Australian Nick Kyrgios is coming off a five-set victory and has the crowd behind him. Dominic Thiem’s game is consistent, but the fast courts in Melbourne don’t necessarily help his game.
So, which player has the advantage? Our tennis gurus preview the third-round match at the Australian Open (Friday, 3 a.m. ET on ESPN2 and ESPN App).
What is the one weakness in Thiem’s game that Kyrgios can exploit?
James Blake: I really don’t see much weakness in the Thiem game. But if I can nitpick, it might be his position to return serve against Kyrgios. He stands so far back that Nick could really use his out-wide serve to both boxes and be effective.
Darren Cahill: The return of serve. Kyrgios has one of the best serves in the game, and maybe the weaker side of Thiem’s game, especially on a fast hard court, is his return of serve. If Nick serves the way we know he can, he’s going to win a lot of easy service games; it’s just whether or not he can get into the return games and break Thiem.
Luke Jensen: Kyrgios has a clear advantage on his serve against the Thiem return. Kyrgios has an extraordinary plus-one option with a massive forehand to back up the serve along with serve-and-volley options. This puts Thiem on the immediate defensive.
Jake Michaels: Thiem is the type of player who thrives when the tennis is predictable. He possesses all of the shots and has the weapons and skill to beat Kyrgios, so the Aussie needs to unsettle him by mixing things up, both with his play and where he directs his attention. Get Thiem feeling a little uncomfortable on the court and it could be anyone’s match.
Pam Shriver: Kyrgios can exploit the faster court speed vs. Thiem, who likes a slower hard court. Kyrgios can also keep rallies short as possible and not allow Thiem to find his rhythm.
Matt Walsh: Thiem has evolved into an extremely well-rounded player, especially on the hard courts. If anything, he’s probably most comfortable at the baseline, hitting booming forehands and backhands, but his net play has really impressed me in this tournament. If Kyrgios can play with less predictability and force Thiem out of his comfort zone, he might be able to trouble the No. 3 seed.
How much of an effect will Kyrgios’ five-setter against Ugo Humbert have on the match?
Blake: It will likely be a pretty big factor since Nick hasn’t played tournament matches in almost a year. The intensity is different and the soreness probably will be evident. The only way it could be a positive is if he uses it as a reason to try to end points quickly and is firing on all cylinders.
Cahill: That is always an unknown when it comes to Nick. He played a couple of tough matches also last week and looked physically spent in his third match, but maybe he was saving himself for the Australian Open. Going from what we saw against Humbert, he finished strongly and was super impressive to drag himself back into the match, so you have to believe he’s done the physical work and will be ready for this match. I think he’ll be OK.
Jensen: This will only be a factor if the match goes deep into a fourth or fifth set.
Michaels: It’s significant. The match was not only physically, but mentally, taxing. Kyrgios is also 0-3 when facing top-four ranked players in the world following a five-set win. Not great signs for the Australian.
Shriver: Kyrgios is an enigma as far as how the five-setter might affect him. The crowd can help carry him, and if his right arm is OK, Kyrgios can comfortably hold serve most times, which would put scoreboard pressure on Thiem.
Walsh: It’ll be extremely tough for Kyrgios to back up his three-and-a-half hour match from the other night. During the first and second sets, Kyrgios was shaking out his legs and monitoring what seemed like a sore spot. Conversely, Thiem was on court for just an hour and 39 minutes in his second-round match and will be fresh and well rested.
What will be Thiem’s strategy going into the match?
Blake: Thiem should find a way to exploit Kyrgios’ backhand. That’s the side that can’t really hurt him. So if he has to serve to the forehand or go there early in the point to open up the backhand side, he may need to do that. If he can make the match a physical test as well, that would be a benefit.
Cahill: Nick has played a couple of long matches, so physically he’ll look to extend the rallies as much as he can. If he can get the serve back and hope Nick doesn’t have a great first-service day, that may put a little panic on the Kyrgios side of the court. Nick can always serve his way to quick points, but in the Thiem service games, he’s going to look for that one, two, three punch, to send Nick corner to corner and try to get to his legs.
Jensen: Thiem needs to own the middle of the court with massive forehands to control baseline rallies.
Michaels: Take the crowd out of the contest early. It’s as simple as that. We saw how vocal the fans on John Cain Arena were on Wednesday evening and Thiem could face an uphill battle if they get their tail up early. The first set is critical for both, but one Thiem will be desperate to pocket. If he does, he can then control the match, while Kyrgios will know he has to play at least four sets to get the job done — not easy when you’re coming off a five-setter in your last outing.
Shriver: Thiem will want to get Kyrgios into long rallies and test his conditioning following the Australian’s five-set win two days ago.
Walsh: Don’t let Kyrgios control the tempo. Nick loves to rush through service games and disrupt his opponent’s rhythm — with his tennis or with words. Kyrgios plays his best tennis when it’s on his own terms, so if Thiem can remain in control, he should be able to keep the challenge at bay.
Blake: Nick will come out fast, but won’t be able to keep the level up to defeat Thiem, who will just be too solid and too physical in the end. Thiem in four sets.
Cahill: Kyrgios in four sets. He has the ability to manage himself through a match and avoid the physical extended rallies that Dominic will be hoping for by serving huge and blasting forehands at will. The fast court is perfect for his game, for his strategy and JCA will be rocking the atmosphere.
Jensen: Kyrgios. The dude is playing with everything right now. The crowd was intense during his last match and a factor for Nick. I see Nick taking advantage of a huge opportunity to make a statement in his home major.
Michaels: As impressive as Kyrgios was against Humbert, Thiem is simply on another level and should be able to find a way to get the job done against the crowd favorite. I’ll take the Austrian in four entertaining sets.
Shriver: Kyrgios will want to keep things short and sharp to have his best chance of pulling off a popular upset Down Under.
Walsh: I think Kyrgios has spent all his (A) good fortune and (B) energy already. Remember, he hasn’t been on the tour for the better part of 11 months and is now playing best-of-five Slam tennis. I think Thiem wins in straight sets, 6-4, 7-6(5), 6-4.