Sport Tennis Second-round feast has Australians in the Open
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Second-round feast has Australians in the Open

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It is a rare day when 14 Australians play a grand slam singles match and more unusual, still, that half of them win. What seven plus five equals, besides the obvious, is the largest local presence in the second round at Melbourne Park since 1992.

Alexei Popyrin’s success was the most dramatic, Chris O’Connell’s also a career-best, Daria Gavrilova’s the last through late on Tuesday night, and both Thanasi Kokkinakis and Sam Stosur’s long, long overdue.

Ash Barty’s, no surprise, was the most predictable, with the world No.1 needing just 44 minutes to blitz Montenegro’s  Danka Kovinic 6-0, 6-0 on Rod Laver Arena.

Barty won the first 16 points, and admitted she had set out to make her opponent feel she had a mountain to climb.

This was more Everest than Kosciuszko. Women’s draw beware.

“I want to challenge myself to be the complete player,’’ said Barty, when asked what she could still do better.

“I want to challenge myself to grow and develop every single day, both as a human and as a tennis player. So I think regardless of what happens on any given night, we wake up the next day and go back to work and try and get better again.’’

Next is Gavrilova who won through in 6-1 7-5 after a tense second set against Sara Sorribes Tormo.

Popyrin, 21, will need a bit more recovery time. The 21-year-old was down two sets to one against 13th seed David Goffin and sought treatment from the trainer in the fourth, saving four match points to be not just on the verge of defeat but on the brink, physically, too.

“I think also it was a little bit mental. You know, going down a break in that fourth set, I didn’t think it was over, but it kind of was like, ‘oh, yeah. I was kind of like on the edge of it’.

“But I managed to stay in. I managed to dig deep, and yeah, came out on top,’’ said world No.114, after a win he rated as his finest.

The fact that it was his first in five sets, against the superfit Belgian, added to the satisfaction, and reinforced the benefits of a four-week cardio-focused pre-season  after kilos were gained and condition lost during Covid lockdown in Europe.

“The last time I lost a five-set match in the third round, I couldn’t walk for two days. Hopefully I’ll be a bit better,’’ said Popyrin, who has a winnable second round against 91st-ranked South African Lloyd Harris.

Fellow wildcard Kokkinakis will be on a bigger court against a bigger name, fifth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas, but also expended far less energy in beating Korean Soonwoo Kwon 6-4, 6-1, 6-1.

Following troubled times with injury and illness, it was the talented South Australian’s first Open victory since 2015.

For different reasons, it had been an identical wait for Stosur, 36, who celebrated her 19th and possibly last home slam with a 6-4, 6-4 defeat of 20-year-old countrywoman Destanee Aiava.

Yet the Aussie-battler-makes-good narrative is also a reliable staple of the tennis summer, and from repurposed fence-builder Alex Bolt on Monday we can add one-time boat-washer O’Connell, the world No.121 who recorded a fine straight sets win over 37th-ranked German Jan-Lennard Struff.

Alex de Minaur marked his return from a devastating injury absence in 2020 to banish a grumpy Tennys Sandgren 7-5, 6-1, 6-1, then admitted to being motivated by the success of his fellow Australians.

“It’s exciting times, and it’s amazing,’’ said the 21st seed.

Us Aussies, we always seem to play really well here in Australia. Now it’s time to kind of hopefully take this momentum with us and go conquer the world.’’

De Minaur also backed his Davis Cup teammate Nick Kyrgios to rediscover his best form after a year away, and on Wednesday Kyrgios will play French 29th seed Ugo Humbert for a place in the third round. Possibly against third seed Dominic Thiem.

Yet it was what we heard from the world No.47 after his first round win that was most revealing – and not just the latest instalment in his verbal punch-on with Novak Djokovic.

Kyrgios was in one of his more reflective moods, admitting to unaccustomed nerves in his first grand slam match in 12 months, even one he said felt more like a regular tour event. At 25, he felt like a rookie again, yet also calmer than before, having apparently learnt to treat every match the same, regardless of the result.

He said he arrived in Melbourne with low expectations, following September knee surgery to repair a torn meniscus and months without touching a racquet. The self-described “nutcase when I’m on court’’ insists that, whatever his own faults, lack of perspective has not been one of them.

“But, dude, I feel old,’’ Kyrgios said. “I feel like this sport has stressed me out. I feel like an old soul.

“At the end of the day I know it’s just a tennis match. Obviously I’m going to get angry as I’m playing. I’m a competitor. I always want to win. I don’t beat myself up over losses. I’m extremely lucky to even be in my position.

“I’m healthy. I’ve got great friends, great family. An amazing girlfriend back home. I’m blessed. That’s what I mean. Look at me. I’m a wise man now.’’

Or, well, one who certainly has a future as a commentator, in the unlikely event a player who insists he doesn’t love the game and didn’t miss it during his Covid hiatus should choose that path. Monday night’s analysis of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Djokovic on Monday night was compelling.

So, reliably, is Kyrgios, who rates 22-year-old Hubert as one of the most improved players on tour. The Australian retired with a wrist injury from their only previous contest, in Acapulco last year, and intends to approach this one in his usual way. Which, he says, is to see tennis as the platform that allows him to do things that matter more.

“I definitely play a bit looser than other players do. But that’s just the way I play. That’s who I am… I’m very comfortable in my own skin.

“It’s a tennis match for me. Like, I’ve got a lot of things in my life going on, and I’ve gone through a lot, and that’s real stuff rather than, you know, losing a tennis match.’’