Murray Guts Out Late Night Win At Sydney Tennis Classic

Andy Murray (photo: Rob Prezioso / Tennis Australia)

SYDNEY/WASHINGTON, January 12, 2022 (by Michael Dickens)

It was a very good day to be a British tennis player in Sydney – heck, even in Melbourne, too.

First, World No. 25 Dan Evans, Great Britain’s No. 2 men’s player and the third seed in the ATP 250 Sydney Tennis Classic, endured the persistent rain that fell for several hours on the outside courts at Sydney Olympic Park and finally defeated No. 60 Pedro Martinez of Spain, 6-2, 6-3, to reach Thursday’s quarterfinal round.

Then, in Melbourne, Great Britain’s Harriet Dart, ranked 123rd and the last remaining British woman of six who began in qualifying, gutted out a three-set 3-6, 6-2, 6-2 win over No. 214 Alycia Parks of the United States to move into the final round of the Australian Open qualifying draw tournament.

Finally, back to Sydney, where well after midnight – at 12:20 a.m. Thursday – wild card entrant Andy Murray delivered a gutsy performance that was full of fight and determination. He knocked out No. 2 seed Nikoloz Basilashvili of Georgia, 6-7 (4), 7-6 (3), 6-3, in three hours and 15 minutes under the roof at Ken Rosewall Arena. He celebrated by letting go a big roar of approval after winning back-to-back matches in Australia for the first time since 2017 at the Australian Open.

Murray, ranked 134th and looking forward to using a wild card to enter the main draw of the Australian Open, fired eight aces, was content to stay back on the baseline and duke it out with Basilashvili’s relentless groundstrokes by relying upon a strategy of using slice and hitting flat backhands. It worked.

The 34-year-old Briton won 72 percent (53 of 74) of his first-serve points and won points on nearly half of the 22nd-ranked Basilashvili’s second serves. He advanced to play No. 8 seed David Goffin of Belgium, who took out 105th-ranked lucky loser Denis Kudla of the United States, 6-2, 6-3 earlier Wednesday.

“It was an unbelievably tough match,” Murray said during his on-court interview following his victory. “He is hitting the ball consistently bigger than anyone on the Tour. I was having to do a lot of defending and running but my legs stood up well and at the end I served really well in the last set.

Murray added: “I got a lot of free points on my served. When we were in the rallies, it was more of his terms, so I tried to serve a little bit bigger and thankfully they went in. When he was serving, I tried to take time away from him and rush him and I hit some better returns.”

Later in his press conference, Murray said: “I feel like I created more of the chances throughout the match and deserved to win. … I was happy how I handled the match physically. Like I say, I would have rather it was shorter, but I think that can also give me a little bit of confidence. I still had a bit left in the tank there at the end, as well, so that will stand me in good stead if I’m in that situation next week in Melbourne.”

Murray will be back on court less than 24 hours after his match ended against Basilashvili to play the 45th-ranked Goffin. “Unfortunately, it’s not in the night,” he said. “I have been put on early tomorrow. Need to get some rest before playing that one. He’s also coming back from some injuries. So, yeah, he’ll be eager to have a good run this week, as well.”

Joining Murray, Evans and Goffin in the last eight are No. 1 seed Aslan Karatsev of Russia, No. 4 seed Reilly Opelka of the United States and No. 5 seed Lorenzo Sonego of Italy.

The 20th-ranked Karatsev collected his first win of the season by defeating No. 69 Miomir Kecmanovic of Serbia, 7-5, 6-4, in one hour and 37 minutes. The Russian won 88 percent of his first-serve points and overcame being a break down in the opening set to win for the second time against the Serbian. Next, he will face Sonego, who swept past 99th-ranked Sebastian Baez of Argentina, 6-2, 6-3, in 81 minutes.

The biggest upset of the day came when No. 68 Brandon Nakashima of the United States beat No. 7 seed Fabio Fognini of Italy, 7-6 (7), 7-6 (6), in an hour and 59 minutes for his second tour-level win over the 37th-ranked Italian. Next, Nakashima will face fellow American Opelka, ranked 26th, who triumphed against 73rd-ranked Australian wild card Jordan Thompson, 6-3, 6-2, in 79 minutes in back of 10 aces.

Meanwhile, No. 6 seed Dusan Lajovic of Serbia never got on court for his match against No. 75 Maxime Cressy of the United States due to the rain that delayed play on the outer courts throughout the afternoon and backed up play into the evening. They will play their second-round match Thursday afternoon with the winner advancing to face Evans.

“I really enjoy coming to Australia,” Evans said in press. “I think I get the most out of Australia because I give a bit of a sacrifice. I always come early, get myself here, and I think that definitely helps.”

Adelaide International 2 top seed Monfils retires with back injury

Just three days after winning the Adelaide International 1 title in South Australia, top seed Gaël Monfils of France was forced to retire against Brazil’s Thiago Monteiro due to a back injury.

The 89th-ranked lucky loser Monteiro led Monfils 6-7 (2), 6-3, 1-0 when the match was halted after an hour and 57 minutes. Next, Monteiro will face 22-year-old French qualifier Corentin Moutet, ranked 92nd, who upset eighth-seeded Marton Fucsovics of Hungary, 6-2, 6-2, in 76 minutes. The 40th-ranked Fucsovic’s serve was broken five times by Moutet and he was outpointed 61-43.

Meanwhile, No. 3 seed Karen Khachanov and No. 4 seed Martin Cilic reached the quarterfinals along with a par of Australian wild cards, Thanasi Kokkinakis and Aleksandar Vukic, American Tommy Paul and Arthur Rinderknech of France.

The No. 145 Kokkinakis eliminated No. 2 seed John Isner, overcoming 23 aces and 52 winners from the 24th-ranked American by hitting 15 aces and 47 winners of his own. He will face Vukic, who defeated 85th-ranked qualifier Steve Johnson of the United States, 6-4, 7-5, in an hour and 16 minutes. It was the second straight tournament Vukic faced Johnson. Last week, the 25-year-old Vukic lost to Johnson, 6-4, 2-6, 6-4.

“I can’t think of a better preparation [for the Australian Open],” Vukic said in press. “I’m grateful getting the wild cards in these events. It’s giving me the opportunity to play these events; [I’m trying] to make the most of it.”

Also, the 29th-ranked Cilic of Croatia hit 10 aces and won for the third time in four matches this season. He was a 7-6 (6), 6-2 winner against No. 77 Jaume Munar of Spain, in an hour and 40 minutes. Next, he will oppose Paul, ranked 43rd, who won in straight sets over the 64th-ranked Bonzi of France, 6-4, 7-6 (4), in one hour and 36 minutes.

Finally, the World No. 30 Khachanov, seeded third, defeated No. 62 Gianluca Mager of Italy, 7-5, 6-3, to move into the quarterfinal round for the second straight week in Adelaide. Next, he will take on 58th-ranked Rinderknech of France, who rallied for a 5-7, 6-3, 6-2 win over No. 53 Soonwoo Kwon of South Korea.

By the numbers

With Andy Murray 6-7 (4), 7-6 (3) 6-3 win over No. 2 seed Nikoloz Basilashvili Wednesday evening, following his first-round win over qualifier Viktor Durasovic a day earlier, it marked the first time since the 2017 Australian Open that Murray had won two straight matches in Australia. Then, he strung together three consecutive victories over Illya Marchenko, Andrey Rublev and Sam Querrey.

“Quotable …”

“I always feel really comfortable in Australia. Hopefully, I can string a few more [wins] together.”

– Andy Murray of Great Britain, following his second-round victory at the Sydney Tennis Classic which advanced him to the quarterfinal round.