Rafael Nadal and Daniil Medvedev – last year’s champion and runner-up – won in contrasting circumstances. A genuine title contender withdrew through injury and needs surgery, while Iga Swiatek was pushed by a determined Jule Neimeier, an intriguing contest between Emma Raducanu and Coco Gauff is set for R2 and much more besides. Read on, for Day 1’s round-up.
Kyrgios sidelined with knee injury, requires surgery
Wimbledon finalist Nick Kyrgios called a press conference to announce his withdrawal from the Australian Open, just hours after the first ball in the main draw had been hit.
The world no. 19, who had two of his best Major results in the second-half of 2022, was regarded by critics as one of the favourites to embark on a deep run at his home Grand Slam after years of solely embracing his dark horse role. However, he’s suffered a meniscus tear needing surgery.
His place in the draw has been handed to American lucky loser Denis Kudla – who has struggled for big Major results in recent seasons – but will now play Russia’s Roman Safiullin tomorrow.
It also means Kyrgios won’t get an opportunity to defend his existing Major title with friend and doubles partner Thanasi Kokkinakis, who he namechecked during his press conference.
“Bad timing but that’s life, injuries are part of the sport.
I’ll take inspiration from someone like Thanasi [Kokkinakis] who has bounced back, devastated with some great memories here but I’ll be back to full strength, it’s brutal but look forward to what I can do and come back.”
compelling clash: Raducanu vs. Gauff in r2 on Wednesday
2021 US Open champion Emma Raducanu got her Australian Open campaign off to a winning start early during the day session, emerging a comfortable 6-3, 6-2 winner against Germany’s Tamara Korpatsch – who she beat during their only previous meeting in Stuttgart last April.
That was a three-set match and this one could’ve been too, as they combined for 59 unforced errors – the British number one had 73% of the match’s winners (27-10) and grew in confidence as she played her first match since retiring injured after a freak ankle injury eleven days ago.
When speaking to BBC Radio 5 Live afterwards, she said:
“Very pleased to get the win today, with how we’ve handled the past ten days since the ankle… been a process, working very hard everyday and big shoutout to Will [Herbert, her physio], trying to find solutions and this [recuperating back to full strength was] a team effort.”
Where she was during Gauff’s Wimbledon run: “When she was playing Halep, I was playing R1 of juniors on one of the outside courts – court five – behind her.”
BBC’s Russell Fuller was honest, albeit blunt with his post-match assessment of Korpatsch’s performance – saying the 27-year-old doesn’t have many weapons, nor the sufficient power, to truly test Raducanu or create more doubt about her fitness. That will come in R2 though…
The tournament’s seventh seed and recent Auckland Open champion Coco Gauff awaits – a first H2H meeting between the pair – after she produced 24 winners and 70% first serve percentage en route to a 6-1, 6-4 victory over doubles specialist Katerina Siniakova elsewhere.
Post-match in her press conference, Gauff was asked about the dynamic between herself and Raducanu – as well as their similarities and differences.
“I talk to her at all the tournaments, didn’t know her well in the juniors.
Obviously she’s gone through a lot of pressure, bursting on the scene – more than me – being from the UK, the first to do something in a long time is different than me as an American… Serena [Williams] was who we looked to.
I can’t understand as much [the pressure on her shoulders] but I can relate, there’s definitely a difference. I was a lot younger when I got the attention, handling it at an older age is easier but I didn’t win it, she did!
All the spotlight isn’t on me, we have Jessica Pegula, Madison Keys, Amanda Anisimova and others.. the British just have her. There’s others too but no-one has done what she did, that’s what makes American tennis so strong – we all share that pressure together.”
How’s your nerve?
France’s Corentin Moutet led by a set twice, but had to win three straight games before eventually prevailing in the deciding set vs. Chinese wildcard Wu Yibing: 6-4, 5-7, 6-2, 4-6, 7-5.
His reward is a matchup against Argentina’s Francisco Cerundolo, the tournament’s 28th seed, who won in straight-sets against compatriot Guido Pella [PR].
Slovakia’s Alex Molcan twice had to recover from a set down – and was three points from defeat deep in set four – but held his nerve and absorbed a multitude of winners (67) en route to a gruelling five-set win over Swiss veteran in three-time Major champion Stan Wawrinka [PR].
The 37-year-old was frequently receiving treatment on his left thigh at changeovers mid-match before playing a loose service game when it mattered most, at 5-4 in the fourth.
Molcan will play sixth seed Felix Auger-Aliassime on Wednesday, after last year’s quarterfinalist shook off an unsteady start to outlast compatriot Vasek Pospisil: 1-6, 7-6 (7-2), 7-6 (7-3), 6-3.
Next Gen Finals champion Brandon Nakashima did enough to stay with compatriot Mackenzie McDonald in the first two sets, but lost both in tiebreaks.
The 21-year-old then won the next two in contrasting fashion, setting up a deciding set with a familiar face he’s played twice before on tour: splitting the H2H 1-1.
They exchanged breaks of serve to start the fifth and Nakashima will probably be wondering what might’ve happened, had he converted one of his two game points at 40-15, 4-4. Instead, McDonald broke back and finished their four-hour battle in the very next game.
Nadal outlasts Draper, who cramps at precisely the wrong time
McDonald’s reward? Reigning champion Rafael Nadal up next, who emerged through a messy, back-and-forth four-set tussle against Britain’s rising star Jack Draper: 7-5, 2-6, 6-4, 6-1.
The 36-year-old, who found himself in a similar position against Fabio Fognini at Flushing Meadows last term and has struggled for form of late, laboured at times while forcing the 21-year-old to constantly think about shot selection during some of their more gruelling rallies.
Draper’s cramping issues, something he’s recently explored to try and rectify, returned and with an existing abdominal issue, it just compounded his fitness on a day where Nadal – error-prone and unconvincing – pulled him from side-to-side, testing the youngster’s resolve.
Despite racing away to win set two, he needed sustained medical treatment and some electrolytes after cramping in multiple areas midway through the third set. Finding a second wind was key, and he initially recovered from a tricky situation – down 4-1 – to level at 4-4.
A loose service game, having initially led 30-0 and with a point to extend set three further, was decisive. Nadal seized it without fuss or a tiebreak, before they exchanged breaks early in the fourth – a scenario only benefiting the defending champion, given his durability under pressure.
“Last year was, without a doubt, one of the most emotional tournaments of my tennis career… unfortunately that’s passed! We need to keep working, I’m super happy to be back here in Australia, my 19th season, a new beginning.
This was a victory I needed, the last couple of months haven’t been easy for me but… if we put into perspective all the situations I went through, very positive.
[in Jack Draper] Played against one of the toughest opponents possible in the first-round, young, has the power, a great future in-front of him… we’ll see him playing a lot of years here and having great results.”
Making some noise
20-year-old Czech qualifier Dalibor Svrcina, making his Grand Slam debut, won in straight-sets (6-3, 6-2, 6-2) against Spain’s Jaume Munar. For context, there were more than 150 ranking spots between them before play today and the man with nothing to lose reigned supreme in style.
In a best-of-three set qualifying format last week, he was taken to the brink by Britain’s Paul Jabb and Argentina’s 30-year-old Nicolas Kicker – who later retired injured – before beating 20-year-old Swiss talent Leandro Riedi in just 66 minutes to earn a hard-fought main draw berth. Now?
He’ll play Adelaide 1 semifinalist Yoshihito Nishioka, the tournament’s 31st seed, next on Wednesday after the Japanese also won comfortably: 6-4, 6-2, 7-5 vs. Sweden’s Mikael Ymer.
Speaking of convincing victories, there was one for Australian wildcard Jason Kubler – who reached R4 at Wimbledon last summer – as he won his first main draw match at his home Grand Slam for the first time in his career (6-4, 6-4, 6-4) against Argentina’s Sebastian Baez.
Baez, who turned 22 three days after Christmas, has now lost 17 of his last 18 matches on tour and hasn’t been the same player since finishing runner-up on clay in Bastad, back in mid-July.
Kubler has an even tougher test in R2 – the tournament’s 18th seed in US Open semifinalist Karen Khachanov, after his 7-6, 6-2, 6-0 win over Spain’s Bernarbe Zapata Miralles.
17-year-old Chinese qualifier Shang Juncheng awaits another semifinalist from the last Major of 2022 in Frances Tiafoe, who started well and had to refocus after losing a third set tiebreak (7-5) to outlast Germany’s Daniel Altmaier in four.
Shang’s four-set victory (6-2, 6-4, 6-7, 7-5) against Germany’s Oscar Otte means he became the first Chinese male player to win a main draw match at this competition in the Open era.
American wildcard Christopher Eubanks twice led by a set, and eventually had to grit out a five-set affair to down Adelaide 2 champion Soonwoo Kwon: 6-3, 6-7, 6-3, 4-6, 6-4.
He’ll play Svrcina’s compatriot in 21-year-old Jiri Lehecka, after the talented youngster made surprisingly quick work of Croatia’s Borna Coric: 6-3, 6-3, 6-3 – that result meaning the 26-year-old becomes the first male tournament seed to lose, in R1 for the sixth time in his career.
Australian wildcard Rinky Hijikata, who gave Nadal a fright at Flushing Meadows, rallied from two sets down to overwhelm German qualifier Yannick Hanfmann: 4-6, 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (7-5), 6-3.
The 21-year-old was two points away from defeat in the fourth set against a man ten years his senior, but held his nerve in the tiebreak and eventually raced to victory – breaking him at 3-4, having saved two break points on serve in the previous game midway through the deciding set.
He’ll play Stefanos Tsitsipas in R2, a three-time semifinalist at this event, after he started brilliantly and held firm despite a third set wobble against France’s Quentin Halys: 6-3, 6-4, 7-6 (8-6), refusing to crumble under the pressure, being down in their one and only tiebreak.
“It’s great getting support like this. I lost my rhythm on serve, wasn’t expecting to get broken twice in a row – my fighting spirit showed that… I faced the difficult situation, I had some good crowd support and we won this together.”
Tsitsipas tallied 46 winners and an ace for every unforced error (17 each) in a match he was glad to settle in straight-sets, lasting just two hours by comparison with Rinky’s recovery effort.
Armed with a protected ranking, South Africa’s Lloyd Harris stunned Lorenzo Musetti in a ten-point deciding set tiebreak (10-4) to emerge victorious – having much earlier dropped just five games in the first two sets – eventually knocking out the 17th seed.
There was no such worries for Musetti’s compatriot Jannik Sinner , who dropped just six games against another player with a protected ranking in Britain’s Kyle Edmund – a former semifinalist – who will wonder what he has to do to get a favourable first-round draw in Majors.
Britain’s number one and 2021 Indian Wells champion Cameron Norrie was forced into a first set tiebreak but eventually got the job done in straight-sets against French wildcard Luca Van Assche (7-6, 6-0, 6-3) and will face the teenager’s compatriot Constant Lestienne in R2 next.
Swiatek pushed, but reinforces why she’s the world no. 1
It was far from straightforward and that was to be expected, as evidenced by the reactions to finish both sets of tennis, but world no. 1 Iga Swiatek navigated beyond the first-round nerves well enough en route to a 6-4, 7-5 victory against Wimbledon quarter-finalist Jule Niemeier.
The 23-year-old complicated matters during their US Open meeting last September and the Pole was aware of her qualities a second time around here. That didn’t matter much to the bullish German, who kept things competitive and often had the final say in their longer rally exchanges.
However, there’s a reason why they’re almost 70 ranking positions apart. Under pressure, Swiatek didn’t panic and instead bided her time during rallies, even when visibly uncomfortable, forcing Niemeier into playing an extra shot. That wore on her, given their intense back-and-forth.
Sometimes she’d be greeted with a thunderous forehand winner, but often – in the match’s biggest moments – Jule would overhit or net shots during rallies Swiatek wasn’t on top of.
Afterwards, she acknowledged the benefits that come with a Major tournament directly after preseason and more in her post-match interview:
“It gave me a lot of confidence, happy to win tight matches on hard courts, use physicality to win even with a few three-hour matches, progress… Australia is such an amazing tournament, we’re so fresh and not tired, really push ourselves to the limit.
I can run to every ball, it’s right after preseason and I can get there, come back, after losing first sets too… sorry for two long sentences!
Pretty amazing [atmosphere], despite being nervous, you guys are really loud and I like it so thanks!
I feel right now… a totally different vibe from a year or two ago when we were playing in COVID. Happy we can enjoy it together, Rafa got a full house and that’s a good choice [over me] but don’t worry, hope to see you next match.”
Defensively astute and dangerous when threatened, it’ll be interesting to see how she fares against Colombia’s Camila Osorio in R2 – their first H2H meeting – after her agemate began her 2023 season with a 6-4, 6-1 win against Hungary’s Panna Udvardy.
Okay, but what about Medvedev’s section?
Adelaide 1 runner-up Sebastian Korda  and Denis Shapovalov  dropped a set apiece vs. Cristian Garin and Dusan Lajovic, but are safely through to R2 – against a pair of Japanese talents in the same section featuring Hubert Hurkacz and last year’s finalist Daniil Medvedev.
Taro Daniel – who recorded his best Major result here last season – will face an unpredictable Shapovalov next, after winning in four sets against Mexican qualifier Ernesto Escobedo.
Meanwhile, qualifier Yosuke Watanuki built up an early lead and never relinquished it during a commanding straight-sets victory against France’s Arthur Rinderknech (6-3, 6-3, 6-2).
Hurkacz will face Italy’s Lorenzo Sonego, who was made to work hard for his four-set win over Portugal’s Nuno Borges – while Medvedev hit nine aces and reeled off 29 winners as he dropped just three games (6-0, 6-1, 6-2) against Korda’s compatriot Marcos Giron in the night session.
The Russian will just have to make peace with the fact supporters watching his next match will be firmly against him on Wednesday when he faces home hopeful in wildcard John Millman, who twice recovered from a set down to overwhelm Swiss talent Marc-Andre Husler in five sets.
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, quotes via Eurosport broadcast unless stated otherwise