Can Shapovalov Shock Djokovic Down Under?
If you want to see the active legends of the ATP Tour challenged by the #NextGenATP, it gets no better than a match that will take place on Rod Laver Arena on Saturday at the Australian Open. Six-time champion Novak Djokovic, the top seed in Melbourne, will look to battle past 19-year-old Canadian star Denis Shapovalov for a spot in the fourth round.
Shapovalov was just eight years old when Djokovic triumphed at the Australian Open for the first time in 2008. So while the 25th seed has the utmost respect for his opponent, that adds even more motivation to try to reach the fourth round of a major for the second time.
“Novak is definitely one of the big guys I really admired and looked up to growing up. It's definitely going to be awesome, just awesome to play against him, see how my game matches up against his,” Shapovalov said. “There's no pressure on me now. Obviously he's the favourite to win. I'm just going to go out there, give it my best shot, and see what happens. I think I've been playing really good tennis, so if that continues, I think I could have a chance to really make it a battle and a tough match for him.”
It’s an important clash for the Serbian, as the top seed can guarantee that he will remain atop the ATP Rankings on 28 January if he wins. So it’s no surprise that Djokovic is not taking his opponent lightly, especially given that Shapovalov has already defeated Rafael Nadal in his young career.
“He's impressive not just as a talented tennis player but also how he goes about his professionalism, his commitments, how he deals with pressure, how confident he is on the court. Quite impressive. I've been following him the last couple years because he's one of the Next Gen stars,” Djokovic said. “He brings a lot of energy to the court, which is great to see. I expect a really interesting encounter. He will not have anything really to lose, so I'm sure he's going to come out really pumped.”
Djokovic has won 17 consecutive Grand Slam matches against lefties, with his most recent loss coming against Nadal in the final of Roland Garros in 2014. The 31-year-old will hope to continue his pursuit of a record-breaking seventh title at Melbourne Park.
Fourth seed Alexander Zverev will look to use the momentum he gained from a five-set victory against Jeremy Chardy when he faces home favourite Alex Bolt. Zverev has reached the third round in Australia the past two years, but he’ll hope to earn a career-best result at the year’s first major against World No. 155 Bolt, who quit tennis a few years ago and went into construction before ultimately returning to the sport and discovering a fresh love for tennis.
“His journey is quite amazing. He's playing really good tennis right now. Obviously being in the third round, beating Gilles Simon, which is never easy,” Zverev said. “I'm happy for him. But in two days' time, I'll be playing him. I'll do everything I can to prevent him going further.”
Eighth seed Kei Nishikori was on the brink of defeat against 39-year-old Ivo Karlovic on Thursday. But the Japanese star battled through and will hope to reach the fourth round for his seventh straight appearance when he faces Portugal’s Joao Sousa. Nishikori has won the pair’s only previous completed FedEx ATP Head2Head match.
An intriguing match will be between 15th seed Daniil Medvedev and 21st seed David Goffin. Neither player has a true weakness in his game, so it will be interesting to see if Goffin’s speed will be able to nullify Medvedev’s serving and first-strike tennis. This will be their first clash.
In the only remaining match of the day between two seeded players, 12th seed Fabio Fognini faces 23rd seed Pablo Carreno Busta. Perhaps surprisingly, Carreno Busta has won all five of their previous clashes, including two meetings on hard courts (indoors). Eleventh seed Borna Coric faces Serbian Filip Krajinovic, No. 18 seed Milos Raonic returns to action after his thrilling four-set victory against Stan Wawrinka to play Frenchman Pierre-Hugues Herbert, and 28th seed Lucas Pouille confronts home hope Alexei Popyrin.