By Jane Voigt
If The Australian Open’s Women’s singles draw was a stock exchange, buyers and sellers would have lost big on day one. Eight seeds fell or 50% of the high-ranking players on one side of the draw.
Ana Ivanovic, No. 5, had won 58 matches in 2014, the most on the WTA. She also upset Serena Williams last year at this major. Monday she lost to Qualifier Lucie Hradecka, 16 63 62. “I couldn’t find any rhythm,” Ivanovic told the press, her face looking drawn. That’s not all she couldn’t find. Her serve was dismal and her nerves were obvious. Hradecka didn’t get past any qualification tournaments at three Grand Slams in 2014. But she is an Olympic doubles silver medalists — 2012 London — and a Grand Slam doubles champion, having won Roland Garros with Andrea Hlavackova in 2011 and The U. S. Open in 2013.
Here are the women who tumbled from grace on Monday: Belinda Bencic, No. 32. This was the 17-year-old’s first seed at a slam. Many picked her as a dark horse, but all she showed was immaturity and poor shot selections. She lost quickly to veteran Julia Goerges, 62 61. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, No. 23. The Russian played Yanina Wickmayer of Belgium. Both big hitters, Wickmayer scrambled for the win, 46 63 63. Sabine Lisicki, No. 28. Wimbledon runner-up in 2013, Lisicki’s play against Kristina Mladenovic of France was erratic and strewn with errors – 39 for the match. Twenty-one year old Mladenovic made headlines in Paris last spring, when she eliminated Li Na in round two. She defeated Lisicki, 46 64 62.
Svetlana Kuznetsova (No. 27), Carla Suarez Navarro (No. 17), Angelique Kerber (No. 9) and Lucie Safarova (No. 16) also lost.
Simona Halep (No. 3), Eugenie Bouchard (No. 7), Maria Sharapova (No. 2) and many more on the bottom half of the draw probably don’t look ahead, choosing to focus on one match at a time. But, let’s just say, their road to week two might be facilitated from these losses. However, it also gives players who were less likely to advance an extra kick of confidence.
Young Aussies Advance
Nick Kyrgios and Wildcard Thanasi Kokkinakis survived five set tussles, both ending just before midnight. Kokkinakis defeated No. 11 seed Ernests Gulbis and Kyrgios took out lefty Federico Delbonis of Argentina. The two teens — Kyrgios is 19 and Kokkinakis is 18 — grew up on the courts of Australia. They have kept hope alive that their country can once again rise to the heights experienced in decades past.
Kyrgios wowed the world at Wimbledon in 2014 when he defeated Rafael Nadal in the fourth round. Kyrgios, though, was nervous in this opening match, “A lot of expectation,” he said. “So, I didn’t really have much confidence. I haven’t played a lot of matches.” His back has been injured and he called for treatment twice. On the other hand, the less experienced Kokkinakis said, “Best win of my career.” As fate would predict, the lanky youngster faces countryman Sam Groth in round two. Groth is well known for his massive serve, once clocked at over 160 mph.
Four other Australians advanced Monday: Bernard Tomic, James Duckworth and Marinko Matosevic. Both Duckworth and Matosevic played five set matches. On the women’s side, Jarmila Gajdosova won her first Australian Open match in her 10th appearance. “I think it’s been the best I played for a few years,” she told the press.
The Boy’s Alright
Rafael Nadal (No. 3) cried the blues in pre-tournament interviews. He wasn’t fit, wasn’t ready, hadn’t played, wasn’t confident. You could sympathize with him after a year of injury and a fluke appendectomy. But his claims of poor preparation harkened back to other comebacks, of which there have been two. But Monday night he looked, “very precise and very healthy,” Martina Navratilova said, calling the match for Tennis Channel.
Nadal defeated former top-10, Mikhail Youzhny, 63 62 62. The Russian told the press that Nadal could be very dangerous in Melbourne.
“No, no,” Nadal began. “What I say the other day is the real thing. Today is very hard to speak about having chances of nothing. I have one match. [It] is not the right moment to talk about that. It’s the moment to really give to this victory the right value.”
Nadal last won the Australian Open in 2009. Since, he’s been a quarterfinalist twice and a runner-up twice. He has a total of 14 majors, only three away from Roger Federer who sits in the same half of the draw. They could meet in the semifinal.
“All opponents are dangerous,” Nadal continued. “All opponents are going to be difficult, and with the maximum respect for everybody and knowing that anything can happen in every round against anyone. So just going to go on court with the same spirit as today. Today, I think I did very positive things.”
Nadal won 89% on first serves and 83% on second serves. He was 15/18 at the net and earned 37 winners compared to 15 unforced errors. “I think I returned well. The serve, too. I served, I think, the right way, with only one breakpoint during the whole match. And, in general I played with not many mistakes.”
If this is Nadal at a low spot, look out draw. He next plays American qualifier, Tim Smyczek.
Christina McHale’s Back
Christina McHale was a bright star in the future of American tennis. Then she contracted mononucleosis in 2012. Ranked as high as No. 24, she currently is ranked No. 53. She traveled the world last year, trying to improve her ranking and build confidence, but lost consistently in the first rounds of tournaments.
Monday, she rekindled her resolve and pulled off a three-set win over qualifier, Stephanie Foretz, 64 16 12-10. Fans first took notice of the Teaneck, N. J., native when she defeated then number-one player in the world, Caroline Wozniack, in 2011 at Cincinnati. She also has wins over Ekaterina Makarova, who is seeded number 10 in Melbourne this fortnight, 2013 Wimbledon Champion Marion Bartoli, and two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova, seeded No. 4 at this Australian Open.