A Big Step And A Giant Leap For Kevin Anderson At Australian Open

MELBOURNE, January 21, 2020 (by Michael Dickens)

Coming back from the depth of injury, Kevin Anderson has taken many courageous steps in returning to tennis. Early Wednesday morning, he took one giant leap into the second round at the Australian Open in Melbourne.

Anderson, 33, completed a 6-4, 2-6, 4-6, 6-4 7-6 (8) comeback victory against Ilya Ivashka, a qualifier from Belarus, that began Tuesday night and wasn’t finished until 1:33 a.m. Melbourne time. It took three hours and 54 minutes from start to finish, but for Anderson it was time well spent.

With his wife Kelsey sitting court side among a few hundred spectators, the former World No. 4 recovered from 1-4 down in the fourth and saved a match point on his serve at 4-5, 30-40 during the 71-minute final set. The tall (6-8, 203 cm) South African turned out the lights on the 1573 Arena with an overhead winner. It was Anderson’s 48 winner, but one which put a big smile on his face and sent Ivashka packing from the year’s first Grand Slam.

Anderson has begun the road back from a season-ending knee surgery one week at a time. After playing his last 2019 match at Wimbledon against Guido Pella last July, Anderson returned to play for Team South Africa at the inaugural ATP Cup two weeks ago. Thur far, the results have been promising. They include wins over Benoit Paire and Cristian Garin and a close loss to Novak Djokovic.

Despite being outpointed by Ivashka 161-155, Anderson came away with many positives that he will carry over with him into his second-round match on Thursday against No. 29 seed Taylor Fritz of the United States, who beat Dutch qualifier Tallon Griekspoor, 6-3, 6-3, 6-3, earlier Tuesday. Anderson hit 16 aces with an average first-serve speed of 198 km/h (123 mph) and won 74 percent of his points on his first serve. Despite committing 67 unforced errors, he broke Ivashka’s serve four times and caused his opponent to hit 45 unforced errors.

Recently, Anderson was asked what his ambitions are for the year. He gave a well-thought answer to the question by saying: “The first one was getting out there on the match court. I feel like that’s been a really good step. Biggest ambition is to get back to Top 10. My best ranking is Top 5. So, I would like to get back there. But the two biggest goals is I want to win a Masters series. I feel like that’s something that I’m definitely a good enough tennis player to do that. I’ve put myself in good positions but haven’t quite taken that step. And then, obviously, the grand prize in tennis, a Grand Slam. I’ve been in two finals. That’s the ultimate goal for me. Its one that I really feel like I have a good chance of doing it.

“Obviously, there’s a lot of work. There’s guys who want it as well and it’s not an easy task. But those are the goals I set for myself and those are the ones I’ve been trying to achieve.”

Sharapova career at a crossroads?

The last time Maria Sharapova reached the final of a Grand Slam was at the 2015 Australian Open and the last time she lifted a major trophy was nearly six years ago at the 2014 French Open. More recently, Sharapova, 32, has struggled with injuries that forced her to miss much of the 2019 season after sitting out portions of 2016 and 2017 due to a lengthy drug suspension imposed upon her for testing positive for a banned substance. Last year, she missed the French Open and retired during a first-round match at Wimbledon.

On Tuesday afternoon, the 2008 Australian Open champion and former World No. 1, who entered this year’s first major on a wild card entry and had played just one match in 2020, lost to No. 19 seed Donna Vekic of Croatia, 6-3, 6-4. It was the second featured match of the day session on Rod Laver Arena and lasted one hour and 21 minutes.

“I can speak about my struggles and the things I’ve gone through with my shoulder, but it’s not really in my character to,” said Sharapova during her post-match interview. “So, you know, I was there. I put myself out there. As tough as it was, I finished the match and, yeah, it wasn’t the way that I wanted.”

During an on-court interview after her win over Sharapova, Vekic said: “It definitely didn’t feel like playing a wild card. Maria is a great player, a champion. I practiced with her int he off-season, and it was my first practice set, actually, and she’s been practicing for a while. She killed me, like, 6-1. I knew it was going to be a tough match and that I had to bring my A-game.”

The five-time Grand Slam champion has seen better days on the tennis court. By all indications, Sharapova doesn’t seem ready to hang up her racquet just yet. “It’s tough to say I’m on the right track right now 45 minutes after the match,” she said. “But, I mean, there is no way to get out of it except to keep believing in yourself, because if you do do all the right things and you don’t believe in yourself, then that’s probably a bad formula.”

When Sharapova was asked by a reporter if she’ll return to Melbourne next year, she didn’t give a definitive answer.

“I don’t know. I don’t know. I was fortunate enough to get myself here to be here, and thankfully to Craig (Tennis Australia CEO and AO tournament director Craig Tiley) and the team for allowing me to be a part of the event,” Sharapova said. “It’s tough for me to tell what’s going to happen in 12 months time.”

The long and short of Tuesday’s matches

Seventeen men’s singles matches, which are contested best-of-five sets, eclipsed three hours in duration on Tuesday. However, the longest match of the day – and through the first two days – and of this year’s tournament – lasted four hours and 17 minutes. It took place on Court 7 and was won by South African-born Australian Marc Polmans, a 22-year-old wild card entry ranked No. 133, who defeated No. 68 Mikhail Kukushkin of Kazakhstan, 6-4, 6-3, 4-6, 6-7 (8), 6-4. There were three other matches which exceeded three hours and 50 minutes.

Now, if you want short, tidy matches, there were three women’s singles matches that took less than an hour to complete. The quickest match lasted only 52 minutes, between American Catherine Bellis and Tatjana Maria of Germany, which was won by Bellis 6-0, 6-2. It featured just 84 points between the two players.

No rain … but still a match backlog

With Monday’s rain showers washing out half of the Opening Day schedule and creating a Tuesday order of play challenge that included a whopping 96 singles matches – any tournament director’s nightmare. Fortunately, it stayed dry throughout the second day of the Australian Open fortnight. Play began under cloudy but pleasant conditions with a temperature of 65º F (18º C) and stayed dry and comfortable throughout the day and evening. The air quality was good, too.

By the end of the day, 88 of the 96 matches scheduled reached court. The eight that didn’t make it were all women’s first-round singles matches, which have been pushed back to Wednesday.

If you’re keeping score, the last of 88 matches to reach court on Tuesday was between Gilles Simon and Pablo Cuevas on Court 3, which started at 10:23 p.m., and was won by Simon, 6-1, 6-3, 6-3. By midnight, there were still five men’s singles matches in progress – and, surprisingly, several hundred scattered spectators remained about Melbourne Park. In fact, it seemed, there were more fans making more noise during the fifth set of the Kevin Anderson-Ilya Ivashka match on 1573 Arena court than earlier as it reached the fifth set and eclipsed the three-hour mark. By 1:10 a.m., Anderson had saved a match point and they played on. As other matches wrapped up, fans trickled in to the intimacy of 1573 Arena court. The match finally ended at 1:33 a.m. local time with Anderson winning in a fifth-set tie break. The fifth set alone lasted 71 minutes.

If they play, fans will come

A total of 83,015 fans came to Melbourne Park for the second day of the Australian Open. With 58,637 on hand for the day session and an additional 24,378 coming out at night, the Australian Open broke its own attendance records for both first Tuesday sessions. Both were set in 2018 when 55,767 attended the day session and 81,487 were at the night session. The tournament benefited from a Tuesday order of play that saw 96 matches scheduled, of which 88 were played.

What they’re tweeting

Christopher Clarey, New York Times tennis columnist, quoting Alexander Zverev following his 6-4, 7-6 (4), 6-3 first-round win over Marco Cecchinato Tuesday night: “I know I’m not the favorite here, but if I win, I’ll donate every single cent to the bushfires (relief).” That would be A$4,120,000. Six wins to go.

What they’re saying

Stefanos Tsitsipas on the overwhelming crowd support he received during his first match: “Two kinds of support you can get in a match. One can be turned against the opponent you are facing. One is really good, great, non-explicit support that you get toward you (smiling.).”

Rafael Nadal on winning a possible 20th Grand Slam, which would tie him with Roger Federer: “So, I don’t care about 20 or 15 or 16. I just care about try to keep going, keep enjoying my tennis career. Is not like 20 is the number that I need to reach. If I reach 20, fantastic, If I reach 21, better. If I reach 19, super happy about all the things that I did in my tennis career, no?”

Simona Halep on whether being a past Grand Slam champion gives her confidence and belief: “I had confidence before Wimbledon … because I won French Open. I won so many titles. So, I don’t stay related to one tournament about the confidence. The confidence is coming with the matches. I feel good on court now.”

By the numbers

• Ivo Karlovic, 40, of Croatia became the oldest player to win a Grand Slam match since Ken Rosewall (then age 44) at the 1978 Australian Open, when he beat Vasek Pospisil from Canada, 7-6 (4), 6-4, 7-5 on Tuesday.

Roger Federer improved to 21-0 in the first round at the Australian Open when he beat Steve Johnson of the U.S in straight sets on Monday. His overall record in Melbourne is 98-14 and 358-58 overall in Grand Slam tournaments. The No. 3 seed Federer will play 41st-ranked Filip Krajinovic in the second round.

• On Monday, Venus Williams played in a Grand Slam tournament’s main draw for the 85th time, a record for the professional era.

• When Petra Kvitova beat her Czech Republic Fed Cup teammate Katerina Siniakova in just 50 minutes during her first-round match on Monday, it was Kvitova’s fastest complete match victory since 2016.

• No. 97 Paula Badosa (Spain), No. 128 Barbora Krejcikova (Czech Republic) and No. 142 Ann Li (United States) all garnered their first Grand Slam main draw wins on Monday. Badosa beat Johanna Larsson, Krejcikova ousted Kaia Kanepi and Li gained her first tour-level win with her win over Australian wild card Lizette Cabrera.