Melbourne, Jan 23: World No.1 Rafael Nadal extended a flawless record over fellow southpaw Federico Delbonis, surviving one of the "more scary moments" of his career en route to the third round of Australian Open 2020 on Thursday (January 23). While world number five Dominic Thiem survived a five-set scare after being pushed hard by gutsy home hope Alex Bolt. Showman Nick Kyrgios, meanwhile, blasted Frenchman Gilles Simon off the court with his raw talent shining through in front of an adoring home crowd.
Nadal prevails over Federico Delbonis
The Spaniard had never dropped a set to the 29-year-old from Azul in three prior meetings and continued that trend with a 6-3 7-6(4) 6-1 victory in his first night clash at Rod Laver Arena for the tournament.
Nadal's greatest challenge came in a tense 70-minute second set, in which he failed to convert on nine break points before edging it in a tiebreak on a heavy unreturnable first serve. But his greatest scare came with the finish line in sight.
With Delbonis serving at 1-4, Nadal ripped a forehand return off a swinging fault, which thumped a ball girl in the head beneath the umpire's chair.
The Spaniard promptly ran to check on his stunned victim and planted an apologetic kiss on her cheek.
Delbonis would need to become the lowest-ranked player to beat the 19-time Grand Slam champion at Melbourne Park if he was to pull off the improbable upset from two sets and a break down.
Fortunately for Nadal, his South American opponent's fading third-set stand lasted only seven more points.
One over-adventurous leaping forehand on the Spaniard's first match point missed so badly he was left to laugh it off in embarrassment.
But a more routine winner a point later sealed his passage.
The 2009 champion at Melbourne Park was especially effective on serve, as he never faced a break point all night, but he was left to rue a horror break-point conversion rate of only three from 20 opportunities.
Thiem survives a five-set scare
The Austrian, targeting a maiden Grand Slam crown, looked fragile as the crowd got behind the wildcard but ultimately prevailed 6-2, 5-7, 6-7 (5/7), 6-1, 6-2 in 3hrs 22mins. Thiem is among a clutch of players tipped to win a Major after reaching the last two Roland Garros finals, but he was exposed at times by a player ranked 140 who controlled much of the second and third sets.
"It was a tough match, Alex played great and he had the crowd support," said Thiem, who has never gone past the fourth round in six previous attempts. "But I also love to play in such a great atmosphere."
He faces another tricky clash in the third round, against either American 29th seed Taylor Fritz or big-serving South African Kevin Anderson. Thiem looked comfortable after racing through the opening set and was serving at 5-4 to go two sets in front. But the crowd was roaring for Bolt and he remarkably broke, with the tide turning as he rallied to clinch the set 7-5. The third set was a tight affair with neither player giving an inch. Thiem had an opportunity at 4-4 with two break points but he failed to convert.
The Austrian's best efforts were being met with resistance, with Bolt saving another three break points on his next service game, leaving Thiem frustrated at his missed opportunities. It went to a tiebreaker and Bolt raced into a 6-2 lead, but wobbled as Thiem won three points in a row before the Australian sent down a booming ace to got two sets to one in front.
However, Thiem recovered his composure and after a series of long baseline rallies broke twice to take the match into a deciding set. The Austrian's focus and fitness proved decisive in the fifth, with a Bolt forehand into the net giving him a break and he raced to victory as his opponent flagged.
Kyrgios wins easily
Nick Kyrgios blasted Frenchman Gilles Simon off court at the Australian Open Thursday, with his raw talent shining through in front of an adoring home crowd.
The 24-year-old, Simon, had the measure of the veteran early on then lost concentration and became agitated before refocusing to win 6-2, 6-4, 4-6, 7-5 on his favoured Melbourne Arena.
It set up a third-round clash with either Russian 16th seed Karen Khachanov or Sweden's Mikael Ymer, with the winner of that match on course to meet world number one Rafael Nadal in round four.
"I definitely lost my way a little bit... but I decided to refocus," Kyrgios said of his mini-meltdown in the third set.
"I could have gone to a very dark place in the fourth set but I put it away."
A seemingly more mature Kyrgios has spoken of how the bushfire crisis in his homeland has given him perspective and focus, and that he felt he was playing for the nation rather than just himself. And with the roars of the crowd ringing in his ears, he broke the Frenchman in the first game and consolidated by holding serve.
Kyrgios looked sharp and broke again for 5-2 then served out the set, sending down five aces and, crucially, making only two unforced errors.
Simon was struggling with his serve and the Australian broke again for a 1-0 lead in the second set, making some big shots when it counted. It went with serve before Kyrgios, watched again by his ATP Cup captain Lleyton Hewitt, won the set with another rocket serve.
He broke Simon again early in the third set, letting out a huge "C'mon!" But the Frenchman broke back as Kyrgios started to lose concentration in game eight, berating himself and gesturing to his box as frustrations kicked in.
He lost the set as his focus drifted and he yelled at his box: "Of all the things you could say, 'Stay tough'. Thanks man, thanks. That's what I get, every break point, 'Stay tough'. Wow." But the Australian conquered his mental demons to regroup, getting a crucial break to go 6-5 up in the fourth and completing victory with a big ace, his 28th of the match.
Muguruza surmounts Australian challenge after Kilimanjaro climb
Two-time Grand Slam champion Garbine Muguruza climbed Mount Kilimanjaro to help clear her mind of tennis and the unusual off-season preparation is paying off after she reached round three. The Spanish former world number one defeated home hope Ajla Tomljanovic 6-3, 3-6, 6-3 and faces Ukraine's fifth seed Elina Svitolina or American Lauren Davis next.
The 26-year-old Muguruza won the French Open in 2016 and Wimbledon the next year, but her career has stalled and she now finds herself ranked 32. She went out in the first round at the last two Grand Slams, at Wimbledon and the US Open, then decided to try something completely different in preparation for the 2020 season.
"You're climbing that mountain and it's only you. You don't get any award, any prize, any photo, nothing up there," Muguruza said of the few days in November scaling Africa's highest mountain. "It's really challenging physically and mentally to be there and I was just looking for something fun, a different experience outside from tennis."
For someone who does not like cold weather, Muguruza admits she occasionally had second thoughts while on the trek. "I did struggle there a lot with my team and climbing and being below zero (degrees) and at night," she said. "At some point you're like, 'Okay, what am I doing here?'"
It is early days but Muguruza's form has picked up in 2020. At her season-opening tournament in Shenzhen, China she won back-to-back matches for the first time since the French Open in May-June, before losing in the semi-finals. She was then forced out of the Hobart quarter-finals with a viral illness.
(With inputs from Agencies)