Australian Open Showcasing Both Stars And The Young At Heart

MELBOURNE, January 15, 2019 (by Michael Dickens)

The second day of the Australian Open in Melbourne once again proved itself as a showcase for tennis stars such as Serena Williams, Madison Keys and Kei Nishikori, and it also included the young and old of this international sport, from 16-year-old American Whitney Osuigwe to Ivo Karlovic of Croatia, who soon turns 40.

The 23-time Grand Slam champion Williams of the United States began her record-tying quest for a 24th major with an easy 6-0, 6-2 victory over Germany’s Tatjana Maria in just 49 minutes. It was a perfectly contained opening-round win for the 37-year-old Williams, seeded 16th, who hit 22 winners against just 11 unforced errors. It was an overwhelming performance from the seven-time Australian Open champion. Maria served at just 13 percent in the opening set and committed 20 unforced errors in a first-round battle of moms. Williams outpointed Maria, 54-24.

“The last time I was here I was pregnant and playing at this same time,” Williams said during an on-court interview, after playing in her first Australian Open match since beating her sister Venus to win the 2017 title while pregnant with her daughter, Alexis Olympia. “It’s kind of weird walking back on here by myself this time. It feels good (to win). I have so many good memories of the last time I was here. Honestly, it was the best win of my career. It’s exciting to get back.”

Next, Williams will face Eugenie Bouchard of Canada, ranked 79th, who advanced over Chinese wild card Shuai Peng, ranked 129th, 6-2, 6-1.

Before Williams arrived to much fanfare on court at Rod Laver Arena, the No. 17 seed Keys won her opening-round match, needing just 71 minutes to beat Australian wild card Destanee Aiava, ranked 193rd, 6-2, 6-2. In making her 2019 debut, the American Keys finished with six service aces, won 81 percent (22 of 27) of her first-serve points and hit 24 winners while committing only 19 unforced errors. She broke Aiava four times in 15 opportunities and outpointed her 72-48.

“I felt pretty good; it’s a W and I’ll take it,” said Keys during a post-match interview with Tennis Channel’s Jon Wertheim. “There’s some things I did well, some things I need to improve on. But, I’m happy I get to do that in the next round.”

Keys’s win over Aiava was her 18th straight first-round win in a major. Her last opening setback was at Roland Garros in 2014. Asked what the most important thing she brings to the court from her experience of playing in majors, she said, “Mostly confidence, even if I’m not playing great. I know that I can get there and I’ve done it before.”

Other first-round winners on the women’s side: No. 7 seed Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic defeated Czech qualifier Karolina Muchova, 6-3, 6-2; No. 12 seed Elise Mertens of Belgium beat Anna Karolina Schmiedlova of Slovakia, 6-2, 7-5; No. 13 seed Anastasija Sevastova of Latvia won over Mona Barthel of Germany, 6-3, 6-1; No. 18 Garbiñe Muguruza of Spain defeated Saisai Zheng of China, 6-2, 6-3; and No. 21 seed Qiang Wang of China advanced over Fiona Ferro of France, 6-4, 6-3.

Meanwhile, first-round men’s winners included the No. 8 seed Nishikori of Japan, who advanced when qualifier Kamil Majchrzak of Poland, ranked 176th, retired in the fifth set of their match after 2 hours and 48 minutes of play under sunny, 32º Celsius temperatures. Majchrzak won the first two sets by scores of 6-3 and 7-6 (6), before Nishikori rallied to win the next two sets 6-0 and 6-2. Nishikori was ahead 3-0 in the fifth set when his opponent retired.

“I’m happy to be here; I hope I can have a good two weeks,” said Nishikori on court after his victory. He missed the 2018 Australian Open because of a wrist injury.

Also, No. 11 seed Borna Coric of Croatia advanced over Steve Darcis of Belgium, 6-1, 6-4, 6-4; No. 12 Fabio Fognini of Italy moved on when his opponent, Jaume Munar of Spain, was forced to retire in the third set with the Italian leading 7-6 (3), 7-6 (7), 3-1; No. 15 seed Daniil Medvedev of Russia beat qualifier Lloyd Harris of South Africa, 6-1, 6-2, 6-1; and No. 29 seed Gilles Simon of France advanced over American qualifier Bjorn Fratangelo, 7-6 (2), 6-4, 6-2.

Finally, it took slightly more than three hours to finish, but No. 69 Ivo Karlovic of Croatia, who at age 39 is oldest men’s player in the singles draw, survived his first-round match against No. 88 Hubert Hurkacz of Poland, 6-7 (5), 7-6 (5), 7-6 (3), 7-6 (5). Karlovic fired 39 service aces and hit 78 winners against the 21-year-old Hurkacz. Each player was broken just once.

Murray: I tried my best

By all indications, Andy Murray put up a better fight against Roberto Bautista Agut than anyone – the thousands of fans who crowded inside Melbourne Arena or the global TV audience watching at all hours of the day or night – would have thought that he could on Monday night. Win or lose, it would be an emotional exit for the the Scotsman, formerly No. 1 but whose ranking had fallen to No. 229 because of his inactivity due to a hip injury. Even still, as New York Times tennis correspondent Ben Rothenberg tweeted moments after the 31-year-old Murray went down to a 6-4, 6-4, 6-7 (5), 6-7 (4), 6-2 defeat, “his clock struck midnight before we thought it should be over.” 

The No. 22 seed Bautista Agut won and will advance on in the Australian Open. But, as Rothenberg noted, Murray will be remembered for his “incredible effort; Andy has everything to be proud of.”

Following the fourth-set tie break, which Murray won 7-4, BBC5 Live’s David Law tweeted, “Whatever happens from here, over the last 10 minutes Andy Murray has turned this into an Andy Murray match. 

“Fighting tooth and nail, making people care, making them live their lives through him, the ups and downs, the agony and ecstasy. Forget the titles, that’s Murray’s legacy.”

While Murray’s effort, which produced what “The Tennis Podcast” called “a rousing comeback in a match of unrivaled poignancy and significance” wasn’t quite enough for him to win, it provided everyone with hours of compelling drama.

Interviewed on the court afterward by his former coach-turned-broadcaster Mark Petchey, Murray searched long and deep for the right words to say that expressed his emotions. Although he was exhausted from his effort, he wasn’t sad or bitter. Instead, he composed his thoughts carefully. Finally, he said, “It was incredible. Thank you so, so much to everyone who’s come out tonight. … I’ve loved playing here over the years. If this was my last match, amazing way to end. I gave literally everything I had.”

For now, Murray appears to be keeping his options open and hopes to play the final tournament of his career this summer at Wimbledon.

During Murray’s post-match press conference that followed his four-hour nine-minute loss on Melbourne Arena, he was asked by French tennis journalist Carole Bouchard what his tennis legacy should be. Murray’s answer, so brief but eloquent, was summed up in just four simple words: “I tried my best.”

De Minaur, Barty: Best bests among home favorites

Alex de Minaur, one of 12 Australians in this year’s men’s singles draw, is trying to become the first Aussie to win the Australian Open title since Mark Edmonton in 1976. The last Australian man to adavance to the men’s singles final was Lleyton Hewitt, who lost to Marat Safin in 2005. The 19-year-old de Minaur, ranked No. 29, is fresh off winning the ATP 250 Sydney International last weekend. He won his first-round match over No. 103 Pedro Sousa of Portugal, 6-4, 7-5, 6-4, on Monday. “Every match, just making sure I go out there, compete, just give it my all. That’s pretty much all I can ask from myself,” de Minaur said recently.

Meanwhile, Ashleigh Barty, the world No. 15, is Australia’s best hope for success in the women’s draw. The last Australian women’s champion was Chris O’Neil in 1978. Barty comes into Melbourne having beaten No. 1 Simona Halep in Sydney last week. She reached the finals before losing to No. 6 Petra Kvitova. Barty won on opening day over No. 66 Luksika Kumkhum of Thailand, 6-2, 6-2. “Australians are hungry for sport,” she explained after her win. “They love it. They’re addicted to it. I think at this time of the year it always floats around with tennis that they’re looking for an Australian player, in particular, to go deep and have a really good run.

“I don’t think you do (feel it). I think for me it’s more about focusing on what I can with my tennis and my game, then going out there on the court and trying to enjoy it, embrace it, and play with freedom.”

What they’re saying

Andrea Petkovic, the affable and, at times, outspoken No. 63 German star, shared an update after her unfortunate first-round retirement against No. 76 Irina-Camelia Begu of Romania due to heat illness on Monday. She said, “Some victories come in hidden forms. I had to fight many adversaries in the past days and a few years ago, I would’ve complained and cried and blamed the world. Yesterday, I just shut my mouth and fought until I literally could not stand anymore and I am proud of overcoming what is sometimes the hardest enemy to overcome – our negative patterns we have formed over years. I want to thank my team for standing relentlessly by my side and all of you who worried about me and sent me words of encouragement.”

What they’re tweeting

“Who needs two hips when you have an extra large heart?” – Courtney Nguyen (@FortyDeuceTwits), WTA Insider, commenting on Andy Murray, during his Monday night match against Roberto Bautista Agut.