The tension is rising as the first Grand Slam of the season reaches the business end and a dramatic day five suggested the best was still yet to come.
Two of the favourites for the men’s title, Novak Djokovic and Dominic Thiem, both survived scares as they came through epic five-set encounters on Friday to seal their place in the last 16.
While world number three Thiem should be encouraged to have navigated his way past a spirited Nick Kyrgios having trailed the home favourite by two sets. However, Djokovic supporters will be anxious with the Serb evidently not 100 per cent fit as he struggled to close out his third-round win.
Next up for tournament favourite and defending champion Djokovic is big-serving Canadian Milos Raonic but it is not guaranteed the world number one, who is chasing a ninth Australian Open crown, will take to the court.
Diego Schwartzman and Gael Monfils are the only two top-ten seeds to have exited the competition thus far.
On the women’s side, the competition looks wide open and there’s the potential for an eighth different winner in the last nine years.
Reigning champion Sofia Kenin and two-time winner Viktoria Azarenka were early casualties, but the competition remains fierce with Naomi Osaka, Ashleigh Barty, Serena Williams, Garbine Muguruza and Simona Halep still going strong.
Looking ahead to Saturday’s action, there are some interesting match-ups taking place and we have picked out our three value bets.
Classy Operator Berrettini Has Khachanov’s Number
In what is arguably the match of day in the men’s event, world number ten Matteo Berrettini is fancied to outclass Karen Khachanov.
These two 24-year-old’s are destined for bright futures, but Berrettini has the stronger recent form and is the one who tends to deliver on the biggest of occasions.
Berrettini is ranked ten places higher in the world rankings and he has won all three competitive meetings with Khachanov, who has yet to go beyond the third round of the Australian Open in four previous attempts.
The Italian, who is a former US Open semi-finalist, prepared for this event with straight-set wins at the ATP Cup over Dominic Thiem, Gael Monfils and Roberto Bautista-Agut and he has dropped just one set in seeing off Kevin Anderson and Tomas Machac in Melbourne.
Having looked formidable thus far, Berrettini appeals at
4/5 to cover the 2.5 games handicap.
De Minaur to Keep the Flagging Flying
The exit of Nick Kygios means Australia’s hopes of a home winner rest on the shoulders of Alex De Minaur, who can ease into the fourth round with a straight-set triumph over Fabio Fognini at
De Minaur has won his opening two matches against Tennys Sandgren and Pablo Cuevas in straight sets and he dropped only 18 games in doing so.
The 21-year-old won the Antalya Open in January, which was his fourth ATP Tour title, and his game is evidently in rude health.
Fognini is a classy player on his day but he needed five sets to come past limited compatriot Salvatore Caruso in the last round and is evidently performing way below the level required to down De Minaur.
The Italian is renowned mainly for his heroics on clay and this speedier surface, against one of the game’s most promising youngsters, should see him found out.
Barty Too Strong for Alexandrova
Home favourite Ashleigh Barty should be backed to brush aside Russian Ekaterina Alexandrova with the world number one
5/6 to win in straight sets.
Barty’s preparations for her home Major saw her lift last week’s Yarra Valley Classic, where she defeated Spanish ace Garbine Muguruza 7-6 6-4 in the final.
The Aussie has also won her opening two Australian Open matches against Danka Kovinic and Daria Gavrilova in straight-sets and can repeat the feat against Alexandrova, who may become frustrated with the excellent defence of her top-class opponent.
*All odds correct at time of writing