Medvedev Moves One Win Closer To Second Straight Major

Daniil Medvedev (photo: Luke Hemer / Tennis Australia)

MELBOURNE/WASHINGTON, January 18, 2022 (by Michael Dickens)

With top seed Novak Djokovic withdrawn from the Australian Open 2022, all eyes are now on Daniil Medvedev. The 25-year-old second seed from Moscow is aiming to become the first Russian since Marat Safin 2005 to win the Australian Open men’s singles title.

As Tuesday afternoon temperatures hovered about 20 degrees Celsius under partly cloudy skies, last year’s finalist was solid in his 6-1, 6-4, 7-6 (3) defeat of No. 91 Henri Laaksonen of Switzerland on Rod Laver Arena. Day Two play featured the bottom half of the men’s and women’s draws.

During their one-hour and 54-minute first-round match, Medvedev hit 10 aces and garnered 21 winners to 23 unforced errors. He converted four of six break points and easily outpointed Laaksonen 107-75 to set up an intriguing second-round match against 115th-ranked mercurial Aussie Nick Kyrgios, who defeated colorful 128th-ranked British qualifier Liam Broady, ranked 128th, 6-4, 6-4, 6-3, on John Cain Arena.

Medvedev gave props to Laaksonen by acknowledging that the 29-year-old Swiss started playing better in the final set. “He started playing better, he was touching a lot of the lines,” the World No. 2 Medvedev said. “[In the] third set, I felt like he closed his eyes and just started hitting [with] full power. … I mean, some shots were exceptional.

“I like pressure,” added Medvedev, who was 13-1 in hard-court major matches last year. “I like to play here, I like hard courts. [I] always want to do better than I did last year, but it’s not going to be easy.”

After losing last year’s Australian Open final to Djokovic, the reigning US Open champion is chasing after his second straight major. He’s six wins away from achieving that feat.

“I know what I have to do before the match, after the match, one day before the match, to feel good. That’s what I am trying to reproduce,” Medvedev said. “It does give me extra confidence because now I know that it is possible to do it, and I know that if I’m playing good tennis, it’s really tough to beat me.

“I know that I’m capable fo playing seven great matches in a row on the same court or same venue, beating the best players in the world.”

Meanwhile, after the 115th-ranked Kyrgios dazzled the crowd in his favorite arena with 21 aces and 41 winners against Broady, he said of his upcoming match with Medvedev: “Obviously, either way it’s going to be a hell of an experience for me. He’s probably ‘the’ best player in the world at the moment. I’m excited for that moment. That’s why I play the game.

“That was always something I wanted to prove to people that someone like me could do, win those matches. I’m not going to go into it with a lot of expectation. I’m going to go out there, have some fun, play my game. I have a pretty set-in-stone game plan of what I need to do to have success.

“He’s a hard worker, ticks all the boxes. To play it on John Cain [Arena] would be – I’m just going to call it the Kyrgios Court – would be fun.”

Rublev, Auger-Aliassime among the winners; Ruud withdraws

Elsewhere, No. 5 seed Andrey Rublev began with a one-hour and 25-minute 6-3, 6-2, 6-2 victory over No. 65 Gianluca Mager of Italy. The 25-year-old Russian struck 13 aces and 31 winners, including the final one on a down-the-line backhand blast on match point, to advance to the second round against No. 93 Ricardas Berankis of Lithuania, who went the distance to beat No. 75 Roberto Carballes Baena of Spain, 6-1, 3-6, 2-6, 6-3, 6-4.

“I was a bit tight; I didn’t now how I’d play,” said Rublev, recovered from a recent bout of COVID-19 that kept him out the recent ATP Cup. “It’s not easy when you’re not playing for a couple of weeks, then you go to one of the best tournaments. I’m really happy to be back.”

Also, No. 9 seed Felix Auger-Aliassime of Canada avoided a big upset from No. 90 Emil Ruusuvuori of Finland and came through in three hours and 40 minutes with a 6-4, 0-6, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 victory. It marked just the fourth time that Auger-Aliassime, 21, had been in a five-setter. He overcame 52 unforced errors with 26 winners and broke Ruusuvuori in the fifth game of the deciding set that gave him the edge at the end.

Auger-Aliassime credited his mental resiliency for pulling him through to the second round. “Two years ago, I would probably [have gone] out n three, four sets. Today, I was able to win in five,” he said. “I think he’s a great player and showed it today.”

Among the other seeded men who advanced were: No. 4 Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece, No. 11 Jannik Sinner of Italy, No. 13 Diego Schwartzman of Argentina, No. 15 Roberto Bautista Agut of Spain, No. 20 Taylor Fritz of the United States, No. 24 Dan Evans of Great Britain, No. 26 Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria, No. 27 Marin Cilic of Croatia, and No. 32 Alex de Minaur of Australia.

No. 8 seed Casper Ruud of Norway pulled out Tuesday afternoon after rolling his ankle two days ago in practice. He was replaced in the draw by 149th-ranked lucky loser Roman Safiullin of Russia, who lost to Alex Molcan of Slovakia, 6-3, 7-6 (9), 5-7, 7-6 (6).

Among the seeded upsets, No. 22 John Isner lost to No. 70 Maxime Cressy, in a serving battle among American giants. The serve-and-volleying Cressy, behind 31 aces and 90 winners, won 7-6 (2), 7-5, 6-7 (4), 6-7 (4), 6-4 in four hours and 11 minutes on Court 5. Isner fired 39 aces and hit 70 winners but wasn’t able to break Cressy’s serve. The 6-foot-5-inch French-born American who lives in California saved nine of nine break points and outpointed Isner 179-175.

Also, in an all-French affair, No. 29 seed Ugo Humbert lost to No. 81 Richard Gasquet, 3-6, 7-6 (4), 7-6 (3), 6-3, and Great Britain’s Andy Murray defeated No. 21 seed Nikoloz Basilashvili of Georgia, 6-1, 3-6, 6-4, 6-7 (5), 6-4, in his first Australian Open match since 2019.

“I would love to have a deep run here if possible,” said the 113th-rankedMurray, who hit 13 aces and 26 winners during his nearly-four hour triumph. It was his second win in two weeks against the Georgian. “It is something I have not had at one of the slams since I came back from the injury and it is something that motivates me. I have played some of my bests tennis here over the years and I feel comfortable here.”

Muguruza, Sabalenka advance; US Open finalist Fernandez ousted

As the bottom half of the women’s draw saw first-round action, World No. 3 Garbiñe Muguruza of Spain, who finished last year by winning the season-ending WTA Finals, opened play on Rod Laver Arena with a 6-3, 6-4 win over 77th-ranked Clara Burel, a 20-year-old from France. The No. 3 seed Muguruza kept her perfect streak of winning her first-round match at the year’s first major alive. She wonfor the 10th straight time.

“I never lose the motivation,” the 28-year-old Muguruza said after her 89-minute victory. “There’s always ups and downs as an athlete. The crowd makes a big difference. When it’s behind you, you feel like fire and feel excited. I’m so happy that this year we have a crowd here.”

The two-time Grand Slam winner, who was runner-up in Melbourne to American Sofia Kenin in 2020, was making her first appearance on Rod Laver Arena since bowing in the fourth round to eventual champion Naomi Osaka of Japan last year. Now, she’s into the second round against another Frenchwoman, No. 61 Alizé Cornet, who beat 118th-ranked qualifier Viktoriya Tomova of Bulgaria, 6-3, 6-3. Cornet is appearing in her 60th straight Grand Slam main draw.

Elsewhere, No. 2 seed Aryna Sabalenka, rebounded from a pair of first-round defeats in Adelaide to beat 128th-ranked Australian wild card Storm Sanders, 5-7, 6-3, 6-2. The World No. 2 from Belarus was down a set and 3-1 before she recovered to win the two-hour and two-minutes match played on Rod Laver Arena.

“The start of the season was great for me,” said Sabalenka during her on-court interview. She had suffered losses to then-No. 100 Kaja Juvan of Slovenia and No. 93 Rebecca Peterson of Sweden – and was on the ropes against Sanders, committing 12 double faults, before advancing. “I’m really happy that I got this win.”

One who didn’t win was last year’s US Open finalist Leylah Fernandez of Canada, who lost to Australian wild card Maddison Inglis, 6-4, 6-2, on 1573 Arena. The No. 23 seed Fernandez made 30 unforced errors to only eight winners. Although Fernandez saved a pair of match points, the 133rd-ranked Inglis prevailed to earn her first Grand Slam main draw victory, while it marked the third straight year that the 19-year-old Canadian had lost in the first round at Melbourne Park.

“I had thought of that moment for a long time,” Inglis said after her win. “It was just pure happiness. I was so happy. I saw the ball go out and I looked at my box.

“It was an amazing moment. I’m really so happy I could have it here in Melbourne with all my friends and family there.”

Another first-time winner at Melbourne Park Tuesday was reigning US Open champion Emma Raducanu of Great Britain, who entered the year’s first major ranked 18th and seeded No. 17. The 19-year-old defeated 2017 US Open champion Sloane Stephens of the United States, whose ranking has dropped to No. 67, 6-0, 2-6, 6-1, in an hour and 45 minutes on Margaret Court Arena.

Raducanu overcame 30 unforced errors with 15 winners. She took advantage of some erratic play by Stephens, who committed 42 unforced errors and was broken six times by the British teenager.

“I think it was a tough match-up, really, for a first round. I knew there were going to be some really long rallies,” Raducanu said during an on-court interview as the clock struck midnight in Melbourne. “Her athleticism is really up there, so I was having to work extremely hard for my points. I’m so happy to have got through.”

Next, Raducanu will face No. 98 Danka Kovinic of Montenegro, who moved into the second round with a 6-3, 2-6, 6-4 win over 209th-ranked South Korean qualifier Su Jeong Jang.

Also, No. 7 seed Iga Swiatek of Poland, the 2020 French Open champion, scored a 6-3, 6-0 win over 123rd-ranked British qualifier Harriet Dart, while two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova, seeded 20th, bowed for the second straight year to Romania’s 38th-ranked Sorana Cirstea, 6-2, 6-2. The Czech star, who is 1-3 to open 2022, is three years removed from being an Australian Open finalist.

Swiatek hit 21 winners to 17 unforced errors against Dart, 25. Afterward, the 20-year-old World No. 8 said: “It’s pretty hard to be a perfectionist in a sport like [this] because basically this is the game where you’re going to make mistakes. Even when. You play a perfect match there are gong to be some mistakes So, actually in moments like today, at the beginning of the match, you know, usually a few years ago, I would get really, really angry about that and I would feel like this day is going to be bad.

“But right now, I’m just trying to find solutions … and just working on technical stuff, and it’s been easier to understand my mind.”

Among the other seeded women who advanced were: No. 6 Anett Kontaveit of Estonia, No. 10 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova of Russia , No. 12 Elena Rybakina of Kazakhstan, No. 14 Simona Halep of Romania, No. 25 Daria Kasatkina of Russia, No. 27 Danielle Collins of the United States, No. 29 Tamara Zidansek of Slovenia and No. 31 Marketa Vondrousova of the Czech Republic. Besides Kvitova and Fernandez, the only other seed to lose Tuesday was No. 16 Angelique Kerber of Germany, who fell to No. 115 Kaia Kanepi of Estonia, 6-4, 6-3.

Tuesday’s Australian Open results

Wednesday’s Australian Open order of play

By the numbers

• Day Two attendance on Tuesday at Melbourne Park reached 26,367.

• Former World No. 1 Simona Halep of Romania won her sixth straight match in Australia on Tuesday with a 6-4, 6-3 victory against No. 102 Magdalena Frech of Poland for her 104th Grand Slam triumph.Two weeks ago, Halep won her 23rd career title at the Melbourne Summer Set.

“I don’t believe I am at the highest level, my highest level, like in the past,” said Halep, who hit 25 winners to 27 unforced errors. “But I feel good. I feel confident that the game is there, the movement is there.”

• If Daniil Medvedev should win this year’s Australian Open, he would become the first man in the Open Era (since 1968) to follow up his first Grand Slam title with another title in his next major appearance. The feat has been achieved five times on the WTA tour, most recently by Naomi Osaka (2018 US Open followed by 2019 Australian Open).

“Quotable …”

“It was better than I expected. I’ve had a lot of matches against Petra and it was always tough. I lost some, won some but she’s always a very tough opponent no matter the round or the day. I’m very happy about the way I played today.”

– No. 38 Sorana Cirstea of Romania, who upset No. 20 seed Petra Kvitova for the second straight year at the Australia Open.