MELBOURNE, Australia -- Andy Roddick is about to face his toughest challenge of the tournament in fellow American Taylor Dent. They have a 1-1 record after playing twice last year.
Dent makes it challenging because regardless of the occasion, regardless of the point, he has one primary focus: attacking and getting to the net. Any player who is tentative, unsure or not up to the challenge can go down to Dent.
The primary concern for Roddick tomorrow is going to be serving and counter-punching as Dent continually attacks. The best chance for Dent to win this match is if he has a look at a lot of second serves from Roddick, with will allowing Dent to attack. And if Dent has a tremendous serving day -- able to go the entire match without getting his serve broken -- that is where he has the biggest hope.
With that said, what Roddick has been able to do, in the last several months and here in his first two matches, is play great tennis behind his own serve. This will be a matchup we're going to see dozens of more times over the next five years.
Marat Safin, Russia, vs. Todd Martin, United States
It never ceases to amaze me that Todd Martin can seemingly be ineffective at tour events and come to majors and march his way through the draw. But when it comes to the Grand Slams, Martin knows his limitations, and he knows that in dire situations, he can't panic. It's his experience that time and time again pulls him through matches. He's going to need to draw on all of his experience against Marat Safin.
Safin is a player who seems to have the ability to rise to the occasion and increase his focus when he knows he's going to play a formidable opponent. In his first two rounds, against Brian Vahly and Jarkko Nieminen, he played matches he knew he was going to win, and so at times he lost focus. That can't be the case tomorrow. If he can focus and play as he did in closing out his first two matches, Safin will beat Martin.
Martin's best chance is getting off to an early start. He will not win today, if he gets down 0-2 to Safin. After two sets, at worst, it needs to be 1-1 for Martin. With the extreme heat that we've been getting, it's going to be to to Safin's advantage. Not necessarily because he's in great shape but because he's younger, he can withstand it a little bit better. But this will be one of the matches to follow today.
Olivier Patience, France, vs. James Blake, United States
When Carlos Moya pulled out of his first round match against James Blake, it turned into a great opportunity for Blake. He had a 1-4 record against Moya and was most likely not going to beat him, considering Moya was 9-0 so far this year prior to injuring his ankle. Now with Moya out, that section of the draw completely opened up. There is the potential for Blake to get to the quarterfinals having not played a seed, however, one of those unseeded players could be Safin or Martin.
In his third round, Blake plays Olivier Patience, a relatively unknown qualifier. Patience had some inspiring success in the past six months, but in no way will you see Blake losing this match. This is the type of draw Blake needed to get back on track after last year, which though still considered a good season was one in which he also took a step back.
At some point, every great player to be will have their break-through major. I think this could be that major for Blake.
Andre Agassi (4), United States, vs. Thomas Enqvist, Sweden
Andre Agassi finds himself in the rare position of playing an opponent he has a losing record against. Since 1993, he and Tomas Enqvist have played nine times with Enqvist winning five times, including in their only meeting last year.
The reason Enqvist gives Agassi problems is because he has a tremendous serve that gives him a lot of free points. He's a very good mover around the court. He can create his own power and handle Agassi's pace. However, Enqvist is not the player he was when he reached the Australian Open final in 1999. Whereas, Agassi is every bit as good as he was several years ago. This will be one of the matches to watch. Agassi has blown through his first two matches without any problems whatsoever, but this match could be the best of the third round in the top half.
Robby Ginepri (32), United States, vs. Nicolas Escude, France
As with Blake, the draw for Robby Ginepri could be one that sees him having his best Grand Slam showing ever. He's the 32nd seed, and the seed he was scheduled to meet in the fourth round -- last year's runner-up Rainer Schuettler -- went out in the first round.
To reach the quarterfinals, Ginepri would have to get past extremely tough but very beatable opponents. He'll have to play his best match of the tournament to get past Nicolas Escude, who already has won a tournament this year. Ginepri's fourth round opponent then would be Sebastien Grosean or Dominik Hrbaty, who has won two tournaments this year.
After watching Ginepri's match last night against Australian Chris Guccione and what impressed was that, yes, he played a very good match. But more important was how he carried himself in Rod Laver Arena for the night match and how Ginepri handled the situation with the pro-Aussie crowd. That alone, has caused many players to crumble. Experiences like that on the big stage will carry Ginepri to multiple victories throughout his career. It's his time to really show what he can do. The draw has opened up. It's the beginning of the year. He needs to make a statement, and he can do it in the next two rounds.
MaliVai Washington, a tennis analyst for ESPN, reached the 1996 Wimbledon final.