Top Seed Novak Leads Australian Open Men’s Qualifiers Into Main Draw

MELBOURNE, January 19, 2020 (by Michael Dickens)

Top-seeded Austrian Dennis Novak was one of only three seeds to emerge from qualifying into the main draw of the Australian Open, which begins Monday in Melbourne.

With 10 of 16 places at stake on Saturday, Novak beat No. 212 Hiroki Moriya of Japan, 7-6 (5), 6-2, to earn his second main draw appearance in Melbourne. The 99th-ranked Novak, who resides in Neufeld, Austria, will face No. 34 Hubert Hurkacz of Poland in the first round of the main draw.

Other seeds to reach the main draw were No. 10 Norbert Gombos of Slovakia, ranked 111th; and 16th seed Peter Gojowczyk of Germany, ranked 119th. Both reached by winning three matches during qualifying, which took place from Jan. 14-18 amid blurred skies and smoke from the Australian bushfires that resulted in numerous delays and required a fifth day to complete all of the matches.

Meanwhile, No. 172 Mohamed Safwat of Egypt made history by become the first Egyptian in 42 years in earn a main-draw berth in the Australian Open after he defeated Evgeny Donskoy of Russia, 7-5, 6-4. (Donskoy, ranked 106th, later made the main draw as a lucky loser.) Safwat reached his second Grand Slam main draw (and first since the 2018 French Open) by going 3-0 during qualifying. He did not lose any sets. The last Egyptian to play in the main draw in Melbourne was Ismail El Shafei in 1978.

“I can’t describe how happy I was after the match; especially that I beat good players along the way,” Safwat, the No. 1-ranked Arab men’s player, told the UAE’s The National. “It means a lot for me and I think it will give me a good push mentally, that I can believe I can play at this level consistently, that I have the level to compete in the Top 100. I think it will give me a boost along the year.”

Five players reached their first Grand Slam main draw: No. 186 Daniel Elahi Galan of Colombia, No. 175 Tallon Griekspoor of the Netherlands, No. 196 Mario Vilella Martinez of Spain, No. 208 Alejandro Tabilo of Chile and No. 216 Max Purcell from Australia. Besides Donskoy, No. 138 Jozef Kovalik of Slovakia and No. 122 Prajnesh Gunneswaran from India received lucky loser spots into the main draw due to withdrawals.

After Galan advanced with a 6-3, 6-2 victory over No. 268 wild card Aleksandar Vukic of Australia, he was mobbed by enthusiastic fans from his country. “I didn’t know there were so many Colombians here,” he was quoted by the Australian Open website as saying. “It was like Davis Cup!”

The oldest qualifier is 31-year-old Ernests Gulbis from Latvia, ranked No. 254, while the youngest is 229th-ranked Elliot Benchetrit, 21, of France.

McNally one of three U.S. women to qualify

Caty McNally, 18, of the United States was the last of 16 women to qualify for the main draw. On Saturday, the 116th-ranked American teen dominated No. 10 seed Elena-Gabriela Ruse of Romania, 6-1, 6-1. She hit 18 winners and was not broken during her 62-minute victory against the 182nd-ranked Ruse.

McNally, who has won two WTA doubles titles teamed with 15-year-old teen sensation Coco Gauff, became the third qualifier from the U.S. to reach the 128-player main draw. She joins No. 142 Ann Li and No. 155 Shelby Rogers, who qualified on Friday. Li, who upset No. 1 seed Ana Bogdan of Romania, 5-7, 7-6 (11), 6-2, will be making her Grand Slam debut, while Rogers is a former French Open quarterfinalist, who has been sidelined much of the past two years with injuries.

A total of nine women’s seeds earned qualifying berths, including second seed Nao Hibino of Japan, ranked No. 102, and third seed Anna Kalinskaya of Russia, ranked No. 108. The oldest qualifier is 32-year-old Monica Niculescu of Romania, ranked No. 128, while the youngest is 17-year-old Leylah Fernandez of Canada, ranked No. 206, who won the Roland Garros junior title last year.

Besides Li and Fernandez, three other qualifiers are making their Grand Slam debuts in Melbourne: No. 119 Greet Minnen of Belgium, No. 154 Martina Trevisan of Italy and No. 172 Elisabetta Cocciaretto from Italy.

“It feels amazing,” said Minnen, as told to the Australian Open website. “It’s really a dream come true. I’ve worked really hard for this. I’ve played French and Wimbledon last round of qualifying, so it feels good to finally have it and finally play main draw.”