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AFP
January 22, 2020

Australian Open: Nadal, Halep surge into second round

Sports

AFP
January 22, 2020

MELBOURNE: Two-time Gr­a­nd Slam champion Simona Halep survived a couple of tumbles and a sore wrist before surging into the Australian Open second round on Tuesday.

The Romanian fourth seed recovered from a poor start to beat the big-hitting American Jennifer Brady 7-6 (7/5), 6-1 and launch her title bid. The 2018 Roland Garros and 2019 Wimbledon champion faces British qualifier Harriet Dart next in Melbourne.

The 28-year-old Halep had her serve broken in the first game by the 49th-ranked Brady, who defeated world number one Ashleigh Barty in the build-up to the year’s first Grand Slam.

Halep, the 2018 runner-up, was uncharacteristically flustered, taking a couple of falls, tossing her racquet and complaining to her coach.

She appeared to hurt her right wrist in one fall in the first set, and had heavy strapped by a medic.

With both players relentlessly pummelling from the baseline, Halep finally put a punishing first set away in 69 tough minutes, having saved three set points to force the tie-break. The second set was far more straightforward as the 24-year-old Brady appeared to run out of gas and Halep made light of her painful wrist.

Top seed Rafael Nadal turned on the style as he launched his bid for a record-equalling 20th Major title at the Australian Open, but falling star Maria Sharapova hit a career low.

Australia’s Nick Kyrgios also cantered into the second round, but fourth seed Daniil Medvedev had to fight his way past American Frances Tiafoe in four sets.

Nadal, one shy of Roger Federer’s Grand Slam mark, dropped only five games as he swatted aside Bolivia’s Hugo Dellien 6-2, 6-3, 6-0 in just over two hours at a sunny Rod Laver Arena.

He joins Federer and defending champion Novak Djokovic in round two as the Big Three look to tighten a stranglehold that has brought them all but one of the last 14 Australian Open titles.

Nadal, the first player to be world number one in three different decades, is still thriving at 33 but it’s a different story for five-time Grand Slam winner Sharapova.

The 32-year-old, playing on a wildcard as she wrestles with a shoulder injury, lost 6-3, 6-4 to Croatian 19th seed Donna Vekic, making her an opening-round loser at three straight Grand Slams for the first time.

The future looks uncertain for the former world number one, who won Wimbledon when she was just 17 but has not reached a Grand Slam final since she lifted the 2014 French Open trophy. On a bumper day of 88 first-round matches, after rain wiped out half of Monday’s schedule, former US Open champion Marin Cilic and Milos Raonic both moved safely through.

Italy’s Fabio Fognini, two sets down against America’s Reilly Opelka when their match was suspended on Monday, returned to win it in five after a stormy encounter when both players argued furiously with the umpire.

A new star emerged in 18-year-old Italian Jannik Sinner, last year’s NextGen champion, who earned his first Grand Slam victory against Australia’s Max Purcell.

Australia’s Kyrgios, who has spearheaded fundraising efforts for the country´s deadly bushfire disaster, kept his notorious temper in check despite being taken to two tie-breaks in a 6-2, 7-6 (7/3), 7-6 (7-1) win over Lorenzo Sonego of Italy.

Medvedev dropped the second set against Tiafoe before recovering to win 6-3, 4-6, 6-3, 6-2. Austria’s Dominic Thiem, who has reached the last two French Open finals, went through in straight sets against Adrian Mannarino, while 2014 champion Stan Wawrinka needed four to get past Damir Dzumhur.

Seventh seed Alexander Zverev beat Marco Cecchinato in straight sets but there was disappointment for France’s Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, the 2008 finalist, who retired with a back injury against Australia’s Alexei Popyrin.