Sport Tennis Australian Open: Nick Kyrgios powers on, Alexei Popyrin makes his mark
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Australian Open: Nick Kyrgios powers on, Alexei Popyrin makes his mark

Nick Kyrgios was in top form in his opening match at the Australian Open. Photo: AAP
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Nick Kyrgios says he is “ready to go again” after a powerful straight-set win in his opening match against Italian Lorenzo Sonego at the Australian Open on Tuesday night.

The controversial Australian, who has received praise for his support for bushfire relief, won 6-2, 7-6 7-6  and said he could feel the good vibe from the crowd.

“Yeah, this is my favourite, one of my favourite courts in the world,” he said on Channel Nine after the match.

“I request to play here early on. I feel super comfortable. You guys are the best. I feel the support.

“I feel good. I am not looking ahead at the draw at all,” he said.

Everyone can play in the draw. They are capable. I’m taking it one match at a time.’’

Even an on-court blackout in the second set  didn’t seem to perturb the sometimes combustible 23rd seed.

He will now play the winner of the match between Pablo Cuevas and Gilles Simon in the second round.

Kyrgios was one of six Australian men to make the second round, while Priscilla Hon, Ajla Tomljanovic and Arina Rodionova flew the flag for the women to join Ash Barty in round two.

Hon won her late-night match 6-3 6-4 against Ukraine’s Kateryna Kozlova.

Earlier, Alexei Popyrin said it was “painful” to watch his childhood hero Jo-Wilfried Tsonga being forced to retire against him in the first round.

Tsonga, the 28th seed, withdrew from the match injured when he was trailing the 20-year-old Australian 6-7 (7-5) 6-2 6-1.

Popyrin, ranked 96th in the world, had a strong run in last year’s Australian Open, beating two-time French Open finalist Dominic Thiem en route to the third round.

In his post-match interview, Popyrin was flat, saying he did not like to see Tsonga in pain.

The Sydneysider had mixed feelings after the match, recalling how he fondly watched Tsonga’s extraordinary run to the 2008 decider at Melbourne Park.

“I’ve never felt this way after a match,” he told Channel Nine.

“Seeing him make the final here, I remember him jumping around like a crazy kid. So seeing him hurt, seeing him in pain, having to retire for this match was just painful.

Alexei Popyrin made it to the second round after Jo-Wilfried Tsonga retired. Photo: AAP

“He’s amazing. Everything about his game, you know, big serve, big forehand and his attitude on court.”

Despite only just sitting inside the top 100, Popyrin has been a consistent early performer in grand slams, last year winning at least one match in all four majors.

While many of his contemporaries choose to build up rankings points on the secondary tour, Popyrin has consistently battled away to get into the best tournaments, finishing 2019 with the most number of wins through qualifying (11) to get into the top-tier events.

Popyrin will play the winner of the Hugo Gaston-Jaume Munar match in the second round.

Earlier, Australia’s John Millman had a four-set win against Ugo Humbert, but told Channel Nine it took a toll.

“The five-set matches are long and a guy like that it is tough to keep him out for three consecutive sets,” Millman said.

“He lifted a little and I thought I was losing momentum early in service games and he is a good frontrunner. I had to regroup and turn things around and I managed to do so.”

Marc Polmans also held his nerve to claim the biggest victory and pay cheque of his career, beating Kazakhstan’s Mikhail Kukushkin in five sets.

He won 6-4 6-3 4-6 6-7 (8-10) 6-4 in a marathon encounter lasting four hours and 17 minutes, setting up a second-round clash with Serbian No.24 seed Dusan Lajovic.

“I’m just happy that this year I was able to finish it in the end,” Polmans said.

It definitely started to creep in my head a little bit in the fifth set, but I knew I was playing pretty well.’’

On the women’s side of the draw, Wimbledon champion Simona Halep overcame a tough first set as well as a wrist injury to advance to the second round.

A finalist in 2018 at Melbourne Park, Halep saved three set points on Margaret Court Arena on Tuesday night before overcoming American Jennifer Brady 7-6 (7-5) 6-1.

Romanian Halep, the fourth seed, had her wrist taped after taking a tumble mid-rally during the first set.

But the 28-year-old, who has reunited with her Australian coach Darren Cahill, said she hoped it wouldn’t hinder her in her second-round match against either British qualifier Harriet Dart or Japan’s Misaki Doi.

“It’s quite painful,” Halep said after the match.

Sharapova’s fall accelerates

Five-time grand slam champion and former world No.1 Maria Sharapova is set to drop out of the top 300 for the first time since 2002.

She conceded she faced an uncertain future after being unceremoniously dumped from the Australian Open first round.

Sharapova is projected to plummet to 366th in the rankings after losing 6-3 6-4 to Croatia’s Donna Vekic on Tuesday.

The 32-year-old had already dropped to world No.145 after her 2019 season was dogged by a shoulder injury that limited her to just eight tournaments.

Maria Sharapova has a long history of success at Melbourne Park. Photo: Getty

But Sharapova refused to blame the injury for her recent woes.

“I can speak about my struggles and the things that I’ve gone through with my shoulder, but it’s not really in my character to,” she said.

Failing entry as a wildcard or qualifier, Sharapova will need to scale the top 100 to guarantee a return in Melbourne and said she was unsure if she would be back.

“It’s tough for me to tell what’s going to happen in 12 months’ time,” she said.

Word on the tweet …

Quotable quote …

‘‘I don’t care about 20 or 15 or 16. I just care about trying 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.’’

– Rafael Nadal doesn’t think much about matching Roger Federer’s record of 20 single slams, or does he?

Coming up on Wednesday …

Ashleigh Barty (AUS) v Polona Hercog (SLO)

Barty has never played the Slovenian but anything close to her best should be enough for the world No.1 to edge further in the draw and set up her likely first seeded showdown of the Open against 2020 Hobart International champion Elena Rybakina.

Hubert Hurkacz (POL) v John Millman (AUS)

Buckle up as this could be a long one. Hurkacz has enjoyed a strong start to 2020 with six wins from seven matches including a semi-final run in Auckland and a win over world No.5 Dominic Thiem at the ATP Cup. The Pole has sliced his ranking from No.238 to No.31 in two years and is one to watch. Veteran Millman is Australia’s brick wall and he’s also constructed a nice 2020 start that included an Auckland quarter-final and a victory over No.16 Karen Khachanov.

Fabio Fognini (ITA) v Jordan Thompson (AUS)

A showdown with Thompson may come as some welcome relief for the mercurial Italian after he had to withstand a 35-ace barrage and being down two sets to love before beating Reilly Opelka in the opening round. Thompson had a much easier time of things in his straight-sets win over Alexander Bublik.

– with AAP

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