Fan Favorites Osaka, Nadal and Barty Advance At Australian Open

Rafael Nadal (photo: Jay Town / Tennis Australia)

MELBOURNE/WASHINGTON, January 17, 2022 (by Michael Dickens)

At last, the focus was on tennis as the first day of Australian Open 2022 took place on Monday at Melbourne Park. There were plenty of familiar names on the order of play and by the end, although there were a few surprises, the biggest names advanced to the next round.

While men’s World No. 1 Novak Djokovic had been a polarizing figure for much of the past 11 days after arriving in Melbourne, flaunting a medical exemption in order to pursue a 10th Australian Open men’s title and 21st major without being vaccinated – and subsequently had his visa cancelled and was deported from Australia – on court there were wins by defending women’s champion Naomi Osaka, 2009 men’s champion Rafael Nadal, and current women’s World No. 1 Ashley Barty, who received a hero’s welcome from the fans as she attempts to become the first Aussie woman to win the title in Melbourne since Chris O’Neil in 1978.

The 14-ranked Osaka, who is seeded 13th at this year’s Australian Open, began her title defense very smoothly as she beat No. 50 Camila Osorio of Colombia, 6-3, 6-3, by hitting 19 winners, controlling the net, outpointing her opponent 62-49, and keeping her emotions in check.

There was little drama to be found, and Osaka, 24, who withdrew from the French Open before the second round after refusing to submit to press conferences, sat out Wimbledon, played in the Tokyo Olympics, where she lit the cauldron, then left the US Open following a third-round loss in tears. On Rod Laver Arena, Osaka was in a good place throughout her first match. Staying composed – on and off the court – as well as enjoying tennis are among the four-time Grand Slam champion’s goals this season.

“There are situations where I previously would get upset,” Osaka said. “But at this point in my life, like I’m here because I want to be here and because I find that it’s fun for me. Might as well enjoy it while I still can.”

World No. 5 Nadal, who followed Osaka on Rod Laver Arena as afternoon session wound down, last won the Australian Open 13 years ago. However, with Djokovic gone and Roger Federer home rehabbing from knee surgery, Nadal became the only past champion in the men’s draw. Making his first appearance in a major since his five-set semifinal lost to Djokovic at last year’s French Open, Nadal opened with a straightforward (seven aces and 34 winners) and straight-set 6-1, 6-4, 6-2 victory over No. 66 Marcos Giron of the United States in under two hours. It was his 70th career win at the Australian Open.

“Honestly, it’s been very tough moments and there are still doubts,” Nadal said, after improving his record to 4-0. The 35-year-old Spaniard cut his 2021 season short due to a lingering left foot injury and recently recovered from COVID-19. Earlier this month, he won his 89th career ATP singles title by capturing the Melbourne Summer Set.

“I am here and I can’t be happier to be back in this amazing stadium. It’s fantastic,” Nadal add during his on-court interview. “You never know when you come back from injury, which unfortunately I have a lot of experience with, how things will be. So, you have to take it day by day. You have to accept the mistakes and forgive yourself if things aren’t going the proper way.”

Nadal’s own chase for a 21st career major title, which would break the tie he shares with Djokovic and Federer continues. Now, he’s into the second round against 126th-ranked qualifier Yannick Hanfmann of Germany, who knocked off 103rd-ranked Australian wild card Thanasi Kokkinakis, 6-2, 6-3, 6-2. Meanwhile, No. 150 Salvatore Caruso of Italy, the lucky loser who lost in qualifying and filled the vacancy in the draw created by Djokovic’s departure, lost to No. 77 Miomir Kecmanovic of Serbia, 6-4, 6-2, 6-1.

As evening set in on Melbourne Park, inside Rod Laver Arena Barty beat Lesia Tsurenko, a 119th-ranked qualifier from Ukraine, 6-0, 6-1. The affable Aussie needed just 54 minutes to advance to the second round of a major for the 15th straight time. Next, she’ll face 142nd-ranked Italian qualifier Lucia Bronzetti, who defeated No. 78 Varvara Gracheva of Russia, 3-6, 6-2, 6-3, just two wins from a possible fourth-round showdown with Osaka. Bronzetti is appearing in her first Grand Slam main draw.

“I think I did a pretty good job of winning first and second points,” Barty said after improving her 2022 record to 5-0, which includes winning a WTA 500 tune-up in Adelaide two weeks ago. “And if I didn’t, I was able to call that back and not dig myself into a hole where I was fighting off two or three break points in a row. I think being able to manage service games has been really good, but also not trying to overemphasize the fact that if I do get behind in games it’s a bad thing.”

Finally, World No. 3 Alexander Zverev, the men’s Olympic champion, wrapped up play on Rod Laver Arena with a 7-6 (3), 6-1, 7-6 (1) win over fellow German Daniel Altmaier, ranked 87th, in two hours and 39 minutes. Zverev slammed 14 aces and 53 winners and outpointed Altmaier 124-94 to move into the second round for the sixth straight year.

“Not much went to plan today to be honest except that I won,” Zverev admitted during his on-court interview. “But that is how it is sometimes. It is the first round of a very long tournament and you are not always going to play your best tennis. It was a good match for me to get into the tournament and hopefully the next round will be better.”

Next, Zverev will play John Millman. The 89th-ranked Aussie beat No. 109 Feliciano Lopez of Spain, 6-1, 6-3, 4-6, 7-5. The 40-year-old Spaniard was appearing in his 79th consecutive Grand Slam event.

Thirteen men’s seeds move into second round

Fresh off his ATP Cup win with Team Canada, No. 14 seed Denis Shapovalov beat No. 51 Laslo Djere of Serbia, 7-6 (3), 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (3), to set up a second-round match against No. 54 Soonwoo Kwon of South Korea, who rallied to beat Denmark’s 99th-ranked Holger Rune, 3-6, 6-4, 3-6, 6-3, 6-2, in three hours and five minutes.

Other seeds advancing were No. 7 Matteo Berrettini of Italy, No. 10 Hubert Hurkacz of Poland, No. 16 Cristian Garin of Chile, No. 17 Gaël Monfils of France, No. 18 Aslan Karatsev of Russia, No. 19 Pablo Carreño Busta of Spain, No. 23 Reilly Opelka of the United States, No. 25 Lorenzo Sonego of Italy, and No. 31 Carlos Alcaraz of Spain.

However, No. 12 seed Cameron Norrie of Great Britain, who went winless in the ATP Cup, was upset in straight sets by 43rd-ranked American Sebastian Korda, 6-3, 6-0, 6-4, and No. 30 Lloyd Harris of South Africa fell to 144th-ranked Australian wild card Aleksandar Vukic, 4-6, 6-3, 7-5, 7-6 (3).

Berrettini was pushed by No. 68 Brandon Nakashima of the United States, but prevailed 4-6, 6-2, 7-6 (5), 6-3, in three hours and 10 minutes. The World No. 7 from Rome fired 21 aces and hit 42 winners. Meanwhile, Hurkacz was pushed to four sets by No. 106 Egor Gerasimov of Belarus before winning, 6-2, 7-6 (3), 6-7 (5), 6-3.

Familiar winners advance in women’s draw

Last year’s French Open champion Barbora Krejcikova of the Czech Republic, fifth seed Maria Sakkari of Greece, No. 8 seed Paula Badosa of Spain, No. 15 seed Elina Svitolina of Ukraine and two-time Australian Open titlist Victoria Azarenka of Belarus all advanced to the second round following their Monday victories.

The No. 4 seed Krejcikova beat No. 73 Andrea Petkovic of Germany, 6-2, 6-0, while Sakkari defeated No. 287 Tatjana Maria of Germany, 6-4, 7-6 (2). Also, Badosa eliminated No. 43 Ajla Tomljanovic of Australia, 6-4, 6-0; Svitolina bested No. 101 Fiona Ferro of France, 6-1, 7-6 (4), and the 24th-seeded Azarenka took out No. 95 Panna Udvardy of Hungary, 6-3, 6-1, for her 40th career win at Melbourne Park.

Meanwhile, a couple of American seeds, No. 11 Sofia Kenin and No. 18 Coco Gauff were sent packing on Day One. Kenin lost to 51st-ranked Adelaide International 2 champion Madison Keys, 7-6 (2), 7-5. It was the sixth straight win by Keys, who hit 15 aces 31 winners, and improved to 3-1 against Kenin. The 17-year-old Gauff, despite saving five match points, was upset by No. 110 and 2020 Australian Open quarterfinalist Wang Qiang of China, 6-4, 6-2. Gauff racked up 35 unforced errors against the 30-year-old Chinese veteran, who beat a Top 20 opponent for the first time in two years.

Other seeded winners include: No. 21 Jessica Pegula of the United States, No. 22 Belinda Bencic of Switzerland, No. 26 Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia, No. 28 Veronika Kudermetova of Russia, No. 30 Camila Giorgi of Italy, and No. 32 Sara Sorribes Tormo of Spain.

Jabeur withdraws with back injury

World No. 10 and ninth seed Ons Jabeur of Tunisia was forced to withdraw before her first-round match against Nuria Parrizas Diaz of Spain due to a back injury she sustained last week in the Sydney Tennis Classic. Jabeur was replaced by lucky loser Irina Bara of Romania, who lost to Parrizas Diaz, 6-3, 6-1.

Monday’s Australian Open results 

Tuesday’s Australian Open order of play

By the numbers

• Monday’s Day One attendance at Melbourne Park was 25,206.

• The longest match Monday was the five-setter between No. 18 seed Aslan Karatsev of Russia and Spain’s Jaume Munar on Kia Arena. It lasted four hours and 52 minutes, ending at 12:27 a.m. early Tuesday, and was won by last year’s semifinalist Karatsev 3-6, 7-6 (1), 6-7 (3), 6-4, 6-4. He hit 87 winners but also committed 107 unforced errors. While Karatsev has seen better days, he lives to fight another.

“Quotable …”

“I thought it was really amazing to play against [Osorio]. She was loud, she was fighting. I think that’s something special. I really commend her for that. I thought she had a great return. She was really bold. She kind of stepped in really close to the line.”

Defending champion Naomi Osaka of Japan, during her post-match news conference following her victory over 20-year-old Camila Osorio of Colombia, who is ranked 50thand was making her main draw debut in the Australian Open.