Sport Tennis Australian Open Australian Open 2019: Aussie wildcards stun high-profile seeds on ‘terrific Thursday’
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Australian Open 2019: Aussie wildcards stun high-profile seeds on ‘terrific Thursday’

Alex Bolt of Australia celebrates winning match point in his second round match against Gilles Simon of France . Photo: Getty
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Talk about ripping up the form book. 

Local hopes Alex Bolt and Alexei Popyrin produced major shocks at the Australian Open on Thursday, the wildcards sending a pair of big-name seeds packing on a memorable day at Melbourne Park.

The surprise wins mean there are five Australians in the the third round of the Australian Open for the first time since 2004, the pair joining Alex de Minaur, Ashleigh Barty and Kimberly Birrell.

And while Bolt (ranked 159th in the world) and Popyrin (149th) both produced some breathtaking tennis, their victories were very different.

Bolt had to come from behind and save four match points in a pulsating 2-6 6-4 4-6 7-6 (10-8) 6-4 win over 29th seed Gilles Simon.

Popyrin took the first two sets off seventh-seeded Dominic Thiem 7-5, 6-4, before the Austrian was forced to retire at 2-0 down in the third set.

In front of a raucous crowd on Court 3, Bolt thumped 71 winners – almost double Simon’s tally – in a brilliant victory.

Bolt had never beaten a player inside the world’s top 70 before and said on court that it was “the best thing I have ever experienced in my life.”

The 26-year-old later expanded on how he walked away from the sport in 2016, playing local football and working in a fencing business after falling out of love with tennis.

“I just wasn’t enjoying playing tennis,” he told reporters.

So what changed?

“I think the big thing was I didn’t want any regrets when I was older. I didn’t want to say in 10 years, I could have done this in tennis, I could have done that,” he said.

“I think I [have] just got a little bit more perspective on life since I’ve come back. I don’t live and die by winning and losing anymore.

“I’m just out on court trying to have as much fun as I can.”

And what fun he had.

A battle against fourth seed Alexander Zverev of Germany is next up.

Popyrin’s tennis career has been far more smooth-sailing, the tall teenager from Sydney having won the French Open boys title in 2017.

Alexei Popyrin of Australia defeated Dominic Thiem of Austria. Photo: Getty

Still just 19, big things are expected from Popyrin and he gave us a glimpse of his obvious talent by racing to a two-set lead world No 8 Thiem of Austria.

His silky forehands were a highlight and Thiem was furious, smashing racquets as he battled fatigue and illness before eventually retiring after going down a break in the third set.

Popyrin, who plays 28th seed Lucas Pouille on Saturday, saved the big celebrations, aware something was amiss with his opponent.

“Somewhere in the middle of the first set when I saw he wasn’t serving as strong as he usually is … when he was serving 150, 160, I saw something was really wrong,” he said afterwards.

“I just tried to keep focused … it’s never easy seeing an opponent retire like that.”

Popyrin, who hit with Serena Williams in pre-season and idolises Juan Martin del Potro, was being modest, but eventually allowed himself to be pleased with his performance.

“It was unreal. I really enjoy playing on these big, big stadiums with massive crowds,” he added.

Around the courts

Top seed Novak Djokovic needed just three sets to see off Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in a re-match of the 2008 Australian Open final.

Djokovic beat Tsonga 6-3 7-5 6-4 but the aforementioned Zverev needed five to beat Frenchman Jeremy Chardy.

Milos Raonic and Stanislas Wawrinka played out a fantastic match on Thursday, too, the former winning after four tiebreaks in as many sets.

Serena Williams’ much-hyped match with Eugenie Bouchard was a fizzer, the American winning 6-2 6-2 on a day her sister, Venus, beat Alize Cornet in three sets.

Women’s top seed Simona Halep survived a scare, seeing off American Sofia Kenin 6-3 6-7 (5-7) 6-4, but fourth seed Naomi Osaka did things easier and beat Tamara Zidansek 6-2 6-4.

And in the latest match to ever start at the Australian Open, 18th seed Garbine Muguruza edged Brit Johanna Konta 6-4 6-7 (3-7) 7-5.

The match – which started at 12.30am (AEDT) on Friday – did not end until 3.12am (AEDT).

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