Aussie Open takeaways: Murray's perseverance, Americans highlight Week 1
This year's Australian Open has had its share of heartbreak and jubilation.
Some players have nothing to show for after grueling five-set battles, while others are having the runs of their lives.
Here are four takeaways from the first week of action at Melbourne Park.
Rafa's Aussie farewell?
As Rafael Nadal walked off the court following his second-round defeat to Mackenzie McDonald, it's fair to wonder if it'd be his last match at the Happy Slam. The legendary Spaniard appeared to be taking the whole scene in as he waved goodbye to a packed Rod Laver Arena.
Nadal is expected to miss six-to-eight weeks after sustaining a hip flexor injury in the upset loss to McDonald. The latest setback comes on the heels of a challenging 12 months health-wise. Nadal needed pain-killing injections to play through a foot injury at the 2022 French Open and had to withdraw from Wimbledon when he aggravated an abdominal injury in his quarterfinal match.
At 36, how much mileage does Nadal have left? It's clear that his physical style of play is starting to take its toll, and the results haven't been there as of late. Nadal hasn't won consecutive matches since the US Open and looked far from his usual self in Australia, committing a larger number of unforced errors.
American tennis rolling 🇺🇸
The United States entered the season's first major with contenders in both the men's and women's field. Jessica Pegula is embracing her newfound front-runner status. The World No. 3 has yet to drop a set Down Under and ranks fifth in the tournament with 16 break points won. Meanwhile, Sebastian Korda is showing why some have him pegged as the country's next men's star. The 22-year-old upset two-time Australian Open finalist Daniil Medvedev in the third round to equal his best Grand Slam result.
It's not surprising to see Pegula and Korda advance to the second week of play, but some of the compatriots joining them are a bit of a shock.
Less than a year ago, Ben Shelton was playing collegiate tennis. He didn't even have his passport stamped until traveling to Adelaide last month. Now, the former Florida Gators star is poised to crack the top 70 after reaching the fourth round. J.J. Wolf never made it out of Australian Open qualifying prior to his run to the Round of 16 this year. The Cincinnati native took down No. 23 Diego Schwartzman in the second round and will square off against fellow big-server Shelton for a maiden major quarterfinal berth.
The aforementioned McDonald left his mark before bowing out, as did Jenson Brooksby. McDonald stunned the top-seeded Nadal in straight sets, while Brooksby triumphed over No. 2 Casper Ruud. It was the first time the top two men's seeds were ousted before the third round of a Grand Slam since Lleyton Hewitt and Gustavo Kuerten exited in the opening round of the 2002 Australian Open.
Murray's inspirational performances
Andy Murray ran out of gas in his third-round match against Roberto Bautista Agut, but his inspirational performances this past week at Melbourne Park won't be forgotten soon.
Murray kicked things off by outlasting Matteo Berrettini in a near five-hour battle, capitalizing on a netted backhand from the latter on match point. It was the Briton's first victory over a top-20 opponent at a Grand Slam event in six years.
Murray then fought past Thanasi Kokkinakis in an instant classic under the lights at Margaret Court Arena. The five-time Australian Open finalist rallied from two sets down at a major for the 10th time, breaking a tie with Roger Federer and Todd Martin for the Open era record, per OptaAce. The five-hour-and-50-minute tilt ended at 4:05 a.m. local time and was the longest of his career.
Murray has shown his resilience time and time again, scrambling from side to side for hours to win points he's got no business winning. That's simply who he is. But doing so with a metal hip makes what Murray's done in Australia even more remarkable. There were no guarantees he'd return close to the level that won him three Grand Slam titles after undergoing a hip resurfacing procedure in 2019. Various athletes - including those from other sports - had the same surgery with little success, outside of doubles legend Bob Bryan. The procedure not only saved Murray's career but restored his self-belief as well.
"I felt good about the way that I was playing," Murray told reporters after his defeat to Bautista Agut. "It's more enjoyable for me when I'm playing like that, when I'm coming into a major event and really believing that I can do some damage.
"I can have a deeper run than the third round of a Slam. There's no question about that."
Raducanu shows promise in loss
Emma Raducanu shocked the tennis world at the 2021 US Open, becoming the first qualifier in the Open Era to capture a major. She was also the first woman to win the tournament without dropping a set since Serena Williams did so in 2014.
The subsequent season was anything but a cakewalk. Raducanu went 17-19 during her first full year on the WTA Tour, including just three Grand Slam wins. She also cycled through multiple coaches and battled various injuries throughout the 2022 campaign.
Nobody really knew what to expect after the Briton sprained her ankle less than two weeks before the Australian Open. However, she showed flashes of that dominant US Open form in her 6-3, 7-6 (4) second-round loss to Coco Gauff.
Raducanu often took the ball early, stepping inside the baseline to apply pressure on Gauff. Her aggressive approach resulted in 10 break point opportunities, including a pair of chances to win the second set. Gauff ultimately prevailed, but Raducanu might've fared better if it weren't for the American's superb defensive play on the other side of the net.
"For me, last year was my first full year on tour. And I think last year was her first full year as well," Gauff told reporters post-match. "So I think it's something that people need to remember and be reminded of.
"I think fans are eager to see a new face of the game. But I think it's also a reminder that, even if we didn't play tennis, we're just normal teenagers living our life. If we made a mistake, people would say, 'Oh, you're just 20, you're just 18 years old, you can bounce back.' And I think people need to kind of relate that to tennis as well."
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