MELBOURNE, January 21, 2020 (by Alessandro Boroch)
World No. 1 Rafael Nadal opened his title bid at the Australian Open with an invulnerable 6-2, 6-3, 6-0 victory against Bolivian Hugo Dellien in two hours. Nadal is looking for his first title at this event since 2009.
From the very beginning, the 33-year-old Spaniard showed aggressive tennis, dominated the rallies, and did not allow Dellien to grow any momentum. The 26-year-old Bolivian, however, showed great fighting spirits, managed to keep the second set relatively close, but was eventually outpowered by the 19-time Grand Slam champion.
In the final third set, Nadal found his rhythm even better, producing a total of 18 winners to grant a “bagel” to Dellien in just 30 minutes.
“It’s been a solid start. I think the third set was a great set. I think I played a very good level of tennis,” Nadal said. “The first two, I played with a little more caution… Just trying to play a solid game with not many mistakes.”
The Mallorcan improved to 57-2 in first round matches at majors, his only losses came to Steve Darcis (2013, Wimbledon) and Fernando Verdasco (2016, Australian Open).
In the second round, Nadal will face Federico Delbonis, who prevailed 6-3, 6-4, 7-6(3) over world No. 59 Joao Sousa. The Spaniard leads their ATP Head2Head by 3-0 without having lost a single set.
Top seeds in action
2019 US Open finalist and No. 4 seed Daniil Medvedev worked hard for his first-round win, beating Frances Tiafoe 6-3, 4-6, 6-4, 6-2 on Rod Laver Arena.
The Russian hit 42 winners but also committed 42 unforced errors throughout the encounter. His major problem was his service today, as he mentioned in the press conference afterwards.
— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) January 21, 2020
“I have a lot of things to improve regarding today’s match. Especially the serve, I was not happy at all with my serve,” said Medvedev. “The most important [thing] is to win, to just win the match, get into the second round, get the sensations of the court, of the atmosphere, everything. Usually later in the tournament everything goes better and better.”
Also in action were No. 5 seed Dominic Thiem and 7th seed Alexander Zverev, who prevailed over their respective opponents Adrian Mannarino and Marco Cecchinato in straight sets.
During his on-court interview, Zverev told spectators on Margaret Court Arena, “I always make it hard for myself, but there was a lot of high level tennis. I really appreciate the fans staying out late. I will donate $10,000 for every match I win here and I know I’m not the favourite to win this event, but I’ll donate every single cent to the bushfire relief fund if I win the title.”
In-form Russian Andrey Rublev extended his winning streak to 13 matches (9-0 in 2020) by beating world No. 115 Chris O’Connell 6-3, 0-6, 6-4, 7-6(5) in two hours and 15 minutes. He now faces Yuichi Sugita, who prevailed 6-0, 6-2, 6-0 over Frenchman Elliot Benchetrit.
Tuesday’s action in the men’s draw has been headlined by lots of highly exciting five-setters, particularly the match between world No. 12 Fabio Fognini and US-American Reilly Opelka was in the center of attention. Their encounter already started on Monday but was interrupted by heavy rain and therefore scheduled for the next day.
Opelka went back on 1573 Arena with a comfortable 2-0 lead in sets, but Fognini did not plan on giving up without a fight, and eventually caught the next two sets to force a decider.
The Italian managed to hit more accurate, placing the returns deep at the baseline and making Opelka move. Fognini went for aggressive shots and hit a total of 22 winners in the last two sets. After almost four hours, the 32-year-old Italian prevailed by the score of 3-6, 6-7(3), 6-4, 6-3, 7-6(5), taking revenge for their encounter at the US Open in 2019, where Opelka overcame Fognini in four sets. “I was lucky that the rain came on the right time. Yesterday he was playing better than me. I only lost one break, and I was two sets down. These guys, they’re always tough to play but we have to,” Fognini said.
The Sanremo native now managed to win a match from two sets down at every Slam (AO 2020, RG 2010, W 2010/2014 and USO 2012, 2015 + 2016).
“I remember watching him beat Nadal at the US Open from two sets down, so by no means was I expecting it to be one set and out today,” Opelka said. “I knew he was going to play more aggressive.”
Fognini will next play Aussie Jordan Thompson, who eased past Kazakh Alexander Bublik in straight sets, winning 6-4, 6-3, 6-2 in two hours and 18 minutes.
Earlier the day, Hubert Hurkacz, the No. 31 seed, rallied past Austrian qualifier Dennis Novak 6-7(4), 1-6, 6-2, 6-3, 6-4 to claim his first five-set victory. The 22-year-old Pole started brilliantly into the new season, won all his three matches at the ATP Cup and reached the semi-finals in Auckland. With today’s victory, he improved to a 7-1 record in 2020.
Hurkacz hit 51 winners and won 76 per-cent first serve points (77/101). His next opponent will be John Millman, who was able to emerge victorious 7-6(3), 6-3, 1-6, 7-5 in a hard-fought battle against Frenchman Ugo Humbert. A terrific win for the Aussie, considering that Humbert entered the Slam with lots of confidence after securing his maiden ATP title at the ASB Classic last week.
Kevin Anderson, a two-time Grand slam finalist, closed Thursday’s action on court 1573 by fighting back from a set down to eventually earn a 6-4, 2-6, 4-6, 6-4, 7-6(8) win against qualifier Ilya Ivashka. It is only the second tournament for Anderson since Wimbledon 2019, as he was dealing with an ongoing knee injury that forced him to undergo surgery.
Today, the hard-serving South African proved to be combative and physically superior, in a match decided by little margins. Next up for Anderson is the American Taylor Fritz, who eased past Tallon Griekspoor in straight sets.
Upsets of the day
Former Top 10 player Ernests Gulbis managed to win his first main draw match in Melbourne since 2014, after taking out No. 20 seed Felix Auger-Aliassime 7-5, 4-6, 7-6(4), 6-4 in three hours and 35 minutes. The Latvian entered the match as a qualifier with three wins over Maxime Cressy, Federico Coria and Prajnesh Gunneswaran. Today was his first tour-level victory since July 2019 at Los Cabos.
Gulbis showed a brilliant performance serving-wise, hit 14 aces and managed to secure 73 per-cent service points overall (97/133). Furthermore, he provided clutch Tennis under pressure by winning 14 out of 17 net points (82%) and saving 4/6 breakpoints (64%).
Despite his first-round exit, promising youngster Auger-Aliassime looks confidently to the future. “I felt like my game was coming along well. I felt like I was playing well, a lot different to the past US Open. It’s night and day. I have to talk with my coaches took in detail at what happened. But I think I’m not far away from playing well.”
But Auger-Aliassime was not the only Canadian who surprisingly left the competition in the first round. 40-year-old Ivo Karlovic, who turns 41 next month, stunned Vasek Pospisil in straight sets, prevailing 7-6(4), 6-4, 7-5 in two hours. The “Doctor” won 89 per-cent first serve points (58/76), hit 13 aces and allowed Pospisil just one break point in front of a loud cheering crowd with lots of Croatian support.