Get set for a clash of the showmen on Friday night

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    In what is set to be one of the most intriguing matches of the Australian Open so far, our last man standing, Nick Kyrgios, will square off with former finalist Jo-Wilfried Tsonga on Friday night.

    The departures of Matthew Ebden, John Millman, Thanasi Kokkinakis and Alex de Minaur leaves Kyrgios as the sole remaining hope of a first homegrown male champion since Mark Edmondson in 1976.

    Expectations are again keen on Kyrgios after he won the season-opening Brisbane International nearly two weeks ago, ending a 15-month title drought.

    In three of his four matches in the sunshine capital, he had to come from a set down, defeating Ebden, Alexandr Dolgopolov and defending champion Grigor Dimitrov in succession, while in the championship match he defeated Ryan Harrison in straight sets to take home his fourth career title.

    So far it has been smooth sailing for the Canberran in Melbourne, with straight-sets wins over Rogerio Dutra Silva and Viktor Troicki.

    He will now face Tsonga in the third round, after the Frenchman came from 2-5 down in the final set to defeat Denis Shapovalov and reverse his upset loss against the Canadian from last year’s US Open.

    His comeback was one of two on a huge Day 3, the other being Caroline Wozniacki saving two match points in her match against Jana Fett.

    The Frenchman is coming off another solid season in which he reached the quarter-finals of the Australian Open, won four titles (after a title-less 2016) and helped France win its first Davis Cup since 2001.

    The pair have met once before, in the semi-finals in Marseille last year, where Tsonga won in three sets.

    The winner of this match is likely to face Grigor Dimitrov in the fourth round, provided the Bulgarian gets past Andrey Rublev, the same man who beat him in the second round at Flushing Meadows last year.

    Dimitrov, the third seed, dropped the first set in his match against Mackenzie McDonald, then went two-sets-to-one up before dropping the fourth without winning a single game.

    A break was enough for him to secure the final set 8-6, securing his passage to the round of 32.

    Grigor Dimitrov

    Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria (AAP Image/Darren England)

    Meanwhile, in the women’s draw, the only two former champions in the draw this year, Angelique Kerber and Maria Sharapova, will clash in the third round.

    Pre-tournament, Kerber was coming off a horrid 2017 season which saw her finish the year outside the top 20 for the first time since 2011, while Sharapova is still climbing back up the rankings after serving a 15-month doping suspension.

    But Kerber overcame a stern test from Donna Vekic to advance to the third round for the sixth time in seven years, while Sharapova dismissed 14th seed Anastasija Sevastova to reach Round 3 for the sixth time in seven years.

    One of them will have their dream of a second Australian Open title ended, and it will be the German who starts favourite on the back of her impressive start to the year.

    The 30-year-old won all four of her singles matches in straight sets at the Hopman Cup, and carried over that form to Sydney, where she claimed her 11th career title but first since winning the US Open in 2016.

    Sharapova, on the other hand, reached the semi-finals in Shenzhen, where she lost to Katerina Siniakova; the result was good enough to lift her back into the world’s top 50.

    The title aspirations of Garbine Muguruza and Johanna Konta, however, have come to an end; both players were upset by much lower-ranked players in Hsieh Su-wei and lucky loser Bernarda Pera respectively.

    Muguruza’s defeat has put her out of contention for the world number one ranking, which Simona Halep can tighten her grip on depending on how she fares for the remainder of the tournament.

    The other players who can dislodge her from the top of the rankings are Caroline Wozniacki, Elina Svitolina, Karolina Pliskova and Jelena Ostapenko.

    Wozniacki, the second seed, needs to reach the semi-finals, Svitolina needs to reach the final, and Pliskova and Ostapenko must win the title if they are to reach the top of the rankings.

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