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Court short: Novak Djokovic’s diversion ends in a 900th win

Court short: Novak Djokovic’s diversion ends in a 900th win

20/01/2020, Australia, Multi Sports, The New Daily , Article # 29727765

Just when the fans at Novak Djokovic’s match on centre court on Monday night thought they were in for an early night, the powerful Serb threw out the script that demanded complete domination in his 900th career win.

Djokovic had raced to a 6-7 2-6 lead over German Jan-Lennard Struff, but inexplicably faltered in the third set to go down 6-2 as his 29-year-old opponent found the angles to unpick the world No.2’s game.

The change in momentum seemed to shock the crowd, but normal transmission was resumed in the fourth set when Djokovic put the foot down to take the final set 6-1.

Jan-Lennard Struff worked hard against Novak Djokovic. Photo: AAP

In his post-match comments on the Nine network, Djokovic said his opponent had fought hard and it was a reminder just to enjoy his tennis.

“Obviously when you are on the court, especially in my position, I am expected to win most of my matches,” Djokovic said.

“There is a lot of pressure and a lot of different emotions involved. I definitely try to remind myself to stay present and really enjoy [it].

“I’m obviously very proud of all the achievements. At the same time try to remind myself I have grateful to be still playing at a very high level, the sport that I truly love.

“I was a four-year-old and grabbed the tennis racquet for the first time. Saw it on the TV in Serbia, that doesn’t have a really tennis tradition at that time … Just everything seemed quite impossible at the time. But here we are, you know, 20, 25 years later. I can’t take things for granted. I am trying to enjoy every moment.”

There’s something about those Tigers

A few years ago Richmond footy club was a bit of a joke, having endured a premiership drought stretching back to 1980 and a revolving door of coaches and dubious recruiting decisions.

These days, after AFL flags in 2017 and 2019 it seems having a Tiger player in your midst is the new winning look.

Exhibit A is the unlikely friendship between tennis legend Serena Williams and knockabout Tiger Dustin Martin, who apparently struck up a friendship after meeting while holidaying in the Maldives last year shortly after the Tigers won the 2019 flag.

Welcome dinner guest: Richmond AFL legend Kevin Bartlett. Photo: AAP 

“He just happened to be there,” said Williams after her 6-0 6-3 demolition job on Czech teenager Anastasia Potapova on Monday. “We just hung out and had a blast.

“But we decided he couldn’t come to the Australian Open because he would be mobbed way too much.

If we could hang out, it would be cool. But definitely not in Melbourne Park or here; it would be way too crazy for him.’’

And if you think that’s an unlikely pairing, what about Ash Barty’s response to AAP journalist Darren Walton when asked which celebrities she’d most like to have over for dinner.

“I’d have to go athletes. I would love to pick the brain of world-class athletes, like a LeBron James even,” she said, before adding: “Kevin Bartlett would be incredible. I think he’d have some pretty cool stories.”

That’s the man AFL fans know as ‘Hungry’ the follicle-challenged goalsneak turned media commentator who did his best work on field back in the 1980s.

It’s a huge wrap for KB to beat a world of celebrities to grab the world No.1’s attention.

Mum’s got some moves too

And while Serena Williams may think having Dusty Martin in her corner might attract attention, her mum Oracene had her own moment in the sun on Monday when she was caught on TV celebrating her daughter’s first-round triumph over the Russian.

Spray of the day …

“I can do whatever I want with it, it’s my racquet. I can do whatever I want, I’m not breaking any rules. It doesn’t matter, it’s my racquet. I can do whatever the hell I want with it, what are you talking about? I didn’t break it – if I break it give me a code (violation) 100 per cent. I didn’t break my racquet, it’s a terrible call. Like, do your job. Do your job!”

– Canada’s Denis Shapovalov was not happy with a code violation during his first-round loss.

The big games on day two …

Nick Kyrgios (AUS) v Lorenzo Sonego (ITA)

Kyrgios finds himself in an unusual position given all the positive vibes around for his much-praised efforts to raise money for bushfire-ravaged communities. The 24-year-old carries good form into the tournament having won three of his four singles matches at the ATP Cup. Sonego enjoyed a steady rise up the rankings in 2019 and won his first ATP title, at Antalya. Kygios, seeded 23, defeated the big-serving Italian in their only previous encounter in Cincinnati last year.

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (FRA) v Alexei Popyrin (AUS)

The flamboyant French veteran and the towering Australian rising star will play each other for the first time in what promises to be an entertaining encounter. Popyrin was just eight years old when Tsonga made his famous run to the 2008 Australian Open final and admits the Frenchman is still one of his idols.

Karolina Pliskova (CZE) v Kristina Mladenovic (FRA)

Pliskova comes in with impressive form, having beaten 2019 Australian Open champion Naomi Osaka on her way to the Brisbane International title. Mladenovic didn’t make it past the second round of a grand slam last year, but her quality was on display when she beat world No.1 Ash Barty in November as France claimed a memorable Fed Cup final win over Australia.

Karolina Pliskova celebrates her win at the Brisbane International. Photo: AAP

4-Daniil Medvedev (RUS) v Frances Tiafoe (USA)

Medvedev, seeded four, looms as the player most likely outside the big three to break through with a grand slam victory, as witnessed by his 2019 tour-topping 59 wins and an epic US Open comeback that fell just short against Rafael Nadal. Tiafoe was a quarter-finalist in 2019.

Weather watch

Medium (40 per cent) chance of showers in the early morning. Mostly sunny afternoon. Winds southwesterly 15 to 25 km/h becoming light in the morning. Maximum 22.

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Coach Graham Arnold says Olyroos have their eyes on the big prize

Coach Graham Arnold says Olyroos have their eyes on the big prize

20/01/2020, Australia, Multi Sports, The New Daily , Article # 29727699

The Olyroos are only one win away from ending Australia’s Olympic men’s football drought, but coach Graham Arnold says the job is only half done at the AFC Under-23 championships in Thailand.

A win in Wednesday night’s semi-final against Korea Republic (12.15am, Thursday AEDT) will be enough for Arnold’s team to book their spot in Tokyo.

Should Arnold’s team lose to the Koreans, they’ll still have a chance at qualifying through the third-place playoff against the defeated team from the other semi-final between Saudi Arabia and Uzbekistan.

Arnold is however aiming higher than mere qualification and has set his team the target of coming back from south-east Asia with the continental title.

“For me, we’ve achieved nothing yet. We’ve ticked two boxes and there’s four to be ticked,” he said.

“The first box that we ticked was we topped the group.

“The second one was to get through the quarter-final, and the third one is to win the semi-finals.

Our focus is winning that trophy … it hasn’t been done before and it’s something that’s quite special for Australia.

“All we’re doing is talking about that at the moment, building the players’ belief and confidence, and making sure they’re fresh and ready to go.”

Arnold’s team has the benefit of an extra day of rest over the Koreans, who defeated Jordan 2-1 on Sunday after coming through the group stage with a 100 per cent record.

However Saturday’s quarter-final win over Syria was a taxing one for the Olyroos, who progressed thanks to Al Hassan Toure’s extra-time winner.

Arnold said the ordeal of having to go through extra time to defeat the Syrians will be a good learning curve for his team.

“When you’ve got great energy and great characters, then those type of things don’t affect you,” he said.

“We’ve shown the other teams and we’ve shown ourselves that we can play 120 minutes well. I only see that as a positive.”

-AAP

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Australian Open: Ash Barty gets a fright, Sam Stosur out in opening round

Australian Open: Ash Barty gets a fright, Sam Stosur out in opening round

20/01/2020, Australia, Multi Sports, The New Daily , Article # 29727565

Australia’s Ash Barty has won through to the second round of the Australian Open, but only after a scare when beaten in the first set by Lesia Tsurenko of the Ukraine.

The World No.1 lost the first set 7-5 before blitzing her 30-year-old opponent to take the last two sets 6-1 6-1.

Barty was unfazed by the slow start, telling Channel Nine that she just needed to finetune her game

“It’s all good,” she laughed.

“No, look, it’s amazing to be back out here. Obviously it is a tight turn around from Adelaide, but really nice to kind of sort it out a little bit more and at the start of the second set sharpened up and did what I needed to do.”

Barty said she had been looking forward to getting out in front of her home fans at Australia’s biggest event.

This is probably the moment I have been looking forward to the most through the off-season. I couldn’t wait to walk out here on this beautiful court in front of so many people that give me such love and support.

“I think in the first set it was still in my control. It was just a little bit of execution. I was just rushing a little bit, trying to finish off points too early.

“Once I was able to get my physicality into it, I felt a lot more comfortable and I think I was able to go get – you know, look after my service games a little better and not get behind in the set, which was important.”

Earlier on Monday night Sam Stosur’s run of Australian Open first-round losses stretched to five straight years with the veteran falling to American qualifier Caty McNally.

In a repeat of last year’s first-round shocker, Stosur had no answer to the talented 18-year-old, going down 6-1 6-4 to continue her painful run at the first grand slam of the year.

Five in a row: Sam Stosur after losing her first-round Australian Open match on Monday.

Playing in her first Australian Open, world No.116 McNally looked fearless as she attacked Stosur’s big serve and also delivered some strong net play.

Former US Open champion Stosur, who is now ranked 99, was hampered by 39 unforced errors that effectively brought undone her 18th Melbourne Park appearance.

Stosur had a chance to get back into the match in the second set, breaking back and then levelling at 4-4.

But McNally held serve before breaking the 35-year-old again to take the victory.

Stosur’s loss continued a mostly miserable opening day for the Australian contingent.

Wildcard Lizette Cabrera admitted her American opponent Ann Li was braver when it mattered most after letting a golden opportunity for a maiden Australian Open victory go begging.

Wildcard Lizette Cabrera had some good moments, but lost. Photo: AAP

The 22-year-old Australian served for both sets against the US qualifier in the opening round but was broken on each occasion in the 7-6 (7-4) 7-6 (12-10) loss.

The 22-year-old showed plenty of pluck in the second-set tiebreak, saving five match points before Li finally claimed the victory on her grand slam debut after a brief rain delay.

“I was pretty disappointed with today’s match,” Cabrera told AAP.

I did have a lot of opportunities. Ann’s a good friend, she played really well and was braver in the bigger moments. But I’m still happy with the way I competed and fought even though it wasn’t my best tennis.’’

Fellow Australians Andrew Harris and John-Patrick Smith also crashed out at the first hurdle.

Harris, the 25-year-old son of former Australian Open quarter-finalist Anne Minter, bowed out 6-3 6-1 6-3 to Italian No.8 seed Matteo Berrettini.

Harris was awarded a wildcard to the Open after enjoying a career-best 2019 campaign in which his ranking was slashed from 400 to 162.

Smith was also beaten in straight sets.

The 30-year-old wildcard playoff winner lost 6-3 7-5 6-4 to No.22 seed Guido Pella from Argentina.

Smith has now lost all six of his main-draw singles matches at the majors.

-with AAP

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‘Peel my banana’, French tennis star demands: A short history of bizarre ballkid incidents

‘Peel my banana’, French tennis star demands: A short history of bizarre ballkid incidents

20/01/2020, Australia, Multi Sports, The New Daily , Article # 29727464

French player Elliot Benchetrit has become the latest in a long line of tennis stars to draw attention to their on-court behaviour for the wrong reasons.

Footage has emerged of the world No.231 making a bizarre demand to a ballkid in the final round of Australian Open qualifying playoffs in Melbourne last week.

The 21-year-old can be seen taking a break in his chair, and asking a nearby ballgirl to hand him a banana.

He then goes a step further, asking the confused youngster to peel the fruit for him, to the crowd’s bemusement.

Match umpire John Blom spotted the odd scene, and wasn’t having it, directing Benchetrit to peel the banana himself.

The Frenchman went on to win the match and will face Japan’s world No.91 Yuichi Sugita in the first round of the Australian Open on Tuesday.

Benchetrit’s banana incident is far from the first time ballkids have been on the receiving end of peculiar requests and bad behaviour.

In August, Venus Williams needed a caffeine hit in the middle of her second-round match at the US Open.

Williams has been open about suffering from an autoimmune disorder that leaves her feeling tired and sluggish, and ordered a coffee from her team watching on in the stands.

Luckily, a Ralph Lauren-clad ballboy was on hand to assist with the coffee delivery, though catching Williams proved a challenge.

In 2018, Spain’s Fernando Verdasco ridiculed a ballboy for being too slow to deliver a towel to him at China’s Shenzhen Open.

The former world No.7 later hit back at suggestions he was disrespectful.

“Obviously I didn’t mean to be like that,” Verdasco was reported as saying.

“But I think with social media there are certain people who sometimes speak too much.

“I received many messages telling me to apologise – it looks like I did something really wrong to the guy, when it was my way of telling him that we have 24 seconds (between points).”

At the Australian Open in 2017 Italian junior Maria Vittoria Viviani was controversially disqualified from the tournament after accidentally hitting a ball at a ballboy.

Viviani insisted she did nothing wrong, and later admitted to reporters that she cried herself to sleep after the incident.

In 2015 at the Miami Open, Serbian ace Novak Djokovic left a ballboy shaken after shouting and snatching a towel after losing a set to Britain’s Andy Murray.

Djokovic, who claimed he was venting towards his coaches in the stands, copped a code violation from the umpire.

The 16-time grand slam winner also issued a video apology to the ballboy.

“I saw the replay. Unfortunately the ballboy was in the middle of it, and I really feel sorry and I regret that he was there,” Djokovic said.

“There was absolutely no intention whatsoever to hurt him or scare him in any kind of way, and I sincerely hope that he forgives me.

“I really apologise, and also as a parent, I do care about children a lot right now.”

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Australian Open: Coco Gauff channels Venus in repeat win

Australian Open: Coco Gauff channels Venus in repeat win

20/01/2020, Australia, Multi Sports, The New Daily , Article # 29727442

After her breakout performance over Venus Williams, on the courts where the seven-time grand slam champion established her legacy, Coco Gauff presciently told reporters: “My goal was to play my best. My dream was to win. That’s what happened.”

The 6-4 6-4 victory at Wimbledon did not serve as a shock.

She was where she was destined to belong, inspired by the likes of Venus and Serena. The result was a foregone conclusion.

And so, when the pair were cruelly, hilariously drawn to meet once again in the opening round of the Australian Open, with Gauff still yet of legal driving age, that youthful temerity would face arguably a bigger test.

Could lightning strike twice? The answer, from the opening game, was destined to be a resounding yes.

australian-open-coco-gauff
Coco Gauff’s powerful groundstrokes on full display on Margaret Court Arena. Photo: Getty

Gauff’s returns off the Williams serve – while 24 years her senior still packed serious venom – dropped deep, yielding winners or forced errors at will to establish the earliest of breaks.

Three service games in, she made 100 per cent of returns in court, showing mental fortitude well beyond her years.

On her serve, she was blistering, with plenty of precision to boot, particularly in drawing Williams out wide on the forehand.

The lesson from their first encounter seemed to be sticking: Move the elder stateswoman around.

But never count out the sheer weight of decades-old experience, because midway through the first set, early sloppiness from the Williams racquet gave way to stinging power and improved accuracy.

While the scoreboard was not reflecting the mood, the tide was turning, and it all laid bare in the all-important seventh game, when Williams held strong by fighting through a five-deuce game to emerge intact.

australian-open-venus-williams
Venus Williams found her range as the first set wore on, before Coco Gauff ran away with the match. Photo: Getty

Still, there were few inroads on the Gauff serve.

And serving down set point at 5-3, Williams’ resilience weathering tricky sliced backhands in an extended 15-shot rally was rewarded with luck on the net tape.

Heading into the first-set tiebreak, after a nifty close-court exchange boasting drop shots and a deft volley from Williams, the momentum was evenly poised.

Gauff’s highly effective crosscourt backhands were complemented by her idol’s forehand equivalent.

Then, the tidal wave of youth was overwhelming.

The Gauff dream, the irresistible spirit that drove her to the Wimbledon fourth round, was revived with bellowing roars, and first-set tiebreak success.

With that deficit and another early break in the second set, there was little Williams could do to stem the bleeding, and on match point, Gauff’s reliable drop shot sealed the deal, 7-6 (5) 6-3.

This time the jubilation was less unhinged. This felt familiar.

On court, Gauff took courtesy to point out the crowd’s extraordinary support, in light of her fledgling career.

“You guys were chanting my name and I only thought that would happen at the US Open,” she commented.

If the Gauff way is to continue carrying out that winning dream, inspired by the likes of the Williams sisters, then she may find she’s destined to receive plenty more plaudits from far-flung corners of the world.

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Australian Open: Banana drama threatens to sour qualifier’s dreams

Australian Open: Banana drama threatens to sour qualifier’s dreams

20/01/2020, Australia, Multi Sports, The New Daily , Article # 29727087

While Elliot Benchetrit has yet to split from the Australian Open, the French qualifier may experience a sour reception when he takes to the court for his first round match against Japan’s Yuichi Sugita on Tuesday.

Footage has emerged from the final round of qualifying last week, purportedly showing Benchetrit asking a ballgirl to peel his banana, to her — and the crowd’s — absolute bemusement.

To his credit, Benchetrit had his right hand only a few degrees away from permanent mummification, after sustaining severe blisters.

But umpire John Blom quickly spotted the farcical scenes, and played the role of stringent father, demanding Benchetrit peel it himself.

Taken aback by the official’s rebuke, Benchetrit proceeded to attempt opening the banana with his teeth — and it can only be presumed it was smoothie sailing from there.

However, the world no. 229 faced widespread condemnation from tennis media types and everyday punters alike, sparking cries of “entitlement” and “privileged creep” on social media.

However, the Frenchman is far from the first player in history to be criticised for treating volunteer ballkids with contempt.

Spaniard Fernando Verdasco infamously berated a ballboy at China’s Shenzhen Open in 2018, after he failed to promptly adhere to his demands for a towel. Sop that one up.

And even defending Australian Open champ Novak Djokovic has fallen foul of a little superiority complex, visibly frightening a ballkid after unleashing a tirade towards his players’ box at Indian Wells in 2017.

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Australian Open: Federer sails through opener, as Serena supports bushfire victims

Australian Open: Federer sails through opener, as Serena supports bushfire victims

20/01/2020, Australia, Multi Sports, The New Daily , Article # 29727235

Roger Federer’s quest for a seventh Australian Open crown began under cloudy skies, and ended under the Rod Laver Arena roof, with one constant: icy-cool domination.

It was a brutal come-down-to-earth for American Steve Johnson, who only last week celebrated victory at the Bendigo Challenger, and was fronting up against a man without a match against his name since November.

australian-open-roger-federer
Roger Federer appeared near flawless in his first round victory over Steve Johnson. Photo: Getty

Unfortunately for his sake, that man is a 20-time grand slam champion, and he appeared as fresh as a newly-opened can of tennis balls.

Federer’s trademark clean play off the ground and biting chipped backhands to transition to the net proved overwhelming, with a neat diving backhand volley winner helping to gift the third seed the first set.

From there, the one-way traffic turned into absolute cruise control, as Federer maintained his vintage play off the ground.

After an hour and 21 minutes of precision, including 81 per cent of first serves in, Federer sealed a comprehensive 6-3 6-2 6-2 victory.

Of his extended off-season, Federer said: “You know, I trained really hard, needed some vacation too and toured South America towards the end of the season, and I trained really hard like I used to. It sets you up really nicely for the season.”

Osaka kicks off her title defence in powerful style

Defending Australian Open champion Naomi Osaka overcame a sluggish opening few games — and a wayward net strap — to start her Melbourne Park title defence on the right foot.

Kicking off the action on Rod Laver Arena, the world no. 3 overcame an early unforced error-prone stint, and her powerful shots appeared dialled in late to notch an opening 6-2 6-4 victory.

The defending champion struggled to break away in the opening four games, trading service holds with unseeded Czech Marie Bouzkova before securing her first service break on her third opportunity.

From there, the first set was smooth sailing for Osaka, reeling off four consecutive games against the Toronto semi-finalist to close out the first set 6-2.

australian-open-naomi-osaka
Defending champ Naomi Osaka celebrates her opening round victory over Marie Bouzkova. Photo: Getty

With momentum behind her, the Japanese superstar appeared set to runaway with the match — before her own power briefly halted her in her tracks.

Serving at 0-1 in the second set, Osaka threw down one of her trademark service bombs that careered into the net strap, snapping it free from its anchor and forcing a short delay, as ground staff hastily worked to fix it.

Resuming after the break, Osaka struggled to regain the upper hand, as Bouzkova threatened to take the match to a decider.

But showing the class that has steered the 22-year-old to two grand slam titles, her brutal groundstrokes found their range and guided her to a comfortable opening victory.

“I’m really glad I was able to finish it in two. You probably didn’t come for me, but thanks for filling up the stadium,” Osaka told the crowd post-match, with typical self-deprecating wit.

Serena starts strong, and aces bushfire relief

Sometimes one to take a few matches to truly fire up in the majors, 23-time grand slam champion Serena Williams rushed out of the blocks with devastating intent, delivering a first set bagel to 18-year-old Anastasia Potapova in 19 minutes.

The plucky Russian teenager began finding luck with some audacious shotmaking in the second set, stretching out rallies and eventually breaking the American eight seed in the third game.

But perhaps feeling greater freedom since breaking her post-maternity hoodoo in Auckland, Williams reprised her role as match dictator, blasting 14 winners to recover the deficit, and suitably, close out the match with an ace.

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Serena Williams announces her intentions on day one at the Australian Open. Photo: Getty

“It was amazing, I hadn’t been able to win as a mom, so it was nice to finally be able to win a tournament with a two-year-old,” Williams said post-match.

“I’ve been pretty close and it was pretty special for me and [daughter Olympia]. Sadly, she just cares about play-do and that’s it, I try to tell her I’m somebody. I’m just known around town as Olympia’s mom.”

Turning her attention to Australia’s unprecedented bushfire disaster, Williams said she was compelled to donate her entire Auckland winner’s cheque to relief as her friends were directly affected by the crisis.

“[Australia’s] a special place in my heart. For me as a player, it’s devastating as I literally know people who’ve been affected. It’s such a disaster and it was important for me to make statements like that and to continue supporting in any way I can,” Williams said.

Australian contingent fails to fire

Making his Australian Open debut, Melbourne boy Andrew Harris found himself instantly on the back foot against thundering Italian Matteo Berrettini.

Harris, who won two grand slam junior doubles titles before making a name for himself in the US college system, showed flashes of brilliance — namely, a stretched backhand passing shot at 5-3 in the opening set that elicited rapturous applause from the Melbourne Arena faithful.

australian-open-andrew-harris
Australian wildcard recipient Andrew Harris bowed out of his maiden Australian Open in straight sets. Photo: Getty

However, the eighth seed’s devastating combination of fiercely-struck groundstrokes and willingness to approach the net at first opportunity proved insurmountable for the Australian, with Berrettini closing out the match 6-3 6-1 6-3.

Elsewhere, journeyman John-Patrick Smith found stiff competition in Wimbledon quarter-finalist Guido Pella. The Argentine snapped a three-match losing streak in Melbourne, overcoming the local hope 6-3 7-5 6-4 in a tick over two hours.

And Townsville’s Lizette Cabrera failed to capitalise on leads in both sets of her encounter with American qualifier Ann Li.

Despite saving four match points in a seesawing second set tiebreak — including a swinging forehand volley winner that hugged within inches of the sideline — Cabrera succumbed 7-6(4) 7-6(10).

The seeds start falling

Figuring as the day’s biggest upset, young Canadian hope Denis Shapovalov was the victim of his own demise, spraying 62 unforced errors in his loss to Hungarian Marton Fucsovics 6-3 6-7(7) 6-1 7-6(3).

Borna Coric continued his horror form on the courts of Melbourne Park, with this year’s first-round loss to big-serving American Sam Querrey his fifth in six years.

And in the women’s draw, 32nd seed Barbora Strycova was felled by former French Open quarterfinalist Sorana Cirstea 6-2 7-6(5).

He said what?

The aforementioned Shapovalov was hardly pleased with chair umpire Renaud Lichtenstein’s decision to award him a code violation for tossing his racquet after a crushing loss in the third set to Fucsovics.

A day after Novak Djokovic suggested the next generation’s biggest shortcoming was their “mental and emotional maturity”, the Canadian 20-year-old blew an almighty gasket, suggesting to the umpire: “I can do whatever I want with it, it’s my racquet. I’m not breaking any rules.”

Looking ahead — tonight’s must-watch matches

Women’s singles: Ashleigh Barty (AUS) [1] vs Lesia Tsurenko (UKR)

All eyes will be firmly affixed to Rod Laver Arena as hometown hero Barty seeks to break Australian women’s drought in Melbourne that stretches back to Chris O’Neill’s triumph in 1978. The World No. 1 gets her campaign underway with renewed confidence, shaking off rust from an early Brisbane exit with a maiden title at the Adelaide International.

Men’s singles: Stefanos Tsitsipas (GRE) [6] vs Salvatore Caruso (ITA)

The fast-rising Greek sensation became a staunch Melbourne fan favourite following his giant-killing semi-final run at last year’s tournament, where he outlasted Roger Federer in a gruelling fourth round encounter. Rising to World No.6 following victory at the ATP Finals, Tsitsipas’ flowing all-court game and sometimes-ferocious temper is always perfect fodder for highlights reels.

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Australian Open: Osaka wins opener, as Serena supports bushfire victims

Australian Open: Osaka wins opener, as Serena supports bushfire victims

20/01/2020, Australia, Multi Sports, The New Daily , Article # 29727147

Defending Australian Open champion Naomi Osaka overcame a sluggish opening few games — and a wayward net strap — to start her Melbourne Park title defence on the right foot.

Kicking off the action on Rod Laver Arena, the world no. 3 overcame an early unforced error-prone stint, and her powerful shots appeared dialled in late to notch an opening 6-2 6-4 victory.

The defending champion struggled to break away in the opening four games, trading service holds with unseeded Czech Marie Bouzkova before securing her first service break on her third opportunity.

From there, the first set was smooth sailing for Osaka, reeling off four consecutive games against the Toronto semi-finalist to close out the first set 6-2.

australian-open-naomi-osaka
Defending champ Naomi Osaka celebrates her opening round victory over Marie Bouzkova. Photo: Getty

With momentum behind her, the Japanese superstar appeared set to runaway with the match — before her own power briefly halted her in her tracks.

Serving at 0-1 in the second set, Osaka threw down one of her trademark service bombs that careered into the net strap, snapping it free from its anchor and forcing a short delay, as ground staff hastily worked to fix it.

Resuming after the break, Osaka struggled to regain the upper hand, as Bouzkova threatened to take the match to a decider.

But showing the class that has steered the 22-year-old to two grand slam titles, her brutal groundstrokes found their range and guided her to a comfortable opening victory.

“I’m really glad I was able to finish it in two. You probably didn’t come for me, but thanks for filling up the stadium,” Osaka said post-match with typical self-deprecating wit.

Serena starts strong, and aces bushfire relief

Sometimes one to take a few matches to truly fire up in the majors, 23-time grand slam champion Serena Williams rushed out of the blocks with devastating intent, delivering a first set bagel to 18-year-old Anastasia Potapova in 19 minutes.

The plucky Russian teenager began finding luck with some audacious shotmaking in the second set, stretching out rallies and eventually breaking the American eight seed in the third game.

But perhaps feeling greater freedom since breaking her post-maternity hoodoo in Auckland, Williams reprised her role as match dictator, blasting 14 winners to recover the deficit, and suitably, close out the match with an ace.

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Serena Williams announces her intentions on day one at the Australian Open. Photo: Getty

“It was amazing, I hadn’t been able to win as a mom, so it was nice to finally be able to win a tournament with a two-year-old,” Williams said post-match.

“I’ve been pretty close and it was pretty special for me and [daughter Olympia]. Sadly, she just cares about play-do and that’s it, I try to tell her I’m somebody. I’m just known around town as Olympia’s mom.”

Turning her attention to Australia’s unprecedented bushfire disaster, Williams said she was compelled to donate her entire Auckland winner’s cheque to relief, with her friends directly affected by the crisis.

“[Australia’s] a special place in my heart. For me as a player, it’s devastating as I literally know people who’ve been affected. It’s such a disaster and it was important for me to make statements like that and to continue supporting in any way I can,” Williams said.

Australian contingent fails to fire

Making his Australian Open debut, Melbourne boy Andrew Harris found himself instantly on the back foot against thundering Italian Matteo Berrettini.

Harris, who won two grand slam junior doubles titles before making a name for himself in the US college system, showed flashes of brilliance — namely, a stretched backhand passing shot at 5-3 in the opening set that elicited rapturous applause from the Melbourne Arena faithful.

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Australian wildcard recipient Andrew Harris bowed out of his maiden Australian Open in straight sets. Photo: Getty

However, the eighth seed’s devastating combination of fiercely-struck groundstrokes and willingness to approach the net at first opportunity proved insurmountable for the Australian, with Berrettini closing out the match 6-3 6-1 6-3.

Elsewhere, journeyman John-Patrick Smith found stiff competition in Wimbledon quarter-finalist Guido Pella. The Argentine snapped a three-match losing streak in Melbourne, overcoming the local hope 6-3 7-5 6-4 in a tick over two hours.

The seeds start falling

Figuring as the day’s biggest upset, young Canadian hope Denis Shapovalov was the victim of his own demise, spraying 62 unforced errors in his loss to Hungarian Marton Fucsovics 6-3 6-7(7) 6-1 7-6(3).

Borna Coric continued his horror form on the courts of Melbourne Park, with this year’s first-round loss to big-serving American Sam Querrey his fifth in six years.

And on the women’s side, 32nd seed Barbora Strycova was felled by former French Open quarterfinalist Sorana Cirstea 6-2 7-6(5).

Looking ahead — tonight’s must-watch matches

Women’s singles: Ashleigh Barty (AUS) [1] vs Lesia Tsurenko (UKR)

All eyes will be firmly affixed to Rod Laver Arena as hometown hero Barty seeks to break Australian women’s drought in Melbourne that stretches back to Chris O’Neill’s triumph in 1978. The World No. 1 gets her campaign underway with renewed confidence, shaking off rust from an early Brisbane exit with a maiden title at the Adelaide International.

Men’s singles: Stefanos Tsitsipas (GRE) [6] vs Salvatore Caruso (ITA)

The fast-rising Greek sensation became a staunch Melbourne fan favourite following his giant-killing semi-final run at last year’s tournament, where he outlasted Roger Federer in a gruelling fourth round encounter. Rising to World No.6 following victory at the ATP Finals, Tsitsipas’ flowing all-court game and sometimes-ferocious temper is always perfect fodder for highlights reels.

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Australian Open: First day’s play gets underway

Australian Open: First day’s play gets underway

20/01/2020, Australia, Multi Sports, The New Daily , Article # 29727050

Defending Australian Open champion Naomi Osaka overcame a sluggish opening few games — and a wayward net strap — to start her Melbourne Park title defence on the right foot.

Kicking off the action on Rod Laver Arena, the world no. 3 overcame an early unforced error-prone stint, and her powerful shots appeared dialled in late to notch an opening 6-2 6-4 victory.

The defending champion struggled to break away in the opening four games, trading service holds with unseeded Czech Marie Bouzkova before securing her first service break on her third opportunity.

From there, the first set was smooth sailing for Osaka, reeling off four consecutive games against the Toronto semi-finalist to close out the first set 6-2.

With momentum behind her, the Japanese superstar appeared set to runaway with the match — before her own power briefly halted her in her tracks.

Serving at 0-1 in the second set, Osaka threw down one of her trademark service bombs that careered into the net strap, snapping it free from its anchor and forcing a short delay, as ground staff hastily worked to fix it.

Resuming after the break, Osaka struggled to regain the upper hand, as Bouzkova threatened to take the match to a decider.

But showing the class that has steered the 22-year-old to two grand slam titles, her brutal groundstrokes found their range and guided her to a comfortable opening victory.

“I’m really glad I was able to finish it in two. You probably didn’t come for me, but thanks for filling up the stadium,” Osaka said post-match with typical self-deprecating wit.

Australian contingent

Making his Australian Open debut, Melbourne boy Andrew Harris has found himself instantly on the back foot against thundering Italian Matteo Berrettini.

Harris, who won two grand slam junior doubles titles before making a name for himself in the US college system, showed flashes of brilliance — namely, a stretched backhand passing shot at 5-3 in the opening set that elicited rapturous applause from the Melbourne Arena faithful.

However, the eighth seed’s devastating combination of fiercely-struck groundstrokes and willingness to approach the net at first opportunity proved insurmountable for the Australian, with the Italian closing out the opening two sets 6-3 6-1.

Looking ahead — tonight’s must-watch matches

Women’s singles: Ashleigh Barty (AUS) [1] vs Lesia Tsurenko (UKR)

All eyes will be firmly affixed to Rod Laver Arena as hometown hero Barty seeks to break Australian women’s drought in Melbourne that stretches back to Chris O’Neill’s triumph in 1978. The World No. 1 gets her campaign underway with renewed confidence, shaking off rust from an early Brisbane exit with a maiden title at the Adelaide International.

Men’s singles: Stefanos Tsitsipas (GRE) [6] vs Salvatore Caruso (ITA)

The fast-rising Greek sensation became a staunch Melbourne fan favourite following his giant-killing semi-final run at last year’s tournament, where he outlasted Roger Federer in a gruelling fourth round encounter. Rising to World No.6 following victory at the ATP Finals, Tsitsipas’ flowing all-court game and sometimes-ferocious temper is always perfect fodder for highlights reels.

The post Australian Open: First day’s play gets underway appeared first on The New Daily.



https://thenewdaily.com.au/sport/tennis/australian-open/2020/01/20/australian-open-day-one-osaka-djokovic-barty/
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