There’s something special about night tennis. The bright lights, the rowdier fans, and the bigger TV audience watching all adds to the spectacle. You know what’s better, though? Early morning tennis.

No place is this more evident than at the Australian Open, where each year we seem to get more than our fair share of “midnight madness”, Dominic Thiem’s 6-4, 6-3, 5-7, 1-6, 6-3 victory over Benoit Paire – which finished at 2:08am – being the latest example.

Gone is the sense of spectacle that accompanies primetime matches, in its place an increasing sense of novelty. Players as desperate to win as go to bed try weird things, like Thiem hitting a double-handed backhand pass, or Paire stringing two solid games together. Local fans, of which only the diehards remain, are joined in their vigil by people waking up on the other side of the world, all in bemused disbelief that world class athletic competition is going on at such an hour.

No, it’s probably not the greatest thing for the players themselves, but the fatigue is only temporary. Those that stuck it out will remember this match forever, and that makes it all worth it.

Here’s your three-to-see on day 3 in Melbourne:

Anett Kontaveit (EST) [20] v Aliaksandra Sasnovich (BLR) – First on Melbourne Arena

No, this isn’t exactly the biggest match in terms of star power, but it certainly makes up for it in intrigue. Kontaveit and Sasnovich each had a quietly very impressive 2018 on the WTA tour, reaching career high rankings of 20 and 30 respectively, and already have some significant scalps in 2019, the former beating Petra Kvitova in Brisbane, the latter Elina Svitolina at the same tournament. Adding to that, they’re each equipped with a very solid all-around game that make them a difficult out for each other, and with the head-to-head resting narrowly in Kontaveit’s favour 4-3, there’s every reason to expect this will be a very tight contest.

Kevin Anderson (RSA) [5] v Frances Tiafoe (USA) – Second on Margaret Court Arena

Four days away from his 21st birthday, it’s been an interesting ride so far for Frances Tiafoe. Certainly there’s no doubting the size of his game, but with his most notable result being a five-set loss to an ailing Roger Federer in the 2017 US Open first round, he’s still yet to really announce himself as tennis “next big thing”. In Kevin Anderson, Tiafoe gets a perfect test of exactly where he’s at, as the big South African is someone he can’t simply overpower off the ground, and with his serve will put the onus on the young American to withstand pressure as opposed to creating it. Can Tiafoe handle that pressure? Here’s hoping, but in any case, there should be enough winners from both men to make for some serious popcorn tennis.

Gael Monfils (FRA) [30] v Taylor Fritz (USA) – Third on 1573 Arena

Say what you will about his year-round performances, it still wouldn’t quite be an Australian Open first week without a Gael Monfils appearance. Whether it’s the crowds, the weather or just that this early in the year he hasn’t had a chance to injure himself yet, Monfils always puts on a show in Melbourne, and that should continue to be the case against Taylor Fritz. Recently breaking into the top 50, the big-serving Fritz is starting to find his way on the ATP tour, and while he still needs a lot of polish (particularly on his backhand), he’s shown a real affinity for stretching play with his forehand, which he’ll have plenty of opportunity to do here. Expect Monfils to constantly be on the run, and whether or not he wears his inexperienced opponent down, don’t be surprised if it takes five sets to find out.


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