by: Ben Stevens

In day 4 we may have lost Novak Djokovic, but on day 5, we got back Roger Federer.

Possibly the most beloved tennis player down under since Andrew Ilie (and props if you know who that is), his 6-2, 6-4, 6-4 dispatching of Tomas Berdych was everything the tournament needed after losing its greatest champion. Looking as good as he ever has against a man with which he has a 23-match rivalry, perhaps the Swiss Maestro isn’t done after all, and even on a day where local hopes flamed out left, right and centre, it’s hard to feel disappointed.

With Saturday comes the biggest day of the tournament attendance wise, making it only suitable that there are some equally massive matches on offer. Who will have people talking on day 7? Read on to find out.

Alexander Zverev (GER) [24] v Rafael Nadal (ESP) [9] – 3rd on Rod Laver Arena

If Sascha Zverev wants to become the first teenager to win a major since Rafa Nadal, he’s going to have to go through… Rafa Nadal. Turning 20 in April, this is the floppy-haired German’s last – and best – chance to join that exclusive club, although overcoming the formerly floppy-haired Nadal remains a gargantuan task. Slipping under the radar in the wake of Roger Federer’s return from injury, Nadal’s own comeback has been quietly the more impressive, winning the Mubadala Exhibition in Abu Dhabi, losing a tight three-setter to Milos Raonic in Brisbane, and remaining untroubled through his opening two AO matches. Their only previous encounter was a three-set victory for Nadal at Indian Wells last year, where Zverev held match point at 5-3 only to lose four straight games, making this a perfect assessment of how far the German has come since then. At 6’6 (and on these courts) Zverev shouldn’t have too much trouble with Nadal’s heavy topspin, but will have to maintain extreme levels of offensive consistency if he wants to do anything with it. This could be a statement game for Nadal, or a star-making one for Zverev, either way it’s sure to be an absolute cracker.

Caroline Wozniacki v Johanna Konta – 3rd on Margaret Court Arena

A resurgent force ever since her run to the US Open semi-finals, Wozniacki will face an immense challenge in 9th seed Konta. The 25-year-old Brit is one of the most in-form women on tour, taking out the Sydney title a week ago and rolling through her first two opponents, including the promising Naomi Osaka, whom Konta seemed to have on a string. In contrast, Wozniacki’s first two matches against Arina Rodionova and Donna Vekic have left her almost entirely untested, making it hard to assess how she matches up. That said, Wozniacki should be able to cause headaches for Konta so long as she can neutralise her serve, and could very easily turn the match into a battle of attrition won as much with the legs as it is with the racquet.

Grigor Dimitrov (BUL) [13] v Richard Gasquet (FRA) [18] – 2nd match, night session on RLA

There’s no shot in tennis prettier than a good one-handed backhand, so any chance you get to watch two of the best is definitely worth taking. On the surface Dimitrov comes in the favourite – especially after his Brisbane title – but historically Gasquet has owned the rivalry with five wins to just one loss, albeit that defeat coming most recently in Shanghai last October. Outside the backhand they possess remarkably similar games (including a decidedly average serve), meaning their battles tend to come down to who can consistently outmanoeuvre the other in longer rallies, although there’s still plenty of potential for moments of brilliance from either player. In the end it’s a match that’s truly impossible to predict, although whoever wins is sure to become a popular choice to take Novak Djokovic’s spot in the semis.


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