By Jane Voigt
“Aussie, Aussie, Aussie … Oy, Oy, Oy.” These garbled cheers are frequently heard around the grounds of Melbourne Park. If the shouts come from inside any arena, you know an Australian is competing.
Wednesday Samantha Stosur, Casey Dellacqua, Matthew Ebden, plus the crowd-drawing doubles team of Patrick Rafter and Lleyton Hewitt thrilled thousands of fans, most Australian.
Samantha Stosur kicked off the night session on Rod Laver Arena by trouncing Tsvetana Pironkova, 62 60. Sure the Bulgarian had both thighs heavily strapped, but it was a win for the home team nonetheless. Stosur’s tennis was tight. She rang up 23 winners compared to 5 unforced errors.
“Yeah, it was a great crowd,” Stosur told the press. “Fun to play out there. You definitely feel their support. When you’re playing like that, the scoreboard ticking over the way you want it to, it makes it all the more enjoyable. They get behind you.”
On Hisense Arena, Casey Dellacqua feasted on the No. 18 seed, Wimbledon semifinalist Kirsten Flipkins of Belgium, 63 60. Dellacqua had her best Australian Open back in 2008 when she flew through to the top 16. In 2013 she and countrywoman 19-year-old Ashley Barty tore up Grand Slam doubles draws. They were runners-up in Australia, Wimbledon, and the U. S. Open, and are on board in Melbourne this year seeded No. 5.
“Every match at the Australian Open is tough,” Dellacqua said. “Doesn’t matter who it is, where it is. I love playing here in Australia. The crowd out there today was awesome. Hisense Arena for me was awesome. The crowd really got behind me. I love that. Hopefully that works in my favor on Friday, as well.” Dellacqua will play Jie Zheng.
Sixty-seventh ranked Matthew Ebden had the upper hand over Canadian Vasek Pospisil, No. 28, in the first set. He should have won the match given Pospisil’s ailing back. But the talented seed pulled off the win 36 76(6) 76(9) 61, advancing him to his first 3rd-round appearance Down Under.
Of course the real star power of the day burst wide open when Patrick Rafter and Lleyton Hewitt followed Dellacqua on Hisense. They were given a wildcard into the main draw right at the deadline to enter.
Rafter, who is 41 and the current Davis Cup Captain, played his spirited serve and volley game, which won him two U. S. Open singles titles. Unfortunately for the tournament and fans, they lost 64 75 to American Butorac and Klaasen from South Africa.
“Those guys played well,” Lleyton said. “They served well to both of us. He [Rafter] played well. A bit of fun. It was a good crowd atmosphere out there. It was good for the tournament, I think.”
“It was good,” Rafter admitted. “It’s sort of a strange one. I’m going out with someone who’s an Aussie icon, as well. He’s so big in the game. I’d like to think that it was for both of us and we both enjoyed that atmosphere. It was fun. I think we both enjoyed it, yeah.”
Remaining in the men’s singles draw for the Australian contingent are two up-and-coming teens: Thanasi Kokkinakis and Nick Kyrgios. The irony is clear … these unknown teenagers, at least to the bigger world of tennis, are alive and kicking in the tournament while the two biggest names, Rafter and Hewitt, will sit on the sidelines.
“I want the media to know they’re a few years off,” Rafter said, when asked about the duo. “They’re going to have some good results, but it’s going to take some time for their bodies to develop and strengthen and probably understand the game. But … they are super talents.”
After Kokkinakis defeated Igor Sijsling in the first round, he trotted around Show Court 3. He high-fived every fan that stuck out their hand. Why not? The 16-year-old had advanced to round two for the first time in his young career. He may not get a chance to do that again this year. Tomorrow he faces Rafael Nadal on Rod Laver Arena.
Kyrgios, who defeated journeyman Benjamin Becker Tuesday, takes on the No. 27 seed Benoit Paire.
“It was really good playing in front of my home crowd this time,” Kyrgios said. “I’m pretty excited for the next round as well. I’m just soaking it in. My whole family was there, and just the home support.”
Unlike his buddy Thanasi, Nick turned pro in 2013. His career prize money to date is $115,103 USD. Not bad for a 18-year-old ranked No. 183 in the world. As the No. 1 ranked junior, he won the 2013 Australian Open by defeating Kokkinakis. Kyrgios also won the junior doubles titles that year at Roland Garros and Wimbledon.