After the intense drama of day 4, day 5 was relatively incident free at the 2014 Australian Open. Here are my picks for matches to watch on day 6.
Alize Cornet (25) vs. Maria Sharapova (3)
Both these women came through tough three-setters to set up this third round encounter. Cornet had to come from behind to beat Camila Giorgi, while Sharapova had to dig deep and use every last ounce of mental strength to overcome Karin Knapp in a titanic final set. It was the kind of performance that can often shake a top player from the early season stupor, and I expect Sharapova to be more relaxed in a match where she should be able to dictate the points, although Cornet can be dangerous when engaged in long rallies. I expect the world no. 3 to come through in a well-fought match.
Rafael Nadal (1) vs. Gael Monfils (25)
Nadal and Monfils met in the finals of Doha barely two weeks ago, with the world no. 1 winning in three sets, and its hard to see a different outcome in Melbourne. Monfils looks a much improved player in 2014 as witnessed in his convincing wins over Ryan Harrison and Jack Sock. Unfortunately for Monfils, whose strengths are speed and defence, he is up against a man who is the undisputed leader in those very attributes. Monfils might take Nadal to a few tie-breaks, or possibly even sneak a set, but the Spaniard should win in a match that will certainly feature plenty of lengthy cloud-pleasing rallies.
Andy Murray (4) vs. Feliciano Lopez (26)
In seven meetings between the two, Feliciano Lopez has never beaten Andy Murray. This is not to say that the matches between the two have not been entertaining. Tennis is always a great spectacle when an excellent returner takes on a serve-and-volley specialist, and that’s what you get to see when these two clash. The fact that it will be cooler on Saturday might reduce the potency of the Lopez serve, nevertheless it should make for an entertaining game of cat and mouse between these two. Despite not playing since the US Open, Murray has looked trouble free in the first two rounds, and while Lopez will have streaks of brilliance, the Scotsman’s all-round game and tactical superiority should see him through in four sets of high quality tennis.
Jo-Wilfired Tsonga (10) vs. Gilles Simon (18)
That Simon has made the third round to set up a clash against his fellow countryman is nothing short of remarkable. The Frenchman was on crutches a week ago, then won his first round match by taking the final set 16-14, before coming back from two sets to one down to beat Marin Cilic in the second round. Tsonga on the other hand has looked untroubled in his two matches despite just returning from injury himself. Matches between the two are hard to predict, and a lot will depend on Tsonga’s intensity. The pair split their meetings in 2013, and I believe the result will hinge on Tsonga’s ability to win cheap points against Simon’s relentless defence. One thing is for sure, Simon can’t be written off no matter the physical exertions he has had in the tournament so far. The world no. 10 is the slight favourite, but its too close to call.
Milos Raonic (11) vs. Grigor Dimitrov (22)
As a result of Juan Martin Del Potro’s surprise exit in the second round, these two have a golden opportunity to make their first grand slam quarterfinal appliance in Melbourne this year. Raonic and Dimitrov have been hyped for a few years now, but neither has yet to make a successful breakthrough in a grand slam. The Canadian has one of the best serves in the game, though his all-round game still needs improvement. Dimitrov on the other hand has every shot in the book, and on his day can play sensational tennis. The Bulgarian has been touted as the next Roger Federer, but acquiring the winning mentality and shot making consistency is a different ball game compared to simply modelling one’s playing style on the Swiss legend. Both players will know in the back of their mind that they might not get such a chance again, and with that knowledge comes pressure. Despite his lower rank, I think Maria Sharapova’s boyfriend is a better player, however if Raonic’s serve is on fire, he can be unstoppable. I am expecting a tough match, that could go either way over five sets.