By Ricky Dimon
Get your popcorn ready for third-round action at the Australian Open on Friday.
Here are some of the matchups: Rafael Nadal vs. Karen Khachanov, Matteo Berrettini vs. Carlos Alcaraz, Denis Shapovalov vs. Reilly Opelka, and Pablo Carreno Busta vs. Sebastian Korda.
Berrettini vs. Alcaraz has to be the marquee matchup of the lot. It’s a third-round showdown worthy of the quarterfinals if not even the semis. In 2021, Berrittini went 16-0 at Grand Slams against opponents other than Novak Djokovic. The Italian made a second Nitto ATP Finals appearance last season, and that may be where Alcaraz is headed in 2022. The 18-year-old Spaniard made a run the U.S. Open quarters last summer and has begun this season in daunting form.
Neither man had any trouble advancing on Wednesday. Berrettini endured a mid-match hiccup but got past Stefan Kozlov 6-1, 4-6, 6-4, 6-1. Alcaraz overpowered Dusan Lajovic 6-2, 6-1, 7-5.
“It was a really tough match,” Berrettini admitted. “[Kozlov] is a really tricky player. I think I started pretty well and then he started playing better. I wasn’t feeling my strokes as the first set. I had to fight through.”
The biggest fights on Wednesday were won by Shapovalov and Korda. Shapovalov overcame Soonwoo Kwon 7-6(6), 6-7(3), 6-7(6), 7-5, 6-2 after four hours and 25 minutes. Korda was almost on the next flight out of Melbourne when Corentin Moutet served for the match in the fourth set, but the 21-year-old American ended up surviving 3-6, 6-4, 6-7(2), 7-5, 7-6(6) in four hours and 47 minutes.
Carreno Busta–Korda’s next opponent–also needed five sets to prevail. He joined fellow Spaniards Nadal and Alcaraz in the round of 16 by outlasting Tallon Griekspoor 6-3, 6-7(6), 7-6(3), 3-6, 6-4 in four hours and 10 minutes.
With Cristian Garin’s five-set win over Pedro Martinez, four matches on Wednesday lasted more than four hours. It was a thrilling day of tennis pretty much from start to finish.
Looking at the third-round matchups that are now set, Friday could be even better.
Ricky contributes to10sballs.com and also maintains his own tennis website, The Grandstand. You can follow him on twitter at @Dimonator.