There was no smooth sailing for any of the fancied players in action in the Top half of the Men’s draw on Day One at Flinder’s Park in Melbourne. Indeed, the Most Improved Player of 2016, 16th seeded Lucas Pouille of France was dumped 0-6, 6-3, 3-6, 4-6 by 19 year old Alexander Bublik, a qualifier from Kazakhstan ranked a lowly 206 in the world.
World number One and five time runner up at the Australian Open, Andy Murray opened up his campaign in the last match of the day session on Rod Laver Arena with a hard-fought but straight sets win: 7-5, 7-6(5), 6-2 over Ukraine’s Illya Marchenko in a match lasting 2 hours and 47 minutes. There were five breaks of serve in the first set which the top seed won 7-5, while the duo traded a break of serve each in the second which was settled in a tie-break. The Dunblane native finally took charge in the third set breaking serve twice to win the set 6-2.
The highly anticipated return of the four time champion Roger Federer of Switzerland was the last match of the day in the evening session, and fellow 35 year old Juergen Melzer of Austria matched the maestro for the first two sets. The seventeen seeded Swiss prevailed over 4sets: 7-5, 3-6, 6-2, 6-2 in two hours and six minutes.
Melzer, ranked as high as eighth in the world, came through the qualifying rounds was the first to break in the sixth game of the first set. Federer broke right back and then in the eleventh game of the first set which he won 7-5. The southpaw would fight back to claim the second but Federer finally seized control of the match claiming both the third and fourth sets at 6-2. The 2004, 2006, 2007 and 2010 winner never faced a break point after the second set and also served 19 aces.
Meanwhile, Federer’s compatriot and the 2014 champion Stanislas Wawrinka, the 2014 U.S. Open champion seventh seeded Marin Cilic of Croatia, fifth seeded Kei Nishikori of Japan all survived five sets scares before advancing to the second round. The fourth seeded Swiss won 4-6, 6-4, 7-5, 4-6, 6-4 in a match lasting 3 hours and 24 minutes on Margaret Court Arena.
The seventh seeded Cilic, rallied from a two set deficit to defeat Jerzy Janowicz of Poland, in the Australian heat, 4-6, 4-6, 6-2, 6-2, 6-3 in three hours and four minutes. The fifth seeded Kei Nishikori of Japan lost two close sets at the hands of the Russian Andrey Kuznetsov but won the other three decisively as he emerged a 5-7, 6-1, 6-4, 6-7(6), 6-2 winner in 3 hours and 34 minutes on the Hisense Arena.
Other seeded players to advance were the Americans John Isner, Sam Querrey and Jack Sock, the Australians Nick Kyrgios and Bernard Tomic, the 2008 finalist Jo Wilfred Tsonga of France and Victor Troicki of Serbia. Also joining Pouille on the sidelines was the 22nd seeded Pablo Cuevas of Uruguay who was routed by the Argentine Diego Schwartzman in a surprisingly one sided match: 3-6, 3-6, 0-6. The rising Russian Karen Khachanov beat the Frenchman Adrian Mannarino in four sets. Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic, the tenth seed advanced after the Italian Luca Vanni took retired due to injury after loosing the first set 1-6.
Following are the list of matches involving seeded players in the bottom half on Day Two, with my pick mentioned first:-
Novak Djokovic (2) v. Fernando Verdasco
Pablo Carreno Busta (30) v. Peter Polansky
Richard Gasquet (18) v. Blake Mott
Grigor Dmitrov (15) v. Christopher O’Connell
David Goffin (11) v. Reilly Opelka
Ivo Karlovic (20) v. Horacio Zeballos
Feliciano Lopez (28) v. Fabio Fognini
Dominic Thiem (8) v. Jan-Lennard Struff
Milos Raonic (3) v. Dustin Brown
Gilles Simon (25) v. Michael Mmoh
David Ferrer (21) v. Omar Jaska
Roberto Bautista Agut (13) v. Guido Pella
Rafael Nadal (9) v. Florian Mayer
Alexander Zverev (24) v. Robin Haase
Phillip Kohlschreiber (32) v. Nikoloz Basilashvili
Gael Monfils (8) v. Jiri Vesley
The colourful Frenchman Gael Monfils will have to be at his best against the tall Czech who last year beat Novak Djokovic at the Monte Carlo Open, a win which broke the myth that the Serb was unbeatable. The little Belgian David Goffin too may face stiff resistance from the Argentine Guido Pella.
In the women’s section of the draw, the fourth seeded Simona Halep of Romania was upset by the American Shelby Rogers, 3-6, 1-6 on the Rod Laver Arena in the opening match of the day. The defending champion Angelique Kerber failed to convert a set point in the second set before recovering to finally win in three sets over the Ukrainian Lesia Tsurenko 6-2, 5-7, 6-2. The French Open champion Garbine Muguruza survived a scare from Erakovic while 5 time Wimbledon champion Venus Williams, also advanced with a hard-fought win over Kateryna Kozlova of Ukraine.
– Rasesh Mehta [Rasesh Mehta is an analyst with the Tennis Galaxy. You can reach him at the email: email@example.com]