Day 5 Preview: Nadal Confronts His Demon; Federer Faces Fritz
Tonight, the eyes of a nation will be fixed on Rod Laver Arena when Australian teenager Alex de Minaur takes on 17-time Grand Slam champion Rafael Nadal.
It’s hard to overstate the domestic interest in this showdown, which pits the jaw-dropping court movement of Australia’s top-ranked player against the most imposing physical presence on the ATP Tour. De Minaur, 19, ended the 2017 season ranked 208, but has since slashed that to 29. Nadal, 32, is ranked No. 2 and again looks the most likely player – at least early in the season – to challenge Novak Djokovic for the prized No. 1 ATP Ranking.
“He’s a great player, young, playing with big confidence after winning matches,” said Nadal, the 2009 Australian Open champion. “It will be tough one. I need to be ready for it… I think he has improved a lot over the past three years. Today, he is one of the best players in the world.”
Nadal leads De Minaur 1-0 in their FedEx ATP Head2Head series, having won their Wimbledon 2018 third-round encounter 6-1, 6-2, 6-4. Last week, 2018 Newcomer of the Year De Minaur won his first title in his third ATP Tour final at the Sydney International (d. Seppi).
“I’m obviously playing some great tennis,” said De Minaur. “To be able to get all these wins under my belt definitely helps a lot, to build just that momentum and keep playing some good tennis day in, day out. Obviously against Rafa that’s going to be something special.
“I got the chance to play him in Wimbledon on Centre Court. I feel like I learned a lot from that experience. I’m really looking forward to just having fun, going out there and just competing.”
In another battle of generations Friday, Roger Federer will take to Rod Laver Arena for the 100th time when he meets 21-year-old American Taylor Fritz. The Swiss is attempting to reach the second week of a major for the 63rd time.
The two-time defending champion, who has enjoyed straight-sets wins over Denis Istomin and Daniel Evans in his first two rounds, needed three sets to beat Fritz in their only meeting to date, on grass in Stuttgart in 2016.
Fritz, who is chasing his first appearance in the last 16 of a Grand Slam, toughed out a 6-3, 6-7(8), 7-6(6), 7-6(5) win over Gael Monfils in the second round.
Sixth seed and 2018 finalist Marin Cilic faces 26th seed Fernando Verdasco in a match likely to feature myriad clean winners. Verdasco has played two of the most memorable matches of his career at Melbourne Park. In 2016 he stunned Nadal in five sets in the first round, avenging an epic five-set loss to Nadal in an epic 2009 semi-final.
More Matches To Watch Friday
No. 10 Karen Khachanov (RUS) v No. 22 Roberto Bautista Agut (ESP)
No. 14 Stefanos Tsitsipas (GRE) v No. 19 Nikoloz Basilashvili (GEO)
No. 18 Diego Schwartzman (ARG) v Tomas Berdych (CZE)
No. 20 Grigor Dimitrov (BUL) v Thomas Fabbiano (ITA)
Frances Tiafoe (USA) v Andreas Seppi (ITA)