Fifth seed Kei Nishikori marches on into third round. - UBITENNIS
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Fifth seed Kei Nishikori marches on into third round.

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After his grueling 5 set win in round one against Alex Kuznetsov, Japan’s Kei Nishikori found the going much easier against France’s 72nd ranked Jeremy Chardy, winning 6/4 6/3 6/4.

 

With his coach Michael Chang watching in the stands, Nishikori had to have known what his game plan was from the moment he walked into Hisense Arena: use his stellar movement, steely resolve, and accurate consistency to expose the weaker wheels of his tall, gangly opponent, a player with all the shots but who rarely hits them one-after-the-other.

The Japanese number one, who’s had the greatest success ever of any Japanese ATP player, followed that pattern from the outset, breaking Chardy’s first service game. Holding his own serve next, Nishikori threatened to take his opponent’s next service game, but with some solid play by the Frenchman and a few errors of his own he failed. Chardy had gotten out of jail.

Service games followed on form until Chardy served to save the set at 3/5. While he hits some scintillating shots in all his matches, Chardy simply couldn’t muster enough continual pressure to disrupt the steadiness of Nishikori’s game, and he was broken to lose the first set.

A slight Nishikori letdown at the start of the second set let Chardy break right off, though even then it took him two points; at 15/40 he netted an inside-out forehand after a long-ish rally, and then on the 30/40 point he won after a Hawkeye challenge proved that he was right, that Kei’s ball was wide. The first game went to the man from Pau, France.

But in the manner of all top players, Nishikori gathered himself and broke right back. Chardy’s rhythm was coming on stream, but the rock solid, baseline-hugging ball machine that is Kei Nishikori never let him pull ahead. Chardy only ran 20 meters more over the entire match (1879 vs Nishikori’s 1859.2), but it always seemed that he was doing all the scrambling while Nishikori was simply running.

zimbio.com  Source: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images AsiaPac)

zimbio.com Source: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images AsiaPac

Looking to establish some momentum, after breaking back the fifth seed put his first serve into play on the first point of the 1/1 game and proceed to quickly go up 40/0. According to the rankings this was never going to be a tight match, but Chardy’s 57% first serve percentage didn’t help him any, and Nishikori’s 69% success kept the pressure on throughout.

As happened multiple times, Chardy felt his oats long enough to hold strongly for 2/2, and even though Nishikori stuck to his game plan and kept making Chardy move, the Frenchman broke for 3/2. Yet another ragged game by the underdog, with a number of break point chances for Kei and even a game point for Chardy, gave the break right back (again!) to Nishikori. 3 all, second set.

The idea that he might have to spend hours on court once again must have energized Nishikori, because he cleaned up his shotmaking and, after each held their serves to 4/5 with Chardy serving, Kei took his opponent’s service game one more time, and with it the second set.

True to form, Chardy continued to impersonate a great player on one point and make duffers feel good about themselves on the next. Swinging away, he broke to open the third set and then got broken right back. No matter how well he could play any one point, or even a small group of points, the pressure Nishikori created by staying the course and not giving away anything of significance made Chardy press again and again, leaving his high risk game even less margin for error.

With Chardy serving at 3/4 Nishikori demonstrated why he’s number 5 in the world. He broke, played methodically on his serve to 30/0, hit an ace, stumbled slightly to 40/15, and then wrong-footed Chardy in a three ball rally. He was through in three, though it was tougher that the score makes it appear.

“There were too many breaks for me, but it was great to get through in 3 sets,” was Nishikori’s on-court summary. Fair enough. But a win is a win, and he’s into the third round, where he’ll meet the winner of Lukas Lacko versus Dudi Sela.

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Felix Auger-Aliassime Survives Australian Open Marathon

For a second time this week the Canadian was pushed but managed to win a tough four-set match against his Spanish opponent.

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Felix Auger-Aliassime (Manuela Davies/USTA)

Felix Auger-Aliassime booked his spot in the third round of the Australian Open after beating Alejandro Davidovich Fokina 7-6, 6-7, 7-6, 7-6 in a match that lasted four hours and 20 minutes.

 

The Montreal native hit 58 winners and served 28 aces while Davidovich Fokina hit 51 unforced errors. It is the second time the 21-year-old has reached the last 32 in Melbourne Park in what is his third appearence.

The first game of the match was a nervy one for the world number nine as it lasted six minutes and it involved him saving two breakpoints before being able to hold serve. The opener stayed on serve until 2-2 when the Fokina came up with an impressive passing shot to set up two more chances for the first break of serve of the match and this time managed to convert. Three games later the Canadian fought back and broke right back to go back on serve.

It was a tiebreak which decided the first set. The Montreal native jumped out to a 3-0 lead before the Spaniard came back again to win the next four points but the Canadian responded again winning three straight points to take the breaker 7-4 and the first set.

The second set was another impressive performance on serve by both players and once again was decided by a back and forth breaker that this time was won by Davidovich Fokina to level the match.

The third frame was much the same as both players kept their level up and not much differentiated the two. This tiebreaker was much more straightforward as the Canadian jumped out to a 5-1 lead before closing out the third set 7-5 and taking two sets to one lead.

The fourth set stayed on serve until 2-1 when the world number 50 had a chance to break and was able to get it for a 3-1 lead before the Canadian was able to break back the following game to go back on serve.

For the fourth time, the set was decided by a tiebreaker and this one was super tight with the Canadian getting the crucial break to take a 4-3 lead and that one break was enough for him to serve it out.

Auger Aliassime will now face Dan Evans in the third round after the Brit was handed a walkover against Frenchman Arthur Rinderknech who pulled out of the match due to injury.

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‘Best Feeling I’ve Ever Had’ – Underdog Christopher O’Connell Stuns Schwartzman At Australian Open

Prior to this week the 27-year-old had never won a main draw match at Melbourne Park or beaten a top 20 player.

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World No.175 Christopher O’Connell has pulled off a major upset at the Australian Open by knocking out 13th seed Diego Schwartzman.

 

The 27-year-old wild card had only ever won one match in the main draw of a Grand Slam prior to this year but illustrated the talent that he has with a 7-6, 6-4, 6-4, win over Schwartzman. A player who is currently ranked 162 places above him in the rankings. Against the Argentine he fired a total of 44 winners and won 75% of his first service points on route to claiming his first win over a top 20 player.

“It’s the best feeling I’ve ever had on a tennis court. I’ve been playing tennis since I was four. To have moments like this it’s a dream come true.” O’Connell said during his press conference.

Despite the straightforward score, the match itself was a marathon. The opener alone lasted for almost 90 minutes with the underdog saving three set points whilst down 4-5 before prevailing in the tiebreaker. Then in the following two sets he broke Schwartzman three times in total.

“I knew how crucial that first set was. It was really warming up out there. It was really a battle back and forth. It was crucial to get that first set, especially in the heat,” he said.

A late bloomer on the men’s Tour, the Australian started to make a breakthrough last year by reaching his first quarter-final at the Atlanta Open where he defeated Jannik Sinner. During that year he also reached the final of a French Challenger event before withdrawing due to injury and reached the second round of the US Open.

O’Connell, who has been ranked as high as 111th in the world, credits his coach for helping him reach new milestones in the sport. He is mentored by former player Marinko Matosevic who reached a ranking high of 39th back in 2013 and made more than $2M in prize money during his playing career.

“The process didn’t start yesterday. It’s been happening all of last year,” he stated.
“I’ve been working with Marinko. He’s just really confident with how I want to play tennis now. It’s the first time I’ve really had a one-on-one coach literally every day with me.’
“Marinko was such a great player. All his knowledge of the game, he’s just putting it onto me.”

Next up for O’Connell will be the in-form Maxime Cressy who lost to Rafael Nadal in the final of the Melbourne Summer Set just over a week ago. The American defeated Czech qualifier Tomáš Macháč 6-1, 3-6, 6-1, 7-6(5), in his second round match.

“I knew I had good results in me. It’s just being consistent. I felt today was a consistent match from me,” he reflected.
“But the biggest thing for me is just staying healthy, not having these injuries where I miss two months of tournaments. I nearly missed five or six months last year. I can’t be doing that.’
“The belief is always there, but I just got to make sure my body’s healthy this year. I want to play a full year.”

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French Player Tests Positive For COVID-19 Hours After Australian Open Defeat

The world No.40 was preparing to leave the country.

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Image via https://twitter.com/HumbertUgo/

Ugo Humbert is in quarantine after testing positive for COVID-19 following his first round loss at the Australian Open on Tuesday.

 

Humbert, who was the 29th seed in the men’s draw, is understood to have produced a positive result during a routine procedure players have to conduct before they leave the country. It is unclear as to if he is currently suffering from any symptoms.

Humbert crashed out of the tournament to compatriot Richard Gasquet, who won their match 3-6, 7-6(4), 7-6 (3), 6-3, in three hours and 18 minutes. Gasquet also tested positive for COVID-19 upon arrival in Australia earlier this month but was given the all clear to play at Melbourne Park following a negative test. There was a 15-day period between the 35-year-old announcing on Twitter he had the virus and his first match against Humbert.

“I was tested positive on my exit test yesterday and I’ll stay one more week in isolation in Australia,” Humbert wrote on Instagram.
“Thanks for your support and see you soon.”

The 23-year-old has started his season by winning one out of four matches played. Prior to the Australian Open, he scored one of the biggest wins of his career by defeating Daniil Medvedev at the ATP Cup in the group stages. However, following that victory he suffered losses to Alex de Minaur and Matteo Berrettini.

Tennis Australia is yet to comment on Humbert’s positive test.

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