20 Jan 2023

Second seeds sent packing from Australian Open

11:20 am on 20 January 2023

Second seeds Casper Ruud and Ons Jabeur were both ousted from the Australian Open in Melbourne on Thursday while men's favourite Novak Djokovic nursed his way through to the third round.

Casper Ruud.

Casper Ruud. Photo: Photosport

American Jenson Brooksby eliminated Ruud with a 6-3 7-5 6-7(4) 6-2 victory, extinguishing the Norwegian's hopes of winning a first Grand Slam title and topping the world rankings.

Two breaks of serve in the opening set of the second-round match handed Brooksby the early lead and he dictated terms in the second to raise the prospect of another big upset by a Californian after Mackenzie McDonald beat defending champion Rafa Nadal.

The 24-year-old Ruud, twice a runner-up in Grand Slams last year, saved three match points before winning the third set in a tiebreak as Brooksby began to feel the pressure but the American regained his composure in the fourth to complete the win.

"Casper's a warrior, I knew it'd be a great battle out there. I was pretty confident with my level and just wanted to have fun out there and see what could happen," Brooksby, 22, said in his on-court interview.

"I was really proud of my mental resolve out there after the third-set battle didn't go my way to turn it around."

Brooksby's win was followed by lucky loser Michael Mmoh stunning German former world number two Alexander Zverev 6-7(1) 6-4 6-3 6-2 to make it eight American men in the third round.

Jabeur also crashed out of the second round, after an error-strewn display in a 6-1 5-7 6-1 loss to former French Open finalist Marketa Vondrousova.

Ons Jabeur of Tunisia

Ons Jabeur of Tunisia Photo: PHOTOSPORT

The Tunisian, who stormed up the rankings last year after runs to the final at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, sprayed 50 unforced errors and had her serve broken eight times in the 102 minute contest.

There were only flashes of the brilliant racket skills that have made her such a favourite on the WTA tour in the second set as Vondrousova calmly made the most of her erratic play on a chilly night on Rod Laver Arena.

Jabeur saved some face by breaking the Olympic silver medallist when she was serving for the match for the first time but Vondrousova broke straight back to clinch the victory.

Vondrousova is on the comeback trail after another of the wrist injuries that have plagued her career wiped out six months of her season last year and saw her drop to 86th in the world.

Jabeur, who was hoping to become the first African woman and the first Arab to win a Grand Slam singles title, collapsed in tears after leaving the court.

Meanwhile, Djokovic had to dig deep at times against French qualifier Enzo Couacaud but rolled into the third round with a 6-1 6-7(5) 6-2 6-0 win to continue his quest for a 10th Australian Open crown and a 22nd Grand Slam title.

The Serbian looked at his imperious best as he eased through the opening set but hit a roadblock in the 74-minute second when world number 191 Couacaud upped his pace and intensity to level up the contest in a tiebreak.

Fourth seed Djokovic changed his shirt and brought in the heavy artillery to whip through the final two sets, setting up a third-round date with Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov.

"Enzo deserves credit for the fight, he played some great tennis, especially in the second set, he deservedly pushed the match into the fourth set," said Djokovic, who hit 63 winners over the contest on Rod Laver Arena.

"I managed to respond well in the third and especially in the fourth ... and yes, let's keep it going."

It could turn out that Djokovic's left thigh, again heavily strapped against a hamstring niggle, will be the biggest obstacle to him landing yet another Australian Open title.

The 35-year-old took a medical timeout at 4-4 in the second set to have the strapping changed and fiddled with it at changeovers but otherwise appeared largely unhindered by the injury.

Djokovic was again warmly supported by the crowd, the acrimony of his deportation from Australia last year over his stance on vaccinations against COVID-19 apparently forgotten.

One fan attracted his ire in the fourth set, however, after repeatedly making noise while Djokovic was preparing to serve.

"He's drunk out of his mind, he's provoking, he's not here to watch tennis, what are you going to do about it?" he asked the umpire.

Four men in fancy dress were subsequently escorted from the arena and Djokovic was soon crunching a howitzer of a crosscourt backhand winner to bring an end to the contest.

There was also American success in the women's draw, when Katie Volynets stunned ninth seed Veronika Kudermetova 6-4 2-6 6-2 to become the first U.S. qualifier to reach the women's third round since Lindsay Davenport in 1993.

Shelby Rogers, however, was no match for Belarusian Aryna Sabalenka, who recovered from a slow start to power past the American 6-3 6-1 and firm as a genuine contender for a first Grand Slam crown.

French fourth seed Caroline Garcia likewise came through a potentially tricky tie against former U.S Open finalist Leylah Fernandez 7-6(5) 7-5.

Magda Linette joined fellow Pole and top seed Iga Swiatek in the third round with a 3-6 6-3 6-4 upset of 16th seed Anett Kontaveit, while Croatian Donna Vekic downed 18th seed Liudmila Samsonova 6-3 6-0.

On Friday, top seed Iga Swiatek resumes her quest for her maiden Australian Open title when she takes on Spanish qualifier Cristina Bucsa in the third round.

Swiatek, a semi-finalist last year, is the strong favourite for the women's title after winning two of the four majors last season and came through her first two matches in Melbourne without dropping a set.

In the men's draw, seventh seed Daniil Medvedev wraps up the action on Rod Laver Arena against American Sebastian Korda, whose father Petr won his only Grand Slam at Melbourne Park 25 years ago.

Korda made a strong start to the year by reaching the Adelaide International 1 final, earning impressive wins over Andy Murray and Jannik Sinner before losing to Novak Djokovic in an enthralling three-setter.

American third seed Jessica Pegula takes on Ukraine's Marta Kostyuk, while men's third seed Stefanos Tsitsipas faces Dutchman Tallon Griekspoor in the day session.

- Reuters