July 21st, 2024

Italy’s Davis Cup star Sinner wins opener at the Australian Open; Sakkari relief

By Simon Cambers, The Associated Press on January 13, 2024.

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) – Jannik Sinner had the Carota Boys in the crowd and red-white-and-green flags flying in Rod Laver Arena Sunday, helping Italy’s Davis Cup star feel right at home in the opening match on the center court at the first 15-day Australian Open.

Sinner had a 6-4, 7-5, 6-3 first-round win over No. 59-ranked Botic van de Zandschulp, needing 2 1/2 hours to complete his first win since a memorable November when he twice beat Novak Djokovic and won the Davis Cup.

“Means a lot to me to start off with a win,” fourth-seeded Sinner said in a post-match TV interview as a half-dozen fans dressed in carrot costumes cheered from the stands. “Physically I feel good. I’m here in good shape. I think I can be happy for today.”

Sinner said he was surprised to see the Carota Boys in the crowd.

“It’s nice to see them in the stands,” he said. “They are getting more famous than I am, slowly. Maybe this support gives me in the key moments this extra belief, maybe. Who knows? Let’s see how it goes here. But I’m happy that they are here.”

Another Italian, Matteo Arnaldi, beat Adam Walton 7-6 (5), 6-2, 6-4 in the first round. The first match to go the full five sets was won by Francisco Cerundolo, the 22nd-seeded Argentinian edging out Australian Sweeney 3-6, 6-3, 6-4, 2-6, 6-2.

Marin Cilic, the runner-up in 2018, was beaten 6-1, 2-6, 6-2, 7-5 by Fabian Marozsan of Hungary.

The season’s first major is being played over 15 days – the first round is split over three days – and starting on a Sunday for the time.

Women’s eighth seed Maria Sakkari admitted her relief after she beat Nao Hibino of Japan 6-4, 6-1, her first Grand Slam win since last year’s Australian Open.

“I lost three first rounds in my last three Grand Slams,” she said. “For me, it was a very difficult match today emotionally. I’m happy I managed to do the job right and play a good second set.”

Also advancing were 2021 U.S. Open finalist Leylah Fernandez of Laval, Que., who beat 17-year-old Sara Bejlek 7-6 (5), 6-2 and No. 9 Barbora Krejcikova, who rallied from a set and a break down to beat Mai Hontama 2-6, 6-4, 6-3.

“It wasn’t a perfect match, but I’m just glad that I was able to fight through some of the tough moments that I encountered in the first set and just kept fighting,” said Fernandez, who had a first-round loss at last year’s U.S. Open. “I think it was a good first round, get a feel of the court, get a feel of the tournament, and I can just improve from there.”

Teenager Brenda Fruhvirtova recorded her first Grand Slam win, the 16-year-old Czech beating Anna Bogdan of Romania 2-6, 6-4, 6-3.

No. 28 Lesia Tsurenko had a 3-6, 7-5, 6-3 comeback win over Lucia Bronzetti and Russian qualifier Maria Timofeeva ousted veteran Frenchwoman Alize Cornet, 6-2, 6-4. Cornet was appearing in her 68th consecutive Grand Slam event, a women’s record.

Novak Djokovic was set to open his bid for a record 25th Grand Slam title in the night session on Rod Laver Arena. He’s on a 28-match winning streak at Melbourne Park.

The 10-time Australian Open champion’s first-round match is against Dino Prizmic, who won the junior title at last year’s French Open.

Aryna Sabalenka was scheduled to start her title defense against Ella Seidel in the last match of the day on the main show court.

Caroline Wozniacki, the 2018 champion, was returning to the Australian Open for the first time in four years and set to take on Magda Linette, a semifinalist last year.

Andre Agassi, who won the last of his four Australian titles in 2003, joined Evonne Goolagong Cawley to carry the trophies into the tennis complex before play began on the first of the tournament’s three Sundays.

Tournament organizers are honoring Goolagong Cawley on the 50th anniversary of the first of her four Australian Open titles in 1974. She also won Wimbledon twice and the French Open once.

AP tennis: https://apnews.com/hub/tennis

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