Damien Kayat previews the 2023 Men’s Australian Open as Andy Murray faces Roberto Bautista Agut and Andrey Rublev takes on Dan Evans in the third round.
2023 ATP Tour
Grand Slam Tennis
Melbourne Park, Melbourne, Australia (Outdoor Hardcourt)
Selected 3rd Round Matches
Andy Murray (5/2) | Roberto Bautista Agut (29/100)
At what point does epic descend into farce? Andy Murray’s herculean five-set win against Thanasi Kokkinakis lasted almost six hours (the 2nd longest match in Aussie Open history).
But the match only started at 10pm, meaning Murray only exited the court at 4am. What kind of preparation is he going to have for this baseline duel? Murray also needed five sets to upset Matteo Berrettini in the first-round. His injury record is the stuff of legend and it’s really going to take something miraculous for the Scot to follow up Wednesday’s heroics.
Murray has been the perpetual bridesmaid in Melbourne, finishing runner-up on five occasions in his storied career. He reached his first ATP final since 2019 at last year’s Sydney Tennis Classic (highlighting his ability on these slick Aussie hardcourts). I just have my doubts about his ability to rebound from yet another marathon match.
Next up for the surly Scot is fellow thirtysomething Roberto Bautista Agut. The Spaniard is in many ways a slightly watered-down version of the Scot. He hugs the baseline and relies on supreme defensive skills.
He perhaps never had the same sort of weaponry of a Murray (on either wing). Still, he has managed to compile an extremely creditable career, winning 11 titles and remaining in and around the top 15 for the better part of a decade. But he has started to lose some traction over the past two seasons (age has obviously caught up to him to some extent).
Still, he managed to win two titles last year and he is fresh off a run to the Adelaide I final. He is also coming off a hard fought five-set win against exuberant American qualifier Brandon Holt. He hit 43 winners to 27 unforced errors and managed to win the last three sets quite convincingly.
Verdict: Bautista Agut to win in four at 51/20
These two share the head-to-head spoils at three wins a piece. But the Spaniard has actually won their last three matches. This included a win in the first-round of the 2019 Aussie Open.
I just think that the experienced Spanish baseliner will know exactly how to play this. He will use his considerable courtcraft to manipulate the Scot. Bautista Agut is a nightmare opponent for someone looking to avoid protracted rallies.
Andrey Rublev (24/100) | Dan Evans (29/10)
I think it’s fair to say that a lot of weird things have been happening at this year’s Aussie Open. Between Danielle Collins celebrating prematurely and Murray’s 4am finish; this year’s Aussie Open has seen a fair share of startling moments.
And both of these players are emerging from fairly combustible 2nd round matches. Andrey Rublev was handed an audible obscenity penalty, with the umpire believing that the Russian had sworn at him in his native language. This resulted in Rublev lambasting the umpire in a tirade that angered many commentators.
Rublev ultimately collected himself to win in four sets, hitting 51 winners and a surprisingly poor 50 unforced errors. Rublev obliterated Thiem in his first-round match and seems to have overcome his poor back-to-back defeats in Adelaide.
He will be buzzing after a few major casualties in the men’s draw. He has underdelivered for far too long at this level and this could be his time to shine.
Dan Evans- no stranger to controversy himself- was a passive observer of an absolutely insane rant by 2nd round opponent Jeremy Chardy. The Frenchman lost a point but accidentally dropped a ball during the rally.
He argued (perhaps correctly) that the point should be replayed. It went on for ten minutes. It was a fairly ugly incident that detracted from how excellent Evans played. He won in straight sets, really dominating the Frenchman from start to finish. The pugnacious Brit has been incrementally improving for some time. He won his maiden ATP Tour title at the Murray River Open in 2021.
This showcased his applicability to handle these quick surfaces. He also reached his maiden Masters 1000 semi-final in Montreal last season (where he beat a certain Russian baseliner in the process). The fiery Evans is a dangerous opponent to anyone when he is suitably motivated.
Verdict: Rublev to win in four at 24/10
They have met six times at the highest level, sharing the spoils with six wins apiece. They played each other three times last year, with Rublev winning twice and Evans clinching their match at the Montreal Masters.
Evans’ dogged defence and determination actually makes him a good foil for the relentless ball-striking of Rublev. I expect the Brit may be able to pinch a set due to his pure nuisance value. But the sheer power of those Rublev groundstrokes should prove decisive.