Garbine Muguruza’s pursuit of an elusive Australian Open title continues after Alize Cornet stunned the WTA Finals champion. Elsewhere, Anett Kontaveit (#6) and Diego Schwartzman (#13) were among the latest seeds to fall, while US Open semi-finalist Aryna Sabalenka had to save her blushes before disappointing three-set defeats for Andy Murray and Emma Raducanu.
Cornet crunches disappointing Muguruza in big upset
Cornet bt. Muguruza  6-3, 6-3
After a comfortable first-round win, I highlighted their recent H2H record and suggested this could be an intriguing matchup with upset potential. Alize Cornet got revenge for her compatriot Clara Burel and conceded one less game too vs. the WTA Finals champion too.
During a conversation with Eurosport, Muguruza’s coach Conchita Martinez revealed Muguruza had been suffering from an upset stomach earlier in the week and was lacking energy.
“A tough day, didn’t feel my game at all, my serve wasn’t there – my shots either – tactically not making the right decisions.
She played very well, solid game and plays better against top players, little bit surprised about my level and disappointed.”
- Muguruza reflects on another early Slam exit – the fifth time she’s lost in the first two rounds since 2019
Cornet was in reflective mood afterwards, confirming 2022 was probably her last year on tour and she celebrates her 32nd birthday on Saturday – having turned professional in 2006.
Ranked as high as world no. 11 in 2009, the Frenchwoman has never surpassed round four at any Grand Slam – but relishes big-game encounters against the world’s best. This was her 23rd top-10 win and one where Muguruza’s sloppy display only served to propel her further forward.
She’ll play Slovenia’s Tamara Zidansek in R3, after the 29th seed – a French Open semi-finalist last year – outlasted Britain’s Heather Watson 7-6, 6-4 earlier today.
Elsewhere in that section, two-time Major winner Simona Halep (#14) and US Open titlist Emma Raducanu (#17) could collide if they both emerge unscathed in their night session matches.
Both aren’t exactly dependable right now, for contrasting reasons. So naturally, whoever progresses from this side of the draw should fancy their chances of a deep run.
That’s because two big seeds from Section 5 were also knocked out today: WTA Finals runner-up Anett Kontaveit (#6) and an in-form Elena Rybakina (#12).
Danish teenager Clara Tauson, a beaten qualifier at this stage last year, has reached round three for the first time in her young career after blasting Kontaveit off the court with 20 winners, five aces and clean hitting – evidenced by their discrepancy in unforced errors (13 to Anett’s 27).
Rybakina retired with an ankle injury while losing 6-4, 1-0 against China’s Shuai Zhang. Last week, the 22-year-old withdrew from the Sydney Tennis Classic after thigh discomfort.
Elsewhere in that section, Belgium’s Elise Mertens (#19) held serve early on with the match’s longest game before ousting Romania’s Irina-Cameila Begu 6-3, 6-2.
The 26-year-old, a semi-finalist at this tournament four years ago, is known for her consistency and has developed a serious doubles pedigree too, though has struggled to break the second week in singles – past round four – so will fancy her chances this time around.
Sabalenka survives, but it wasn’t pretty
Even with a grisly 19 double-faults and 43 unforced errors to her name, US Open semi-finalist Aryna Sabalenka (#2) recovered from a set down to eventually beat Xinyu Wang 1-6, 6-4, 6-2.
“Players are getting stronger and stronger, there are no easy matches, I’ve pushed myself really hard [here and in round one]. Thanks [to the fans] for your support, without you I couldn’t have made it today [this comeback].
She hit really hard, served really well, tough to play against and I tried to stay as low as I can, just put the ball back! Already had a lot of experience playing without the serve, kept telling myself I have enough shots to win without it.”
- Sabalenka reflects after another emotional rollercoaster
On playing French Open finalist Marketa Vondrousova (#32) next in R3, she said she’s looking forward to it given they always have great matches against one another. After losing their first two meetings, the 23-year-old has prevailed in the last two – most recently in Miami last March.
After making quick work of Poland’s Kamil Majchrzak with a straight-sets win (6-2, 6-3, 6-4), home favourite Alex de Minaur (#32) stressed post-match that he’s keen to enjoy every second and keep the positive vibes going, after what was a disappointing campaign all-round in 2021.
“I had a down year last year, wanted to make up for it, really worked hard in the offseason, in the best shape of my career. I’m happy to let my fitness do the talking – chase every single ball, make it as tough as I can for opponents.”
One of two Australian men left in the draw, the 22-year-old will face Spain’s Pablo Andujar next after the veteran took advantage of Ruud’s injury withdrawal to emerge from a portion of the draw featuring two lucky losers – and now he’s into round three for the first time in Melbourne.
Andujar, who celebrates his 36th birthday on Sunday, will be hoping he’s still in contention for a deep run by then after winning 6-4, 7-6, 0-6, 6-4 against Slovakia’s Alex Molcan elsewhere today.
The other remaining Aussie male?
27-year-old wildcard Christopher O’Connell, inflicting another early exit for Diego Schwartzman (#13) – 7-6, 6-4, 6-4 with 44 winners and unforced errors. Cleaning it up after a set where he saved three set points, his reward is a clash vs. big-serving American Maxime Cressy.
Murray out as qualifier Daniel stuns three-time Slam champion
In a battle between qualifier and wildcard, Japan’s Taro Daniel established an early break of serve and never looked back against three-time Major winner Andy Murray.
With just seven places separating them in the rankings pre-tournament, the 28-year-old – who’d only reached R2 at a Slam tournament on four occasions in his pro career – stepped up to the task on John Cain Arena and bided time patiently as Murray’s errors continued to mount up.
Already drained from a first-round tussle lasting almost four hours against Georgia’s Nikoloz Basilashvili on Tuesday, you could forgive fans and critics alike for being taken aback by the 34-year-old’s rough start after a first set with 16 unforced errors and six less winners than Daniel.
But unlike vs. the world no. 23, his performance levels didn’t settle steadily over time, instead tightening up when things were on a knife edge: converting just two of 11 break points (18%).
“I’m happy with how I felt [physically], first time I’ve played the week before a Slam and done well… for a long time. There’s a reason why most of the best don’t do it. Put a lot into the offseason, practicisng and preparing, hopefully not to play like that. After a good first-round, a match I should win, didn’t take that chance and when you know you’ve not got many left, it’s frustrating.”
- Murray explains his feelings after an underwhelming showing
Daniel won the bulk of points behind his first serve (79%) while it was much more of a slog for Murray (66%), not decisive at the net nor assertive enough with shot selection in big points.
The Japanese took courage from the ever-improving situation and held his nerve, just when there were murmurs that a trademark Murray comeback was in the offing to start set three.
Andy broke early and was 2-0, 15-0 up at one stage but again, that proved a false dawn.
Daniel revealed that he got nervous in those moments and was cramping too in set three, but heralded his amazing levels on an evening where Murray’s tennis just wasn’t good enough for sustained periods to justify recovering from a deficit that never wavered.
“It’s amazing, winning a match like this with a lot of people, especially after COVID, unbelievable so thank you so much. I had goosebumps, thanks!”
He plays Italian youngster Jannik Sinner  on Saturday, after the 20-year-old made easy work of his night session matchup with ten-year American veteran Steve Johnson – winning 6-2, 6-4, 6-3 in less than two hours. 11 aces, a new personal best, alongside 30 winners? Not bad at all.
Blisters prove bane for Raducanu as Kovinic wins in three sets
Kovinic bt. Raducanu  6-3, 4-6, 6-3
Danka Kovinic, who needed more than three hours to beat South Korean qualifier Su-jeong Jang on Tuesday, recovered from 0-3 down in the opening set to outlast US Open champion Emma Raducanu in another three-set duel – one marred by blisters and momentum switches.
The 27-year-old Montenegrin won five straight games after going down an early double break of serve and showed resiliency to rally again at the start of a deciding set which looked likely to swing back into the Brit’s favour, just as it did vs. Sloane Stephens less than 48 hours earlier.
But it would be disingenuous not to highlight Raducanu’s injury, blisters on her right hand, that continued to bother her and limit the 19-year-old’s willingness to go for powerful groundstrokes.
Kovinic’s reward, is a third-round meeting with a motivated Simona Halep (#14). Having had to wait all day for her match against Brazil’s Beatriz Haddad Maia, the 30-year-old came out like a house on fire in the day’s final action on Rod Laver and wasted no time at all – winning 6-2, 6-0.
“Was very aggressive, did what I had to do. I’m 30 so I’m old enough to enjoy this sport, be more relaxed, last year was not easy with injury, I suffered but came back stronger and ready to work harder, play some good matches here.
I have expectations for myself, today was a great match, was confident. Yeah, I still do get pissed [off], but I’m trying to control myself and be more calm.”
- Halep’s post-match interview, on court and then with Eurosport
Medvedev’s mental strength tested, holds firm in Kyrgios show
Medvedev  bt. Kyrgios 6-4, 4-6, 6-4, 6-2
He struggled for first serve consistency throughout (66%), but US Open champion Daniil Medvedev served 31 aces and unleashed 68 winners to outwork home favourite Nick Kyrgios.
There were special moments, electrifying points and the typical emotional rollercoaster that comes with watching Kyrgios under the lights. Daniil stayed even-keeled, in contrast to a raucous Rod Laver crowd in a spicy showdown that lived up to the billing, if not the hosts’ desired result.
The 25-year-old produced 18 aces in the first two sets alone, after recording 10 total against Switzerland’s Henri Laaksonen on Tuesday. He knew he needed to, in a game of percentages between himself and an unpredictable showman who relishes the big stage.
With a bit more composure in tight moments, like to finish set one or the start of set four, perhaps Kyrgios would’ve pulled off his 22nd top-10 victory. But besides his inactivity on tour, there’s a reason he’s only had one scalp since beating Medvedev in Washington three years ago.
He crumbled in the first set tiebreak, having done the hard work to get there in the first place, serving an untimely double-fault to handwrap a mini break.
A deft backhand slice return, which sailed over the Australian and stayed in, was enough for last year’s runner-up to effectively silence the crowd, in a 62-minute set packed with twists and turns.
From there on in, Medvedev just had to continue wearing on the charismatic Australian – who hasn’t played a three-hour match since outlasting Ugo Humbert at Wimbledon on June 30.
“I came to win, happy I managed to do it. [On his mindset] That’s the only choice when you get booed between first and second serves, you have to stay calm and win the match.
The game is ready [to win a Slam] but you have tough opponents like Nick, we always have sensations [shock results], favourites win too, just try to play my best and hopefully that’s enough to do something big.”
A second meeting with Dutchman Botic van de Zandschulp is next this weekend, after experienced Frenchman Richard Gasquet retired injured deep in the third set (4-6, 6-0, 4-0*).
“It’s disappointing, had a few moments on my serve, people cheer like you’ve already had a double-fault — five years ago, I would’ve broken two racquets and shouted at my box for nothing, but you can’t win Grand Slams like this.
I can still have tantrums, but I’ve been working pretty hard the last couple years, trying to mature as a tennis player and a person… shows that I’m capable of being mentally strong. I saved a break point at the start of the fourth, wow, that was an important moment [laughs].”
- Medvedev in reflective mood with the Eurosport team post-match
I’ll be producing daily round-ups with the latest results, game reports and news at this year’s Australian Open, so make sure you stay tuned to moandsports.com for the latest coverage.
Picture source: Getty Images