Novak Djokovic scrapped his way into the Australian Open third round on Thursday to ramp up his bid for a 22nd Grand Slam crown, but several men’s seeds crashed out. Second seed Casper Ruud, Taylor Fritz, Alexander Zverev and Diego Schwartzman were all sent packing on Day four at Melbourne Park. With the shock exit on Wednesday of hobbling defending champion Rafael Nadal, the top two seeds are both now gone.
With top-ranked Carlos Alcaraz also absent through injury, it presents a huge opportunity for Djokovic, who even before that was hot favourite to win a 10th Melbourne crown. The 35-year-old Serb required a medical timeout and had heavy strapping on his left thigh against 191st-ranked qualifier Enzo Couacaud.
He was also bothered by some rowdy fans and at one point during the match demanded that a drunken fan be thrown out. But Djokovic recovered his poise and fitness to beat the Frenchman 6-1, 6-7 (5/7), 6-2, 6-0 and faces 27th seed Grigor Dimitrov in round three.
‘Enzo deserves credit’
“There was a lot happening tonight and Enzo deserves credit, he played some really great tennis, especially in the second set,” said the 35-year-old, who is into the third round for a 15th time on his 18th visit to Australia. “We both had medical timeouts and struggled a little bit, but I managed to respond in the third set and especially the fourth,” Djokovic, who has been struggling with a hamstring injury, told Rod Laver Arena. His on-court interview was momentarily paused when a spectator shouted out. “I love you too, thank you,” said Djokovic, who has enjoyed a warm return to Melbourne Park following his deportation a year ago because of his stance on COVID-19 vaccines.
“I love playing night sessions and let’s keep it going,” he added. Fellow seeds Andrey Rublev, Dan Evans, Holger Rune and Roberto Bautista Agut all also won in the second round. But it was a bad day for some of the leading men’s players.
Also read: Australia Open: Novak Djokovic storms into second round
World No.3 Ruud was always struggling against hard-hitting Jenson Brooksby and the Norwegian went down in four sets to the American, 6-3, 7-5, 6-7 (4/7), 6-2. The 39th-ranked Brooksby, who is on his Australian Open debut, will face compatriot Tommy Paul in round three. Ruud, who could have become World No.1 in Melbourne, refused to blame an abdominal injury. Eighth seed Fritz was also on his way home after wildcard local hope Alexei Popyrin beat him 6-7 (4/7), 7-6 (7/2), 6-4, 6-7 (6/8), 6-2.
Mmoh stuns Zverev
Zverev, the 12th seed, suffered another setback on his return from serious injury as he lost to 107th-ranked Michael Mmoh. In the women’s draw, Aryna Sabalenka showed why she is a serious contender for the title by powering into the third round. Also safely through was France’s fourth seed Caroline Garcia, a 7-6 (7/5), 7-5 winner over former US Open finalist Leylah Fernandez.
Sabalenka faces Mertens
Belarus’ Sabalenka of swept past 51st-ranked American Shelby Rogers 6-3, 6-1 in an hour and 27 minutes and faces 26th-seed Elise Mertens. American qualifier Katie Volynets dumped out Russian World No.9 Veronika Kudermetova.
The 21-year-old Volynets won 6-4, 2-6, 6-2 on Margaret Court Arena. Other seeds beaten in round two were Anett Kontaveit of Estonia, who lost to Magda Linette of Poland, and Russia’s Liudmila Samsonova.
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