Two of the top young American contenders will try to advance to the third round of the Australian Open on Thursday, both with tough but not impossible matches. But the local buzz Down Under undoubtedly will be all about that quintessential "Aussie battler" Lleyton Hewitt as he tries to extend his career for one more match. Here's what's in store:
No. 8 David Ferrer versus No. 308-ranked Hewitt
If Hewitt wanted to pick the perfect opponent for a career-ending match, the 34-year-old Aussie icon couldn't have asked for a better foil than Ferrer. Older tennis fans will view this match through a sepia-toned haze of nostalgia, while younger ones are apt to marvel at the two feisty old dudes.
Both Hewitt, who is retiring when his Australian Open ends, and 33-year-old Ferrer are revered for their competitive zeal. They've been fixtures on the tennis landscape for nearly two decades. Both are shoo-ins for the Grinders Hall of Fame. Each of them is short on power but so long on grit and stamina that they've earned the utmost respect of the most discerning audience of all -- their peers.
Given how consistent both players have been, it seems impossible that they've faced each other only three times, and just once since 2008. Ferrer prevailed in two of those meetings, including a four-set win at the 2008 US Open. Neither man does much damage with his serve, so you can expect the obligatory long, exciting rallies. Give Ferrer a significant edge because, unlike Hewitt (and as his seeding confirms), he's still a full-timer on the ATP Tour.
No. 15 seed Madison Keys versus No. 70 Yaroslava Shvedova
Keys is back at the site of her 2015 breakout, when she toppled No. 4 seed Petra Kvitova and Venus Williams before she was stopped in the semifinals by eventual champion Serena Williams. Keys was just 19 years old and went on to whittle down her ranking to No. 17.
Now Keys is expected to build on her success. That assignment has proven daunting for some of her gifted peers, including Sloane Stephens and Eugenie Bouchard. And with a new coach and just one official match under her belt this year (Monday's win over Zarina Diyas), Keys is facing a tough assignment against a seasoned yet injury-plagued veteran.
Shvedova is a two-time Grand Slam quarterfinalist (Roland Garros) and two-time major doubles champion. She also has a 7-17 record against top-10 players. Her ballstriking ability was amply memorialized when she logged the only "golden set" of the Open era: In a third-round match against Sara Errani at Wimbledon in 2012, Shvedova won a set without the loss of a single point.
Keys and Shvedova have faced each other just once, at Wimbledon in 2014. Keys trailed 6-7 (7), 6-all when she defaulted with a thigh injury.
No. 25 seed Jack Sock versus No. 51 Lukas Rosol
It's surprising how miserable a successful trip Down Under can be. Just ask Sock, the No. 2 player from the United States.
Plagued by the flu, Sock still reached the recent final in Auckland, but due to his illness, he had to quit in the middle of it while getting clobbered by Roberto Bautista Agut. During his first-round match against youngster Taylor Fritz in Melbourne on Monday, Sock looked disoriented and about to quit as he went through the motions of an 0-6 set that let him behind two sets to one. But Sock rebounded and somehow fought through in five sets.
Rosol also got off to a rocky start in Melbourne, forced to five sets by No. 99 Taro Daniel of Japan. Best known for his sensational fourth-round upset of Rafael Nadal at Wimbledon in 2012, Rosol is a 6-foot-5 Czech who hits the ball one of two ways -- hard or harder. Rosol was ranked No. 100 when he upset Nadal, but since then he has established himself as a top-50 competitor and, at 30, still struggles with consistency from match to match.
These two have no history. Clearly, Sock isn't in the best of shape, but this is a winnable match against an erratic player who probably isn't capable of exploiting Sock's shaky fitness. As big as Rosol's forehand is, Sock will be happy to put his own up against it, and content to engage in a hitting contest than a track meet.