If it had been the usual tie break, [first to 7 with a two point advantage] I would have lost. –Third seed Roger Federer, after his narrow victory in the third round.
The best on show
by Roger Childs
The first grand slam in Melbourne is always a chance to see if the highly experienced stars are still up to it, and whether the younger brigade can get through to the finals. There have already been lead-up tournaments in Australia and here in Auckland, and this year for the first time, a men’s national tournament. [See the article on 14 January]
However, it is the four grand slams of the year that are the measure of tennis greatness, and over the last three years the men’s titles they have been won by the three legends – Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic. Among the women there have been an incredible eleven grand slam champions since 2016. In that group, American Serena Williams, has been desperately seeking her 24th major to equal the record held by Australian great, Margaret Court.
Seeds tumbling out
As usual there has been some early carnage for the seeds, and the third round saw two men in the top ten knocked out and four women. The second and third ladies seeds Karolina Pliskova and Naomi Osaka, were beaten in straight sets, with the promising American 15 year old, Coco Gauff, easily accounting for the Japanese two time grand slam winner.
Serena Williams won the Auckland tournament earlier in the month and was seeded eighth in Melbourne. She was up against 27th ranked China’s Wang Qiang in the third round and struggled from the start. Wang took the first set 6-4, but Williams fought back to take the second set 7-5. However, the 38 year old tired in the final set and Wang won it 7-5.
The coveted 24th grand slam may elude the American great, as there are so many younger, fitter and lighter women players on the circuit these days. Serena can usually win if her fast serve is on target and her powerful ground strokes are well placed. But she struggles if a match goes to three sets and opponents know she is beatable. Her next grand slam opportunity will now be in Paris, in May.
The winner of last November’s ATP Final, which pits the top eight men against each other, was seeded six in the Australian Open. However, Stephanos Tsitsipas came up against the former top ten Canadian Milos Raonic in the third round, and was beaten in straight sets – 7-5, 6-4, 7-6. In the same round number 10 seed, Spaniard Roberto Bautista Agut faced former grand slam winner, Marin Cilic, who is on the comeback trail after a poor season on 2019. The match went to five sets, with big serving Croatian winning through to the fourth round.
Federer survives, just
Roger Federer seeded 3 is seeking his 21st grand slam, but very nearly didn’t make it past round three either. Australian John Millman beat him in the 2018 US Open, but was not expected to trouble the Swiss maestro in Melbourne. However, the Aussie won sets one and four, Federer two and three. The final set was level at 6-6 with what is called the super tie break – first to 10 and two points clear – to decide the match. Millman should have won as he held a 8-4 lead in the breaker, however the Swiss champion showed all his skill and experience to take the next 6 points and qualify for the fourth round.
Federer played very inconsistently and most of Millman’s points came from his opponents unforced errors. There were flashes of brilliance from the Swiss and his big serve was a key factor in keeping him in the match. However, he will need to be more focused if he is to win in later rounds as the competition gets tougher.
Plenty of top tennis to come
The fourth round beckons and there is plenty of quality tennis in prospect. Local Ashleigh Barty is playing well and Ukrainian, Eline Svitolina, Angelique Kerber from Germany and Romanian Simona Halep are still there too, so it is very hard to pick a winner. Teenager Coco Guff is a wild card who could surprise.
Among the men the usual suspects are featuring: Nadal, Federer, Djokovic, DominicThiem, and Cilic.
There will be plenty of quality matches in the coming week!