By Jane Voigt
January 16, 2017 — Australia’s longest heat wave since 1908 broke wide open today. Lightening splintered the sky, thunder clapped and rain spattered every inch of Melbourne Park. The three-hour delay was a bonus for those lucky fans at The Australian Open as well as early risers along the East Coast of the US. They were treated to three, 5-set matches that didn’t end until early Friday morning.
The most dramatic match for home-town fans was Frenchman Benoit Paire (No. 26) and teen Australian wildcard, Nick Kyrgios. The 18-year-old Kyrgios rocked Margaret Court Arena with big serving, great ball placement, and belief. He won the first two sets in tiebreaks and was poised to rip the win from Paire when he perked up, got a break, and hit twice as many winners as unforced errors. After he clinched the third set, Kyrgios’s chances slipped away as cramps grabbed his muscles and Paire applied his final blows.
“Nick needed to win that third set,” Joe Nardini Jr., guest contributor, said. “I doubt Paire would have had the mental fortitude to comeback from two sets down.”
Nonetheless, Kyrgios was upbeat and humble with the press. “It was a really fun night. The crowd was unbelievable. I can’t thank the fans enough. Every point they were chanting; they were going nuts. It was an honor to be out there.”
The scoreline:67(5) 67(5) 64 62 62.
Juan Martin del Potro (No. 5) didn’t complain in his press conference, after losing in five sets to Roberto Bautista Agut. ‘Delpo’ just wished he’d had a bit more luck.
“In every moment what I have, he play unbelievable shot,” Del Potro said. “In breakpoint down, he serves well. He made winner with forehands, backhands, and he play always to the line very often during the match.”
Bautista Agut is ranked No. 62. And, Del Potro is the highest men’s seed to exit the tournament to date.
This was Del Potro’s seventh consecutive loss in a 5-set match. His performance in Melbourne has never put him past the 4th round, which is startling for a man many thought could puncture the chances of Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic winning the title.
The scoreline: 46 63 57 64 75.
Marin Cilic was a game away from notching a 2-set lead over Gilles Simon (No. 18), but failed. Simon seemed to hypnotize the Croatian into a game many opponents have struggled against. The rallies get longer. Simon’s anticipation heats up. His match-stick legs scurry, getting every ball back. For having played a 5-set match in the previous round and in sweltering temperatures, Simon should be spent. Watch him against his countryman, Jo-Wilfred Tsonga on Saturday. Never doubt Simon’s ability to spring to life, like a fox pounces on prey.
The scoreline: 46 76(3) 67(5) 61 62.
Quick Hits …
Maria Sharapova slugged it out on Rod Laver Arena against Italian Karin Knapp Thursday morning. The No. 3 seed had two match points, when Knapp snapped back. But tenacious Sharapova pulled out the win 10-8 in the third, even with 12 double faults for the match. “I think this grueling match will hurt Sharapova later in the tournament,” Nardini predicted.
Vasek Pospisil (No. 28) withdrew with a back injury. He was scheduled to play Stanislaus Wawrinka (No. 8), but received a walkover as a result. Will the missed match hurt or help Stan, as he advances to a 4th-round clash against Novak Djokovic? “He has two matches under his belt,” Nardini began. “He’ll need every ounce of energy to push Novak to the limit. Wawrinka will have a long practice session, lots of rest, and liquids. He will be prepared.” The only time a walkover has bothered Nardini … if it comes in the first round of a tournament. “[My] opponent knows the feel of the court, so he has an advantage.”
Jo-Wilfred Tsonga (No.10) wore a visor during his match today. Visors are not the fashion norm for men on court, baseball hats are. But Tsonga’s choice of chapeau revived memories of a young Andy Roddick at the U. S. Open. Visor, spiky hair, and Reebok duds.
Nick Kyrgios’s Twitter account topped 10,020 followers early Friday morning. “That’s pretty cool,” he said. “I haven’t looked at my phone. It’s out of batteries.”
Donald Young, America’s greatest junior at 16, is into the third round, his first. He defeated Andreas Seppi (No.24) in five sets. Young has not won a match at a major since 2011. It’s hard to believe he is 24.
Popcorn Matches, Saturday
Rafael Nadal vs. Gael Monfils
Milos Raonic vs. Grigor Dimitrov
Check the Schedule of Play for exact match times.