Preview: Will Berrettini Stop Alcaraz’s Australian Open Charge? | ATP tour

It’s the kind of heavyweight brawl that usually starts with the ringing of a bell. Two of the greatest tennis players will face off in the third round of the Australian Open on Friday, when Matteo Berrettini and Carlos Alcaraz meet for the second time in three months.

The 18-year-old Spaniard scored the knockout in the quarterfinals of the pair in Vienna this fall and won a tiebreak in the third set before falling to Alexander Zverev in the semifinals. Since then, Alcaraz won the Intesa Sanpaola Next Gen ATP Finals title before entering Melbourne as the youngest Grand Slam seed in over 30 years.

“I think I’ve grown up since that game,” he said of that meeting with Berrettini, whom he called one of the best servers of the Tour. “All I can say is I’m going to have fun [in Friday’s meeting]. I’m going to play my game and let’s see what happens.”

What happened in Alcaraz’s first two games in Melbourne was nothing short of dominance, as he passed Alejandro Tabilo and Dusan Lajovic in a sleeveless shirt and all-red kit. In his Rod Laver Arena debut, Alcaraz will strive to keep his game and his attire consistent.

“I feel really comfortable playing sleeveless,” he said with a smile when asked about a possible wardrobe change. He is a clay court by nature, but he also feels comfortable – perhaps even more so – on the hard courts of the ATP Tour.

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Photo credits: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images
In the Italian corner, Berrettini could get a first jolt to the youngster, who called Stefanos Tsitsipas the hardest hitting player he’s ever seen after their US Open battle in the third round (Alcaraz won in a tiebreaker in the fifth set).

The seventh seed faced an opponent in style in the second round, when he defeated wildcard Stefan Kozlov 6-1, 4-6, 6-4, 6-1.

“He doesn’t hit the ball, I think on purpose, sometimes not so hard,” Berrettini said of the American. ‘So then your feet slow down and I think he did his web, like a spider. And I fell in.”

Fully recovered from stomach issues that afflicted him on the first lap, the Italian will have to work his way through a very different puzzle in Alcaraz.

In Thursday’s nightcap at the Rod Laver Arena, Rafael Nadal will take on 28th-seeded Karen Khachanov. Separated by 10 years old (35 vs. 25), they are known opponents. Nadal is known for winning against the Russian, leading 7-0 in their ATP Head2Head record having lost just one set in their history.

But that stat doesn’t explain some of the very tight sets between the two. Five of their past six sets have been decided by tie-breaks, all five headed towards Nadal, spanning matches at the 2018 US Open, 2019 BNP Paribas Open and the 2019 Davis Cup final.

The Spanish sixth seed is a perfect 5-0 and has yet to drop a set in 2022, including his title run at the Melbourne Summer Set earlier this month. But Khachanov will be his first Top 60 opponent of the new year as Nadal looks set to accelerate his comeback from a left foot injury that kept him out of the US Open.

“As I said before the tournament, things won’t be perfect, but every day I spend on the court, the chances of playing better are greater,” Nadal said after his 6-2, 6-3, 6- 4 victory over Germany’s Yannick Hanfmann in the second round. “Things I can improve, I have to improve. By winning today, I can train again tomorrow, be ready for a new game. After two games, it’s time to take a step forward.”

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Photo Credits: Peter Staples/ATP Tour
With placed opposition clashing for the first time at the Australian Open in the third round, there are two more such matches scheduled for Day 5: Denis Shapovalov against Reilly Opelka at the Margaret Court Arena and Cristian Garin against Gael Monfils at the Kia Arena.

Shapovalov, placed 14th and 23rd seed Opelka have taken contrasting paths into the third round. The Canadian played five tiebreaks in nine Melbourne sets before falling behind South Korean Soonwoo Kwon in the second round, eventually surviving 7-6(6), 6-7(3), 6-7(6) , 7-5, 6-2.

Opelka is 2-0 in tie-breaks at the tournament and has not dropped a set in victories over Kevin Anderson and Dominik Koepfer. He has broken only once, compared to eight times for Shapovalov.

It’s a similar story for Monfils and Garin from Series 17. While the Frenchman lost just five games in each of his first two matches, Garin needed five sets each time to continue. The 16th seed has spent over nine hours on the track, compared to just over three hours for Monfils. The 25-year-old Chilean will see what he still has in his young legs against the veteran, 10 years his oldest.

As the draw dwindles, there are only eight men’s singles games left on Friday. Third seed Alexander Zverev takes on Moldovan qualifier Radu Albot, while 18th seed and 2021 AO semi-finalist Aslan Karatsev takes on France’s Adrian Mannarino, who upset 10th seed Hubert Hurkacz in the second round in straight sets. Rounding out the action on day 5 are the encounter of the 19th seed Pablo Carreno Busta with the American Sebastian Korda and the matchup of the 25th seed Lorenzo Sonego with the Serbian Miomir Kecmanovic.

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