first time since beating today’s opponent No.9 Svitolina at Roland Garros last year.

Svitolina is now two wins away from notching her 200th career main draw victory on hard-court. The Ukrainian, a losing quarter-finalist in the last two seasons in Melbourne, excelled on the Grand Slam stage last year, posting back-to-back semifinals at Wimbledon and US Open. She beat Katie Boulter and Lauren Davis in the first two rounds, improving his Grand Slam record to 60-29. She has good chances to reach the third round for the eleventh time in a major.

Prediction: Svitolina in three sets

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