Stan Wawrinka is out of the Australian Open.
Let me repeat that. Stan Wawrinka – the perennial crowd-pleaser who won local hearts with his run to the crown in 2014 – has been bundled out in the second round against unseeded Hungarian Marton Fucsovics 7-5 6-1 4-6 2-6 7-6 (11-9).
The Swiss 17th seed, who only recently revealed he contracted COVID-19 at the end of last year, came within inches of closing out a remarkable turnaround as he held three match points in the fifth-set match tiebreaker.
But those chances went begging, as the fatigue of pegging back a two-set deficit in the searing 30-plus degree heat wore on the Melbourne crowd favourite as he lost the last five points of the match.
Post-match, Fucsovics – who has won through two five-set matches in a row to book his third-round spot – could not believe his luck, as the rapid-fire Wawrinka backhand went awry under pressure.
“Right now, I feel like I’m dying, I’m really tired I played two five-setters – today’s really hot,” the Hungarian said.
“But I’m really happy to be in the third round.”
Fucsovics has proven no slouch at grand slams as of late, defeating four top-20 seeds in the last four majors (Wawrinka, Daniil Medvedev, Denis Shapovalov and Grigor Dimitrov).
Meanwhile, Serbian number one seed Novak Djokovic is wilting under the intense Melbourne heat – and the ire of a select group of spectators.
The defending champion looked to be cruising in his second-round clash with American baseliner Frances Tiafoe after taking the first set 6-3, but with the elements visibly weighing on the Serb, the young gun drew the match level after taking the second set tiebreak 7-6(3).
Djokovic’s counter-punching play served him beautifully as he piled on the pressure.
But Tiafoe’s devastating serve and forehand willed him back into the match, as fans sensed a palpable momentum shift late in the first set.
And the shifting crowd support got under the skin of top seed Djokovic, who roared towards a pair of hecklers after securing a decisive second break, who were then given a talking to by security
Andreescu heads for the exit
Canadian grand slam champion Bianca Andreescu has joined the growing list of seeded players who have endured two weeks of strict quarantine only to be bundled out early at Melbourne Park.
The eighth seed, who surprised the tennis world with a barnstorming run to the US Open title in 2019 as a 19-year-old, fell abruptly to Australian Open giant-killer Hsieh Su-Wei 6-3 6-2 in 83 minutes.
But despite a fortnight confined to her hotel and the Open figuring as her first tournament after being sidelined for 15 months with a meniscus tear, rust only explained a small part of her undoing.
Because Hsieh Su-Wei’s all-court play, which features dinky drop shots, loopy moonballs, intense angles and driving flat groundstrokes – and that’s just in a single rally – was at its dazzling best.
The Taiwanese Hsieh raced out the gates, streaking to a 4-0 lead early as Andreescu appeared flummoxed by her opponent, who consistently pushed the young Canuck off any comfortable footing.
But despite a late first-set break back, it was not enough to stop the Hsieh onslaught, as she reminded crowds of the form that saw her vanquish Garbine Muguruza and Agnieszka Radwanska in quick succession during an inspiring 2018 run.
With momentum starting to turn the Canadian’s way, any questions of a third set were snuffed as Hsieh sped ahead 3-0 in the second set, with Andreescu unable to assemble the pieces of her mind-boggling puzzle.
And unable to consolidate a break for the second time in the match, Hsieh completed another remarkable upset.
“I have a few years I was coming here for my off-season and training with Paul McNamee and for me, I know where to go to eat after the match,” Hsieh said of her stellar recent performances in Melbourne.
“So I definitely know how to enjoy life and play some tennis here.”
She’ll next face Venus Williams or Sara Errani for a second-week berth.
Serena eases into the third round
“I wasn’t thinking so much in the second as I was in the first. I kind of let go and see what happened.”
If a 6-0 second-set beat-down is what happens when Serena Williams is not thinking, then the rest of the women’s draw might be best-served obtaining a white flag in preparation.
The American 23-time grand slam champion, hunting an elusive record-equalling crown in Melbourne, dismantled Serbia’s Nina Stojanovic 6-3 6-0 after the world number 100 put up a valiant fight in the first set.
It was easy going for Williams early, who found her radar far quicker than her previous sojourn onto Rod Laver Arena and conjured up a decisive first break in the fourth game.
But Stojanovic’s mettle, highlighted by a handful of running forehands that drew applause from the Williams-leaning crowd, kept her in the contest, before the former world number one dialled up the intensity to close out the first set.
From there, it was all she wrote.
Stojanovic could only watch in dismay as Williams carried the momentum into the second set, pouncing on any serve returns in her sweet spot and reminding her compatriots of why she’s an undisputed all-time great.
After making a fashion statement on Monday, her two opening-round statements may just be shining that little bit brighter.
“She pushed me very hard and I played very well, honestly, through the match, so I had to fight for all the games,” Williams said.
Kvitova joins list of ousted grand slam champions
It hasn’t been a terribly comfortable Open for women’s major champions without the last names Barty, Williams or Osaka.
Former Melbourne champions Angelique Kerber and Victoria Azarenka both made untimely exits in the first round, while the aforementioned Andreescu joined them hours into the second round.
And now, two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova has joined the top-tier seeds rubbing their wounds after succumbing to Romania’s Sorana Cirstea 6-4 1-6 6-1.
Cirstea, who made a racquet during her days of hard hotel quarantine, looked content matching Kvitova – one of the cleanest ball-strikers out on tour – from the baseline, and troubled the southpaw whenever the Czech’s length of shot was lacking.
Some tentative play on three match points gave way to a colossal running forehand effort to bring up her fourth, which granted her the match after a Kvitova backhand sailed marginally long.
Her performance even surprised the Romanian, who hasn’t beaten a top 10 player at a grand slam event since Sam Stosur in Melbourne in 2012.
“I was one of the few in hard quarantine so playing 2 hours in 30 degrees takes a bit more out of me than normal,” Cirstea said post-match.
“I think it’s impressive to come out of 15 days without hitting a ball and competing like I did today, I did not expect it.”