Casper Ruud’s four-set loss to Jenson Brooksby – on a brilliant Day 4 for American players not named Taylor Fritz – marks the first time a Grand Slam’s top two seeds have been knocked out before round three since this very tournament 21 years ago. Elsewhere, Aryna Sabalenka faces her Major-winning doubles teammate in the next round, Daniel Evans will meet a familiar foe while Andy Murray surpassed his Matteo Berrettini scalp after the longest match of his career.
Murray refuses to be beaten after dicey djokovic vs. couacaud
Five hours 45 minutes. The second-longest Australian Open match of all-time, and Andy Murray’s longest in what has often been described as the former world no. 1’s second career.
It’s easy to forget, after all, this is the same man – metal hip and all – who tearfully retired at this very event four years ago, unable to walk or do daily activities without pain, let alone play.
Spare a thought for Thanasi Kokkinakis, who had chances to finish this against a friendly face in straight-sets, served brilliantly and was firing on all cylinders in the opening stages. A third-round berth at his home Major tournament continues to elude him, after *that* third set tiebreak.
But two things – arguing with the umpire after a time violation on serve – and this sequence set the wheels in motion for an improbable, ridiculous comeback by one of few men who’ve done it more than once. Matteo Berrettini found out first-hand, now Kokkinakis endured similiar.
After recovery and a late night – this match finished at 4.06am local time – 24th seed Roberto Bautista Agut awaits on Saturday after he avoided a scare against America’s Brandon Holt earlier in the day. RBA has beaten him in four consecutive H2H meetings, but who knows what’s next?
Nine-time Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic was made to feel uncomfortable at times, in serious pain elsewhere and his eagerness to speed through games worked against him as French qualifier Enzo Couacaud produced some excellent tennis to snatch a set off the Serbian, during an electric atmosphere on Rod Laver Arena before Jabeur’s loss.
Couacaud, an unheralded 27-year-old who has only in the last year or so begun qualifying for main draws at Grand Slam tournaments, had nothing to lose. Many were fearing the worst just four games in though, as he needed medical attention after appearing to jar his right ankle when turning to return a ball mid-rally.
Djokovic needed a medical timeout of his own as the hamstring injury (left) he’s playing through appeared to worsen, Couacaud adding depth and versatility on his groundstrokes.
Things could’ve got worse, but the 35-year-old replicated his effort in parts against Spain’s Roberto Carballes Baena on Tuesday and raised his level immediately after Couacaud snatched set two during a tiebreak the underdog seemingly had no right to win – down 3-0 at one stage.
6-1, 6-7 (5-7), 6-2, 6-0 the final score and Grigor Dimitrov awaits in R3. Djokovic did anything but reassure his fans about an injury which will only further aggravate as the fortnight continues.
“There was a lot happening in tonight’s match, Enzo deserves credit for the fight – especially in the second set – we both had some medical timeouts and struggled a little bit. I managed to respond in the third, love playing night sessions, let’s keep it going,
“It’s not good at all to be honest but look, I’ll take it day-to-day, it was better last match than today, it’s really up to… God to help me, physio and everyone. [Will you be okay to continue?] I hope so,” Djokovic in his flash interview with Eurosport on his ailing left hamstring issue
rafael Nadal injury update
Per a bulletin on BBC Radio 5 Live this morning, the 22-time Major champion – last year’s titlist – will be sidelined for between 6-8 weeks with a grade two hip flexor injury after having an MRI today. He’ll fly home this weekend and undergo physiotherapy work in his native Spain.
Having beaten Britain’s rising star Jack Draper in R1 on Monday, he was bested in straight-sets yesterday by America’s Mackenzie McDonald – the best win of his career – a scalp naturally marred by the 36-year-old pulling up in agony mid-rally during the eighth game of set two.
He had a medical timeout off-court, came back and was clearly impacted by the problem, unable to serve with much conviction nor move as freely. McDonald admitted afterwards that he was guilty of overthinking in the moment, but importantly stayed focused to finish the task.
Nadal, a runner-up at Indian Wells last season, might miss both that and the Miami Open in March – both Masters 1000 tournaments – if he’s not fully recovered and feeling 100% by then.
Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley was quoted as saying: “We now know the extent of his injury and wish him all the very best for his recovery. I’ll continue to stay in touch and looking forward to catching up with him on the road during the year.”
Brooksby downs Ruud, Mmoh masters Zverev and more
Jenson Brooksby spoke about just how proud he was with regards to his mental resolve, having seen three match points evade him at 5-4 in set three, but eventually emerged stronger and remained even-keeled before knocking out world no. 3 and second seed Casper Ruud.
“I wanted to have fun competing, not lose my focus out there. Last year, I had COVID the day before flying out here so that sucked, hopefully this is the first of many good years to come [here],” Brooksby after earning a third-round berth
Day 4 saw two all-American third-round ties booked, and when asked about the prospect of facing compatriot Tommy Paul, he revealed it would be yet another battle. The Americans’ success – every player pushing one another – has only served to stand them in good stead.
One who won’t be joining them in R3 is Taylor Fritz, after the eighth seed saw his tournament ended following a four-hour five-set tussle against home hopeful Alexei Popyrin – another big scalp for the 23-year-old after besting Felix Auger-Aliassime in Adelaide earlier this month.
He relished the atmosphere and justified a raucuous crowd helping him do it the hard way, recovering from a deficit for the second match running: 6-7 (4-7), 7-6 (7-2), 6-4, 6-7 (6-8), 6-2.
Fritz had never lost to someone as lowly-ranked as Popyrin before, who because of injuries and inconsistent form, was sitting at a deceptive world no. 113 before this match.
He’s moved up 23 spots into #90 now, and next faces 20-year-old American talent Ben Shelton after he won a tight three-set battle against Chile’s Nicolas Jarry: 7-6 (7-3), 7-6 (7-3), 7-5.
American lucky loser Michael Mmoh is into R3 at a Major for the first time in his career, and will face compatriot JJ Wolf on Saturday after recovering from a set down to pile further misery on Alexander Zverev’s slow return from ankle surgery: 6-7, 6-4, 6-3, 6-2 the final score.
“Life is crazy, for anyone watching there is light at the end of the tunnel – my week is proof of that – I was supposed to leave for the US yesterday, the fact I’m playing in-front of you at Margaret Court Arena is insane. Biggest win and moment of my career, felt the nerves a little bit but settled down at the end of the first… told myself I shouldn’t even be here, last thing I wanna do is not go for it.”
That’s what he did on match point: a forehand smash kissed the sideline, against a Zverev who wasn’t moving freely and coughed up 12 double faults – including five in the fourth set.
Alex de Minaur’s confidence grew, despite dropping set two, during what was eventually a hard-fought victory in four sets against French veteran Adrian Mannarino: 7-6, 4-6, 6-4, 6-1 in three-and-a-half hours on court for another of Australia’s own hopefuls. They only have two left…
The 23-year-old faces Pune finalist Benjamin Bonzi, another into unchartered water at a Major, after rallying from two sets down – he was two points from defeat – to emerge victorious in a ten-point tiebreak against Spain’s 14th seed Pablo Carreno-Busta: 4-6, 4-6, 7-6, 6-1, 7-6 (10-4).
Drama down the other end, but Evans gets the job done
Britain’s Dan Evans  won comfortably: 6-4, 6-4, 6-1 against French veteran Jeremy Chardy in the day session, setting up a first Grand Slam meeting with familiar foe Andrey Rublev.
There was one contentious moment though midway through set one, leaving the 35-year-old unhappy with umpire Miriam Bley for several minutes – spilling into his post-match presser – after a ball fell from his pocket mid-rally while facing a break point.
She didn’t immediately notice and he netted a return shortly afterwards. Bley instructed a let from her chair – replay the point – before changing the choice, giving the 32-year-old the game.
After a heated conversation, Bley called for a tournament supervisor but Chardy declared her decision the “biggest mistake of the Australian Open,” and wasn’t done.
“I have played for 20 years. I have never had one umpire bad like you, not one. You looking at the birds? Are you looking at someone in the crowd?” He said, before the supervisor emerged and spoke to both, explaining their version of events.
The supervisor ruled the point wouldn’t be replayed, and the match would continue with Evans leading 4-3. He chuntered on, but the drama didn’t distract Dan. On facing fifth seed Andrey Rublev next, after his four-set win over Finland’s Emil Ruusuvuori (6-2, 6-4, 6-7, 6-3), he said:
“I’ve beaten him recently [Montreal] but he’s also had plenty [of wins] against me, when he plays well… pretty hard to beat! When he doesn’t, he misses a lot so my job is to make it uncomfortable for him.”
Rublev’s the third-highest seed left after Stefanos Tsitsipas’ storming win over Rinky Hijikata yesterday, with Novak Djokovic currently in action against French qualifer Enzo Couacaud, and their H2H record is deadlocked at 4-4 – this marks their first best-of-five set matchup though.
Elsewhere in that section…
Ugo Humbert is into R3 at a Major for the third time in his career, after a 6-2, 6-7 (5-7), 6-2, 6-4 win in just under three hours over American lucky loser Denis Kudla.
He faces a stern test in the form of Paris Masters champion Holger Rune, who leads their H2H 2-0, after the tournament’s ninth seed made quick work of big-serving American Maxime Cressy.
Garcia gazumps Fernandez, faces Siegemund next
She admitted in her post-match interview on more than one occasion that snatching the first set was “a bit of a robbery,” as she struggled to find her rhythm on serve and had to play her way into shape against an assertive Fernandez who caused problems aplenty in the early stages.
“She used the slice very well, had to make lots of adjustments, she moved me a lot with the forehand, it was about who would be the more aggressive player.”
On playing 34-year-old German Laura Siegemund, who again won in three sets – this time against 27th seed Irina-Camila Begu (5-7, 7-5, 6-3) after more than a three-hour tussle:
“Yeah, it’s a surprise to see her there [in the next round]. She’s a great fighter, makes you become crazy with how she plays… drop shots, volleys and returns. I have to be focused on my game, tough matches for sure.”
Speaking of surprises involving seeds, Russia’s Ekaterina Alexandrova  recovered from a 6-1 first set to overwhelm American wildcard Taylor Townsend 1-6, 6-2, 6-3.
She’ll play Poland’s Magda Linette, with a career-best Slam result for the victor after the 30-year-old similarly recovered from a set down to overwhelm 16th seed Anett Kontaveit 3-6, 6-3, 6-4.
Aryna Sabalenka has quietly been going about her business and after dropping five games against Tereza Martincova in R1, lost one fewer against America’s Shelby Rogers (6-3, 6-1).
The Auckland Open champion hasn’t surpassed R4 in six previous attempts but will have an opportunity to – at the very least – equal that result. To do so, she’ll have to beat a friendly face: Elise Mertens , with whom she won the doubles title at this tournament two years ago.
After clinching that championship, the Belarusian said she wanted to focus on her singles career and hasn’t entered a Major doubles competition since – with some agonising defeats in big matches at Wimbledon 2021 and US Open (2021, 2022) in particular. Will this be any different?
Elsewhere in her section, Olympic champion Belinda Bencic recovered from 5-2 down in set one – saving two set points at 5-4 – to eventually overwhelm America’s Claire Liu 7-6 (7-3), 6-3.
“I had to fight, she played very well and didn’t make it easy for me but I’m happy that I stayed tough. It’s not easy [as a favourite], you have to start from zero and again in the next round too,” the 25-year-old said in her on-court interview.
Liu started purposefully and was initially rewarded for adopting an aggressive approach but had almost double the Swiss’ unforced errors (41-21), and got tight on the aforementioned set point chances. The 22-year-old had nine more winners, but was second best when it mattered most.
Bencic will play Italy’s Camila Giorgi next, after the unpredictable 31-year-old emerged as a 6-4, 6-3 winner against Slovakian qualifier Anna Schmiedlova. Giorgi hasn’t surpassed R3 at this tournament, while Bencic’s best result in Melbourne was a fourth-round finish seven years ago.
2019 French Open finalist Marketa Vondrousova [PR] started brilliantly and finished in similar form to down the second seed Ons Jabeur, during a whirlwind three-set affair: 6-1, 5-7, 6-1 in less than two hours to finish the Rod Laver Arena night session.
Jabeur spilled unforced errors aplenty and was ultimately punished dearly for that, which Zidansek threatened but couldn’t take full advantage of in the previous round.
She’ll play Czech teenager Linda Fruhvirtova in R3, after the Chennai champion won 6-3, 6-2 against Australian wildcard Kimberly Birrell.
I’ll be producing daily round-ups with the latest results, game reports and news at this year’s Australian Open, so be sure to stay tuned — moandsports.com for the latest coverage.
Picture source: Getty Images, quotes via Eurosport broadcast unless stated otherwise