January 18, 2018
Wimbledon champion Garbine Muguruza, British ninth seed Johanna Konta and former Aussie Open champion Stan Wawrinka have all tumbled out early Down Under.
Meanwhile, Gael Monfils wilted in the brutal Melbourne heat against the might of a resurgent Novak Djokovic. Seventh seed David Goffin was also beaten as the surprises kept coming.
The action remained red-hot as Muguruza was beaten in straight sets by world number 88 Hsieh Su-wei of Taiwan.
The third seed shook off a foot injury for long enough to mount a first-set comeback from 2-5 down. But her 32-year-old adversary commanded the tie-break so emphatically that she only conceded one point.
The story was similar in the second as Muguruza, struggling with blisters, left herself too much to do. She went 2-5 down before she broke serve and tried to gain a foothold. But it was too little, too late as Hsieh Su-wei closed the match 7-6, 6-4.
Perhaps even more shocking was Johanna Konta’s loss to world number 123 Bernarda Pera, who had only won one Grand Slam match before in her career.
Pera didn’t even get through qualifying successfully, emerging instead as a lucky loser when another player was injured.
‘It’s a bit frustrating but I’m still taking the good stuff from this, it’s by no means a catastrophe,’ said Konta after the American won 6-4, 7-5. ‘I was a little uncoordinated today.’
But she will want to improve on three wins in eleven matches since last year’s Wimbledon semi-final.
We all knew that Stan Wawrinka had fitness issues going into the Australian Open. But he couldn’t get going at all against the appropriately-named Tennys Sandgren, who won 6-2, 6-1, 6-3. Wawrinka cradled his knee several times to leave us in no doubt what the problem was.
Gael Monfils claimed the first set against Djokovic but then the conditions seemed to get the better of him. He had to leave the court with a doctor as he complained of dizziness. It felt even hotter than the 39c registered on the court, and neither player was comfortable.
Djokovic, however, was able to adapt better – and his superior will to win also carried him through.
By his own admission, Novak isn’t yet one hundred percent – but he is definitely getting there and will take some beating here. ‘I know what I’m capable of,’ he said ominously.
After completing a 4-6, 6-3, 6-1, 6-3 victory, Djokovic admitted the conditions had been ‘brutal’ and ‘right at the limit’ of what could be deemed safe to play in.
Monfils clearly believed they were beyond the limit – of his own endurance at any rate. Gael said later: ‘For sure we took a risk. I’m telling you I was dying out there for 40 minutes.’
For David Goffin, the conditions were slightly kinder, but he still couldn’t summon his best form for long enough. Despite taking a scintillating first set 6-1, Goffin met much firmer resistance from Julien Benneteau from that point on.
The 36-year-old claimed the next three sets 7-6 (5), 6-1, 7-6 (4) to complete a nerveless comeback.
Meanwhile, there were no major problems for Roger Federer, who thrived in the 30c heat of the evening session. He beat Germany’s Jan-Lennard Struff 6-4, 6-4, 7-6 (7-4).
‘I wouldn’t have minded playing during the day because if you want to get to the top, you’ve got to thrive in all conditions,’ said Federer.
A certain Mr Monfils might have something to say about that!
So what will the Australian Open give us next? More heat, according to the forecasters. Friday should see the temperatures top forty degrees.
Should be a sizzler on and off the court – as long as it’s safe to play!
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