Eleven years after beating Jo-Wilfried Tsonga for the 2008 Australian Open, top seed Novak Djokovic bested the Frenchman again at Melbourne Park to reach the third round early on Thursday. The world number one Serb claimed a clinical 6-3 7-5 6-4 win over wildcard entry Tsonga in the late match at Rod Laver Arena.
While Djokovic is seeking a third successive Grand Slam title, Tsonga has been on a different trajectory, with his ranking slipping to 177 after his 2018 season was cut short by knee injury in April.
The gap between the players’ standing was on full show as Djokovic cruised to victory in two hours and four minutes, setting up a mouthwatering intergenerational clash with Canadian teenager Denis Shapovalov.
Kei Nishikori has another great escape to reach third round
Kei Nishikori made another great escape at the Australian Open on Thursday, surviving a second five-set battle and 59 aces from Ivo Karlovic to squeeze into the third round. The Japanese eighth seed was lucky just to be facing the big-serving Croat, having been two sets down in his opener against qualifier Kamil Majchrzak before the Pole suffered muscle cramping and retired mid-way through the fifth.
Against Karlovic, however, Nishikori squandered a two-set lead before closing out a tense tiebreak to prevail 6-3 7-6(6) 5-7 5-7 7-6(7) on a sweltering day at Margaret Court Arena. Dripping sweat, the former US Open finalist slumped to his knees in relief, having had to save three break points at 4-4 in the fifth set to prevent towering 39-year-old Karlovic from serving for the match.
The first Asian man to ever contest a Grand Slam final, Nishikori joked that Karlovic served as many aces in the match as he would manage in a year.
“Even after a few sets he was serving still really well, and there was, yeah, too many aces and (it was) frustrating, too, you know, for my side,” he told reporters. “I (would) rather do three sets, but today he was playing well, and first match, too, the guy was playing really solid. I could (have) lost these two matches. So yeah, I just need to recover well. But, I mean, it’s only two matches, so I’m not too tired yet.”
The 2014 US Open finalist will nonetheless feel lucky to be alive, having squandered a 6-3 lead in the final tiebreak which has a new first-to-10 points format. Karlovic was also wasteful, thumping a regulation volley into the net that would have put him within two points of victory. The 6ft-11in (2.11m) Croat, the oldest man in the second round at Melbourne Park in over 40 years, was unable to serve his way out of trouble and Nishikori nosed in front with a searing return that proved too much for the net-rushing Karlovic’s lunging backhand.
Having watched the ball fly past him 59 times from serving machine Karlovic, Nishikori closed out the match with two big first serves of his own, both down the ‘T’, to set up a clash with unseeded Portuguese Joao Sousa.
A three-times quarter-finalist at Melbourne Park, Nishikori will hope to ride the wave of support from the army of travelling Japanese fans who chanted his name throughout the Karlovic match.
“I feel more support here,” he said when asked to compare the four Grand Slams. You can tell there are so many Japanese. And also many Asians. I’m sure I feel more comfortable playing this Grand Slam than (any) other Grand Slam.”
Milos Raonic overcomes Stan Wawrinka in pulsating four-setter
Milos Raonic served his way into the third round of the Australian Open on Thursday with a pulsating 6-7(4) 7-6(6) 7-6(11) 7-6(5) victory against former champion Stan Wawrinka. In one of the best matches of the opening rounds, the 196 cm (6.43 ft) Canadian repeatedly served his way out of trouble against an opponent armed with an elegant as well as destructive single-handed backhand.
The reserved Canadian raised his fists in triumph after his Swiss opponent misfired on his forehand on match point after four hours of intense play. “Sort of just held on, got through,” Raonic said. “Was a little bit lucky there, as well.”
Raonic, seeded 16, will play Pierre-Hugues Herbert in the third round, after the French player beat last year’s semi-finalist Chung Hyeon. Neither Raonic or Wawrinka could assert authority in the early stages of the match, which resulted in a first set tiebreak, where Raonic secured a mini-break early on.
The Canadian had a straight-forward volley that would have extended his lead in the shoot-out but tried to wrong-foot his opponent, hitting the volley behind Wawrinka to his backhand. This is a bit like giving spinach to Popeye.
The Swiss obliged, unleashing one of the most beautiful shots in tennis, a backhand forged near Lake Geneva in his home-town of Lausanne, that left the Canadian stranded. Wawrinka followed up with a clean down-the-line backhand winner from the baseline the next point and soon secured the set. Play was briefly halted in the second set as paramedics looked after a spectator who appeared to be struggling in the intense humidity. The rain eventually came, and the centre court roof was closed for the first time this tournament.
Raonic’s serve dominated the second set tiebreak, while the third set tiebreak turned into a tussle, as the Canadian’s return-of-serve went missing, as did Wawrinka’s first serve.
Wawrinka played a loose point at 11-11 in the tiebreak, giving the Canadian a chance to missile his way into a two-sets-to-one lead, which he did, by sending down another unreturnable serve.
“For sure, when it’s that tight, the match can change for one, two points,” said Wawrinka.
Wawrinka grabbed a break in the fourth set by landing a series of returns at the shoelaces of his incoming opponent and the match suddenly looked destined to go the full distance. But Raonic recovered again to set up a fourth consecutive tiebreak and it took an wayward Wawrinka forehand to end the enthralling contest.
Wawrinka, a three times major winner who broke through to win his maiden Grand Slam in Melbourne in 2014, said he was pleased with his progress from a career-threatening knee injury last year.
“I have to keep pushing and keep doing the right things,” he said. “The season is long – 11 months. There is a lot of tennis to be played. Hopefully I will achieve some things.”
Seventh seed Dominic Thiem pulls out due to illness
Seventh seed Dominic Thiem’s Australian Open came to a premature end on Thursday when the Austrian retired due to illness during his second-round clash with local wildcard Alexei Popyrin. French Open finalist Thiem appeared frustrated during the match, smashing one of his rackets before retiring when trailing 7-5 6-4 2-0.
“I felt very bad during the game obviously,” Thiem told reporters. “Today I started to feel like the whole body hurts and generally, I was not feeling well at all. In the match, it got worse, the whole body was hurting I was feeling weak and no sense to continue.”
Local favourite Popyrin will play Frenchman Lucas Pouille for a place in the last 16. “The cause, I don’t know 100 percent,” said Thiem of the illness. I had some cold the last weeks and also when I arrived here. I have to check it when I’m home and that’s it.”
Alexander Zverev advances after five-set battle
Germany’s Alexander Zverev wasted a flurry of opportunities before securing a 7-6(5) 6-4 5-7 6-7(6) 6-1 win over unseeded Frenchman Jeremy Chardy on Thursday to book a place in the Australian Open third round. Zverev, known as Sascha, is ranked fourth in the world and has emerged as the leader of tennis’s next generation of men’s players, underlined by victories over Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic en route to his maiden ATP Finals triumph in November.
But he is yet to challenge seriously at a Grand Slam and will have to guard against profligacy if he is to progress deep into the tournament at Melbourne Park. “I think if you go five sets, it’s always energy consuming, especially today, being two sets to love up, then two sets all,” Zverev told reporters. “A lot of nerves involved, as well.”
The 21-year-old served 13 double faults, racked up 52 unforced errors and managed to convert only five of the 17 break point opportunities he had. Zverev looked set for an easy mach after taking a two-set lead and with a flurry of break points in the third set. But he wasted four chances to break and lost his serve to surrender the third set.
“I thought the match was very high quality, high level. Jeremy started playing really, really well in the third and fourth set,” Zverev added. “I knew if I stayed strong, if I keep doing what I’m doing, I’ll get my chances. I actually had my chances in all sets. Didn’t manage to break. Matches can turn around quickly. I’m just happy to kind of be in the third round.”
Frenchman Chardy, ranked 36th, won the fourth set in a tiebreak after Zverev wasted four more break-point opportunities in the seventh game. Chardy ran out of steam in the final set as his errors mounted and Zverev cantered to victory in three hours and 46 minutes. He next plays local wildcard Alex Bolt, who stunned 29th-seeded Frenchman Gilles Simon 2-6 6-4 4-6 7-6(8) 6-4.
Zverev said he did not know much about his next opponent. “His journey is quite amazing. He’s playing really good tennis right now. Obviously, being in the third round, beating Gilles Simon, which is never easy,” the German said. “I’m happy for him. But in two days’ time, I’ll be playing him. I’ll do everything I can to prevent him going further.”