Sunday, January 29, 2023

Nadal, Swiatek, Medvedev advance at Australian Open

Rafael Nadal never truly seemed in danger of becoming the first Australian Open defending men’s champion to lose in the first round since his current coach, Carlos Moya, managed to beat Boris Becker a quarter of a century ago.
Still, this was not a vintage performance by Nadal, who came into Monday’s matchup against 21-year-old Jack Draper with an 0-2 record in 2023 and six losses in his past seven outings overall. After nearly two hours of so-so play, Nadal found himself even at a set apiece.
He appeared to be pulling away, taking advantage of his opponent’s bout with cramps on an afternoon with the temperature at about 85 degrees Fahrenheit (30 Celsius), when suddenly Draper went up by a break in the fourth set. From there, though, Nadal would not drop another game, beginning his pursuit of a record-extending 23rd Grand Slam championship with a 7-5, 2-6, 6-4, 6-1 win that took more than 3 1/2 hours in Rod Laver Arena.
Iga Swiatek went into her first-round Australian Open match with strong memories of what a tough go of it she had against Jule Niemeier the last time they met. So the No. 1-ranked Swiatek came in ready for another tussle, and possibly another three-setter, but grabbed the last four games to beat Niemeier 6-4, 7-5 in Rod Laver Arena.
Determined, Swiatek said, to “think about what I could do to push her back,” the 21-year-old from Poland took control from the baseline with her forehand late to improve to 15-1 in openers at Grand Slam tournaments, a .938 winning percentage that leads active women.
When they faced each other in the U.S. Open’s fourth round in September, Swiatek needed to come back from a set and a break down before getting past Niemeier in three sets en route to claiming a third major trophy.
Niemeier – a 22-year-old German who is ranked 69th and was a Wimbledon quarterfinalist last year – broke to begin the second set, led it 5-3 and served for it at 5-4. But Swiatek smacked a big forehand to force one error and earn a break point, then did the same to convert it.
Swiatek broke again with yet another error forced by a forehand to end the match. She raised her right fist, looked toward her coach and sports psychologist in the stands and let out a yell. When Swiatek sat on the sideline, she closed her eyes and breathed deeply.
How close was this one? Swiatek made only two more winners (20-18) and just one fewer unforced error (29-28).
The owner of three major titles, and a semifinalist at the Australian Open a year ago, Swiatek now will face 84th-ranked Camila Osorio.
Two-time losing finalist Daniil Medvedev fired up his bid to go one better at the Australian Open with a straight-sets demolition of Marcos Giron on Monday.
The Russian seventh seed, almost a foot taller than his opponent, blasted past the 56th-ranked American 6-0, 6-1, 6-2 on Rod Laver Arena in just 1hr 36mins.
His reward is a second-round clash with Australian wildcard John Millman, who came through a five-setter against Switzerland’s Marc-Andrea Huesler.
Medvedev was a losing finalist at the last two Australian Opens, to Novak Djokovic in 2021 and then in a demoralising five-set defeat 12 months ago against Rafael Nadal after leading by two sets.
Emma Raducanu and Cameron Norrie were winners on the first day of the Australian Open but Jack Draper struggled with cramp during a four-set loss to Rafael Nadal.
The 21-year-old Draper took the second set against the defending champion before fading in a 7-5 2-6 6-4 6-1 defeat while Raducanu put concerns over an ankle injury behind her to set up a clash with Coco Gauff.
A “devastated” Nick Kyrgios pulled out of the Australian Open on Monday — the day before he was scheduled to play his first-round singles match — because of an injured left knee that needs arthroscopic surgery.
Frances Tiafoe won his first-round match at the Australian Open on Monday but it was the American’s outrageously colourful kit which set tongues wagging.

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