It might be a bit of a stretch to say that the tennis world has fully moved on from the Djokovic border debacle. Still, the first round of the Australian Open was enough to take our focus off the messiness of the past two weeks and back onto actual tennis action from Melbourne Park. Five-setters were abundant on the men’s side, with the high watermark being aging legend Andy Murray’s defiant four-hour triumph over 21st seed Nikoloz Basilashivili.
The women’s draw lost a handful of big names, including former champion Angelique Kerber and American hopeful Coco Gauff, potentially signaling the dawn of another chaotic tournament. However, it’ll have to be something genuinely wild to match that of last year’s US Open.
With the first round in the books, we now look forward to a round-two that is not packed with blockbuster matchups, though a handful of gems lie scattered around the draw, primarily on the men’s side (expect the women’s draw to kick in during the third and fourth rounds). Here are the three biggest matchups to catch in the next two days at the Australian Open.
MEDVEDEV VS KYRGIOS (THURSDAY LOCAL TIME)
From the moment the draw was finalised on Thursday afternoon local time, this was the second-rounder that everyone who follows the sport had highlighted. These might be the two most entertaining players in men’s tennis right now. Medvedev is slowly blossoming into one of the sport’s biggest stars. His unique brand of unorthodox excellence combined with his delightfully sarcastic demeanor makes for often captivating, sometimes hilarious viewing.
On the other side, there might be no greater show in tennis today than Nick Kyrgios taking center stage at Melbourne Park. The divisive star was back up to his old tricks in his first-round victory of Liam Broady, with tweener drop serves and crowd conversations aplenty. While his antics once again drew their share of criticisms, you can’t deny that the local star makes for fascinating viewing. Intriguingly, Kyrgios holds a 2-0 record over Medvedev, though they hadn’t met on tour since the Cincinnati final in 2019, just a month before the Russian made his big breakthrough in reaching the US Open final.
It wouldn’t be a total shock for the massively improved world number two to take care of business and roll through the self-described ‘part-time tennis player’ in Kyrgios, but if the Aussie can gain a foothold in the match and the Rod Laver Arena crowd at Melbourne Park can make themselves a factor, expect early tournament fireworks from this one.
MONFILS VS BUBLIK (WEDNESDAY 10:15 PM LOCAL TIME)
If Kyrgios and Medvedev are 1 and 2 on the unofficial list of most entertaining players in the sport, then these two guys might be 3 and 4. Gael Monfils needs no introduction. For over a decade, the charismatic Frenchman has been one of the tour’s most beloved figures, bringing unmatched energy to the court that makes for incredibly entertaining viewing, and the crowd both on TV and live at Melbourne Park are in for a treat.
After a rough 18 months that saw him drop outside of the world’s top-15, the 35-year-old has seemingly re-found his mojo and looked back to his old self in storming to a title in Adelaide in the first week of the season. Bublik, on the other hand, is cut from the same cloth as his friend, Medvedev, in his remarkably laid-back, at times almost indifferent attitude makes him one of the tour’s most confounding players.
Maybe the most consistent advocate of the underarm serve, his unpredictability makes for must-see TV, as the 24-year-old Kazakh is never shy about throwing in an unorthodox mid-rally shot to keep his opponent on their toes. Both guys are a pleasure to watch when they’re in the groove, and both often bring a uniquely playful attitude to a sport that is often filled with serious and dour characters, so if you like your tennis with a healthy side of antics, this could be a dream matchup.
FRITZ VS TIAFOE (THURSDAY LOCAL TIME)
A match that seems of far too high quality to be seen in the second round of any draw, much like we saw with Emma Raducanu and Sloane Stephens in the first round in the women’s draw. Americans Taylor Fritz and Frances Tiafoe will square off in a domestic clash that is about as 50/50 as a first-week matchup can get.
Fritz is currently riding what might be the best stretch of his career, sitting at his career-high ranking of world no. 22 and coming off of a fantastic ATP Cup run which saw him claim victories over top-15 names Cameron Norrie and Felix Auger-Aliassime. Tiafoe hasn’t made much of 2022 thus far, but the second half of 2021 saw him reach a career-best fourth round at the US Open and his first-ever ATP 500 final in Vienna.
Fritz’s better recent form likely makes him a modest favourite. Still, by this point, we know how much ‘Big Foe’ loves the big stage and with both men now drifting into their mid-20’s without a major slam run to their name, expect a fiercely contested contest between the two American hopefuls.