MELBOURNE, January 23, 2020 (by Alessandro Boroch)
On day four at the 2020 Australian Open, World No. 5 Dominic Thiem was forced to pull off his A-level in the last two sets of his encounter against Aussie wild card Alex Bolt to eventually earn a 6-2, 5-7, 6-7(5), 6-1, 6-2 comeback win in front of a packed crowd on Melbourne Arena.
In course of the first two sets, Thiem seemed to ease past his opponent, as he was quickly leading by the score of 6-2, 5-3. However, Bolt showed a lot of heart and raised his level enormously in the following games, spurred on by the deafening support of the home crowd. Bolt managed to win five consecutive games to level the encounter.
The victor of the third set had to determined by a tie-break, since there was no break of serve despite plenty break opportunities. To the surprise of the majority, the 27-year Murray Bridge native managed to seal the decisive tie breaker with an ace, forcing Thiem to complete a five-set comeback.
In the end, admittedly, Thiem proved that being a seasoned best-of-five player can be a huge advantage. He boosted his level in the crucial moment, winning 12 of the following 15 games and emerging victorious after three hours and 33 minutes.
“He played a great tiebreaker. But also in the back of my head, he already had a five-setter in the first round, doubles yesterday. I knew that probably he cannot really hold that level,” said Thiem. “So I just tried to stay in the match. That’s what I did. That’s what also paid off at the end.”
The 27-year-old Austrian overcame his opponent by striking 12 aces, winning 83 per-cent first serve points (76/92) and hitting 56 winners compared to 31 unforced errors.
Up next for Thiem will be US American Taylor Fritz, the 29th seed, who rallied two-time major finalist Kevin Anderson 4-6, 6-7(5), 7-6(4), 6-2, 6-2 in three and a half hours.
Fritz was almost beaten as he was down two sets and a break (2-4) to Anderson, but he took advantage of Anderson’s ailing fitness. The South African already played five sets in his opening match against Ilya Ivashka and therefore looked understandably tired from the third set on.
Thiem leads the Head2Head series against Fritz by 2-1, both victories for the Austrian happened at the US Open in 2017 and 2018.
More five setters
Russian Karen Khachanov, the No. 16 seed, had to go the distance to reach the third round at the Australian Open, prevailing 6-2, 2-6, 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 [10-8] against Swedish No. 1 Mikael Ymer in a four-and-a-half-hour clash. Each player won 176 points in total.
Khachanov gained the upper hand in the deciding set twice, but had to immediately accept the re-break. In the final match tie-break, the 23-year-old Russian fought back from 6-8 by winning four consecutive points to eventually leave the court victorious.
— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) January 23, 2020
Khachanov will face Aussie No. 2 Nick Kyrgios next, who beat Gilles Simon 6-2, 6-4, 4-6, 7-5 to reach the third round Down Under for the fourth time in his career.
“I know how good he can play, especially here at home in Australia,” Khachanov said. “He has an unbelievable serve, variety. You don’t see, even with the toss, where he’s going.”
2014 Australian Open champion Stan Wawrinka also had a tough day at the office, battling his way through to the third round from a break down in the deciding set, winning 4-6, 7-5, 6-3, 3-6, 6-4 over Italian veteran Andreas Seppi.
“It was a tough five-setter that could have gone either way,” he said during the on-court interview. “I kept fighting and I’m super happy to get through.”
Later in the press conference, Wawrinka confessed he had been sick for the last two days. He spent all that time in bed and threw up twice during the match.
Wawrinka will meet John Isner next, who has fired 32 aces in three sets on his way to a comfortable 6-4, 6-3, 6-3 win over qualifier Alejandro Tabilo.
World No. 19 Isner is leading the ATP Head2Head series against the three-time Grand Slam champion from Switzerland by 3-1.
Top seeds in action
World No. 1 Rafael Nadal closed Thursday’s action on Rod Laver Arena with a 6-3, 7-6(4) 6-1 victory over Argentinian Federico Delbonis, extending his Head2Head lead to 4-0.
On his way into the third round, Nadal hit eight aces, won 85 per-cent (52/61) first serve points and did not allow Delbonis a single breakpoint. The Mallorcan convinced with his ruthless aggression by going for deep return winners and rushing to the net to shorten the points (17/20).
Despite a solid performance, the 19-time Grand Slam Champion had major problems with his break point conversion today. In the first two sets, Nadal managed to convert only 1/18 break points.
“It was the first time playing during the evening here, and the conditions were cooler and slow,” said Nadal. “It was a tough match, I lost an awful lot of opportunities on the break points, but I found a way to win. I think in the third set, I was more relaxed and play aggressively.”
— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) January 23, 2020
The 2009 champion at Melbourne Park will next take on compatriot Pablo Carreno Busta. The No. 27 seed from Spain rallied past German Peter Gojowczyk 6-4, 6-1, 1-6, 6-4.
No. 4 seed Daniil Medvedev remained untroubled in his 7-5, 6-1, 6-3 win over Spanish qualifier Pedro Martinez Portero despite several unexpected circumstances such as a rain delay and a bleeding nose. The Russian delivered a strong serving performance by hitting 19 aces and winning 74 per-cent (62/84) service points in total during the match.
“I think there are still some things to improve. I think I could be more aggressive [in a] few moments of the match,” Medvedev said. “Of course, when you win three sets, you don’t want to discuss your level too much. Happy with the win, happy with the win in three sets without a tie-break finally.”
Next up for Medvedev is 20-year-old Aussie Alexei Popyrin, who was driven by the home crowd and rushed past Spaniard Jaume Munar 6-2, 7-6(5), 6-2. “I played him in Wimbledon last year and it was a really tough match, exhausting one. A really close one,” Medvedev said. “I managed to win it, but last Australian Open, we already saw how he can play in Grand Slams in front of the home crowd.”
Both Medvedev and Popyrin scored their best result Down Under last year by reaching the round 16.
World No. 7 Alexander Zverev advanced to the third round of the Australian Open by beating 27-year-old Belarusian Egor Gerasimov 7-6(5), 6-4, 7-5 in two hours and 19 minutes. For only the third time, Zverev managed to win back-to-back wins at a major without dropping a single set (Wimbledon 2017, US Open 2018 and Australian Open 2020).
But that should not remain the only positive aspect for him. The 22-year-old German, who averaged 5.9 doubles faults a match in 2019, overcame his “service disease” by hitting a staggering amount of zero double faults against Gerasimov. Additionally, the 2018 Nitto ATP Finals hit 9 aces and scored 86 per-cent (57/66) first serve points.
In an interview with Eurosport Germany, Zverev later admitted: “It [his serve problems] was just a rhythm thing. I did a lot to fix it, I trained a lot [6-7 hours per day]. I am glad that my serve is slowly coming back, as it is an essential part of my game.”