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Aus Open: Nadal, Thiem cruise; Sharapova, Konta lose at first hurdle

Last updated on: January 21, 2020 18:37 IST

Images from Day 2 of the Australian Open in Melbourne on Tuesday

Nadal dominates Dellien to reach second round

Rafael Nadal

IMAGE: Rafael Nadal of Spain celebrates. Photograph: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

Rafael Nadal hit the ground running at the Australian Open on Tuesday by hammering unseeded Bolivian Hugo Dellien 6-2, 6-3, 6-0 to reach the second round.

The top seeded Spaniard has never lost to a player ranked as low as world number 72 Dellien at the year's first Grand Slam and was never in danger on a sunbathed afternoon at Rod Laver Arena.

Bidding for his second title at Melbourne Park, and 20th Grand Slam trophy to match his great rival Roger Federer, Nadal was broken twice by the hard-working Dellien.

 
 

But the 33-year-old Mallorcan was virtually flawless in the final set and sealed the match with a crushing forehand winner to set up a second-round clash with either Federico Delbonis or Joao Sousa.

Sharapova vanquished by Vekic in first round

Maria Sharapova

IMAGE: Russia’s Maria Sharapova plays a forehand during her first round match against Donna Vekic of Croatia. Photograph: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

Former champion Maria Sharapova put up a mid-match fight before bowing out of the Australian Open at the first hurdle beaten 6-3, 6-4 by Croatian Donna Vekic on Rod Laver Arena.

The 32-year-old Russian was clearly still hampered by the shoulder injury that had restricted her to one previous competitive outing since her opening-round exit at last year's US Open.

Vekic proved a formidable opponent on the court where Sharapova won the title in 2008 and the 19th seed raced to a 5-1 lead in the opening set before the former world number one found a way to get back into the contest.

Sharapova made Vekic work hard to close out the set and took a 4-1 lead in the second but was unable to maintain her momentum, losing the last five games to make her earliest exit from Melbourne Park since 2010.

Halep digs deep to win tense first round match

Simona Halep

IMAGE: Romania's Simona Halep reacts during the match against Jennifer Brady of the US. Photograph: Edgar Su/Reuters

Simona Halep overcame a poor start and a fiery opponent at the Australian Open to prevail 7-6(5), 6-1 over big-hitting American Jennifer Brady in their first round encounter.

The Romanian fourth seed was broken in the very first game of the match and later took a nasty tumble during a punishing rally at 5-5 in the first set.

After a medical timeout, Halep began playing more aggressively, eventually edging out Brady in a tense tie-break to take the opening set.

A break early in the second set put Halep back in command and she clinched the match after 1 hour and 36 minutes.

Fourth seed Medvedev outlasts Tiafoe

Russia's Daniil Medvedev plays a backhand during his first round match against United States' Frances Tiafoe

IMAGE: Russia's Daniil Medvedev plays a backhand during his first round match against United States' Frances Tiafoe. Photograph: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

Fourth seed Daniil Medvedev of Russia held his nerve in a war of attrition against American Frances Tiafoe to register a 6-3, 4-6, 6-4, 6-2 victory in the first round of the Australian Open on Tuesday.

The US Open finalist broke Tiafoe's serve three times to breeze through the opening set, but the American came roaring back to level the match in the second, displaying a never-say-die attitude in front of an appreciative Rod Laver Arena crowd.

World number 50 Tiafoe reached the quarter-final in Melbourne in 2019 and matched his higher-ranked opponent in the duels both from the baseline and at the net, but it was ultimately not enough against the Russian.

Medvedev showed why he is seen by John McEnroe as the best bet to break the stranglehold of the 'Big Three' in men's tennis at a Grand Slam, and he will play either German Dominik Koepfer or Spanish qualifier Pedro Martinez in the second round.

British No 1 Konta loses at first hurdle

Johanna Konta

IMAGE: Britain’s Johanna Konta shakes hands with Tunisia’s Ons Jabeur after their match. Photograph: Ciro De Luca/Reuters

British number one Johanna Konta tumbled out in the first round of the Australian Open with a comprehensive 6-4, 6-2 defeat at the hands of Tunisia’s world number 78 Ons Jabeur.

The 12th seed, clearly not yet match fit on her return from a knee injury that cut short her 2019 season, went down in just over an hour on number one court in a match washed out on Monday by rain.

A semi-finalist at Melbourne Park four years ago and Roland Garros last year, Konta sprayed 19 unforced errors and struggled to hold her serve throughout the contest.

Jabeur, who beat Konta in two sets at Eastbourne last year, secured her fourth break of serve to win the contest when the Briton overcooked a backhand return.

The Tunisian will next face Madison Brengle or Caroline Garcia.

Pliskova gets good workout to advance to second round

Karolina Pliskova

IMAGE: Czech Republic's Karolina Pliskova in action during the match against France's Kristina Mladenovic. Photograph: Kai Pfaffenbach/Reuters

Second seed Karolina Pliskova romped through the first set before seeing off a determined Kristina Mladenovic in the second to earn a 6-1, 7-5 victory on Rod Laver Arena and advance to the second round of the Australian Open.

Czech Pliskova, who will next play either Germany's Laura Siegemund or American wildcard Coco Vandeweghe, made up for a wayward first serve by painting the tramlines for outright winners or forcing Mladenovic into errors.

While the first set lasted only 25 minutes the 26-year-old Mladenovic stepped up her game in the second, the Frenchwoman moving Pliskova around the court more.

But the Czech's serve improved and after a wobble when she was broken for the first time she took the last three games and clinched the match in one hour, 24 minutes.

Thiem cruises through first round

Dominic Thiem

IMAGE: Austria’s Dominic Thiem celebrates winning match point during his first round match against Adrian Mannarino of France.Photograph: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Dominic Thiem opened his Australian Open campaign with a 6-3, 7-5, 6-2 win over France's Adrian Mannarino.

The fifth seed wobbled midway through the second set when he was broken and allowed Mannarino to level at 4-4, but the 26-year-old Austrian recovered quickly, proving strong in the longer rallies, including a 28-shot stunner, to break Mannarino's serve towards the end of the set.

Thiem sealed victory with his seventh ace after two hours and 21 minutes to set up a meeting with either Spain's Albert Ramos-Vinolas or Australian wildcard Alex Bolt.

'Next Gen' star Sinner makes successful Melbourne debut

Jannik Sinner

IMAGE: Italy’s Jannik Sinner a backhand during his first round match against Max Purcell of Australia. Photograph: Hannah Peters/Getty Images

Being labelled the 'next big thing' in men's tennis can be a heavy burden for a teenager but Jannik Sinner wore the mantle lightly in winning his debut at the Australian Open.

The shaggy-haired 18-year-old, who won the ATP's Next Gen championship in November, finished off Australian qualifier Max Purcell 7-6(2), 6-2, 6-4 on Court 7 after his victory march was stalled in the third set by torrential rain that halted play on outside courts on Monday.

Sinner, who hails from a German-speaking region in the Italian Alps, dealt with the rain break with the same minimum of fuss that he has in managing his rapid rise in tennis.

"We waited here till 8:00 p.m. (on Monday), so it's been a long day yesterday for me, for every player," he told reporters.

"I tried to go on court with a good mentality, and I started well. Yeah, that was the key."

Sinner, ranked 82nd in the world, underlined his enormous promise by upsetting No. 23 Australian Alex De Minaur in the Next Gen final in front of home fans in Milan.

The $372,000 winner's cheque comfortably topped his total career earnings to that point.

The Italian certainly caught the eye of American great John McEnroe.

"He’s one of the most talented kids I’ve seen in 10 years," McEnroe said of Sinner last week.

Top players have being keen to get some practice hits with him, with Swiss master Roger Federer impressed by Sinner's groundstrokes and footwork.

"What I like about him is he’s almost got the same speed of shot on forehand and backhand," the 20-time Grand Slam champion said at Melbourne Park on Monday.

"Then he can play again like most of the best movers in the world right now ... I think we’ll see so much more from him. He’s an exciting guy and a super sweet kid."

Sinner is coached by compatriot Riccardo Piatti, who worked with Novak Djokovic in his teen years along with other former top 10 players like Milos Raonic and Richard Gasquet.

He next faces Hungarian Marton Fucsovics, who played brilliantly to down Canada's young gun Denis Shapovalov, the 13th seed.

Despite his rapid rise up the rankings, Sinner is in no hurry and knows time is on his side.

"I'm not thinking so much about the ranking. We are just trying to make match after match good, trying to play better, and then we will see," he added.

"I don't want to (be) rushed about this."

Bencic bandwagon rolls into second round in Melbourne

Belinda Bencic

IMAGE: Switzerland’s Belinda Bencic in action during the match against Slovakia’s Anna Karolina Schmiedlova. Photograph: Edgar Su/Reuters

The Belinda Bencic bandwagon is rolling again after her maiden Grand Slam semi-final appearance at last year's US Open, but given her extended run of injuries and dips in form the Swiss is reluctant to jump on board too quickly.

Bencic, who advanced to the second round at Melbourne Park with a 6-3, 7-5 win over Slovakia's Anna Schmiedlova, knows only too well how quick hopes can be dashed.

Her recent run at Flushing Meadows came five years after her maiden Grand Slam quarter-final in New York where the then-17-year-old was feted as a potential successor to compatriot Martina Hingis.

In the intervening years, wrist surgery and a string of other fitness problems repeatedly robbed her of momentum and confidence and getting back to her best took plenty of patience.

But it all came together in a rush last year as she claimed titles at Dubai and Moscow before sneaking into the season-ending WTA Finals for the first time.

Seeded sixth at the Australian Open, her highest at a Slam, Bencic is being seen as a Grand Slam contender again and the 22-year-old said the billing did give her confidence.

"It does, but on the other side it doesn't buy me anything," she told reporters after her win over Schmiedlova.

"It doesn't matter anymore that I played Grand Slam semi-final in US Open. Now it's a new Grand Slam and I still have to win my matches to get there eventually again.

"So, yes, it's about the confidence, for sure, but I think the expectation is a little bit bigger and I think you can't compare yourself with US Open right now. You have to focus on a brand new Grand Slam."

Mentored by five-times Grand Slam champion Hingis, Bencic lacks power on her groundstrokes but her court craft and guile often trouble the game's hardest hitters.

That was never more evident than at the US Open when she dumped defending champion Naomi Osaka out of the fourth round, redirecting the Japanese player's firepower and often leaving her wrong footed.

Bencic's serve also lacks punch, so she has not joined other Tour players by pledging money for Australia's bushfire relief efforts with every ace she hits at Melbourne Park.

She is instead donating $200 for every double-fault she racks up.

She caused a minor stir in the leadup to the tournament by cheekily inviting men's seventh seed Alex Zverev to buy into her fundraising model after the young German racked up an eye-popping amount of double-faults during the ATP Cup.

With four double-faults against Schmiedlova, Bencic contributed another $800 to the relief efforts for the fires that have killed 29 people and left thousands homeless.

"I could have done more (double-faults), but I didn't," she said.

Canada's Auger-Aliassime says staying positive despite exit

Felix Auger-Aliassime

IMAGE:  Canada’s Felix Auger-Aliassime in action during the match against Latvia’s Ernests Gulbis. Photograph: Ciro De Luca/Reuters

Teenaged Canadian Felix Auger-Aliassime says he is not losing confidence in his game despite bowing out in the first round of the Australian Open with a 7-5, 4-6, 7-6(4), 6-4 loss to world number 256 Ernests Gulbis of Latvia.

The Canadian climbed to a career-high ranking of 17 in a breakthrough 2019, but he was undone at Melbourne park by his error-prone performance against Gulbis, who last registered a tour-level win in July.

The world number 22 managed just a single win in four matches at the inaugural ATP Cup in Australia but reached the semi-finals at the Adelaide International warmup before coming to Melbourne.

"Every time you come to Australia the main goal is the Aussie Open, so it's not good," Auger-Aliassime, seeded 20th in Melbourne, told reporters. "That's what the results show."

"But at the same time I am staying calm and positive because I feel I am not far from playing well and winning matches. My game was really coming along well in Adelaide and I lost a close one there..."

"I don't want to lose too much belief over the results of these first few tournaments. I'll keep my head up and keep doing what I'm doing well and we'll see what happens next."

Fellow Canadian rising star Denis Shapovalov suffered a similar fate on Monday, losing 6-3, 6-7(7), 6-1, 7-6(3) to unseeded Hungarian Marton Fucsovics in the first round.

Auger-Aliassime, 19, had 44 unforced errors and served seven double faults in his loss, which follows his first-round exit at the US Open last year.

"Of course. The season is just starting," he said. "This is obviously disappointing and I haven't swallowed this yet. It's tough to go out this early."

"I have to talk with my coaches to look in detail at what happened."

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