July 21st, 2024

Alcaraz’s win makes it record 30 seeds in Australian Open men’s 2nd round. He likes the new format

By John Pye, The Associated Press on January 16, 2024.

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) – The extra-day experiment for the first round finished on time on the Australian Open’s two main courts, with Jessica Pegula converting her second match point just before midnight to conclude the program on Tuesday.

In a bid to reduce the number of late finishes, organizers extended the Australian Open to 15 days – one more than usual. It started on a Sunday for the first time, and spread the first round over three days.

It didn’t prevent Days 1 or 2 going well past midnight.

But Elena Rybakina and Carlos Alcaraz advanced in straight sets in night matches on Rod Laver Arena on Day 3, and Pegula finished off the Margaret Court Arena program to make show-court deadline by 10 minutes.

Wimbledon champion Alcaraz’s 7-6 (5), 6-1, 6-2 win over 37-year-old Richard Gasquet and Olympic champion Alexander Zverev ‘s 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (3), 6-3 victory over Dominik Koepfer meant a record 30 seeds advanced to the men’s second round.

Sumit Nagal prevented it from being 31. He became the first Indian male to beat a seeded player at a Grand Slam event since 1989 with a 6-4, 6-2, 7-6 (5) triumph over No. 31 Alexander Bublik.

“The tour has great players, a lot of them that can beat anyone,” Alcaraz said. “So I think it’s really, really open. But, 30 from 32, I think they deserve it.”

His opinion on the three-day first-round format?

“It’s better for the players … better for everyone,” the 20-year-old Alcaraz said. “For the crowd to have more days to have matches, for the tournament as well.”

The fifth-seeded Pegula started her day watching TV coverage of the Buffalo Bills beating the Pittsburgh Steelers 31-17 in an AFC wild-card playoff.

She finished it by beating Canadian qualifier Rebecca Marino 6-2, 6-4, and acknowledged some Buffalo fans in the crowd holding up “Billieve” signs.

“I see some Bills fans over there. It was on at 8:30 this morning,” she said in a post-match TV interview. “I’m happy I could finish the day with a win. It was a good day for Buffalo!”

The only match still in progress after hers finished just after midnight, with local hope Ajla Tomljanovic recovering a break in the third set to beat Petra Martic 7-6 (3), 4-6, 6-4 in almost three hours.

Top-ranked Iga Swiatek survived an early test in her bid for a fifth major title when she held off 2020 champion Sofia Kenin 7-6 (2), 6-2 in the opener on Rod Laver Arena.

Kenin served for the first set at 5-4 but could not close it out. Swiatek rallied to take it in a tiebreaker and then broke serve five games later.

“It wasn’t easy to find my rhythm. I felt a little bit off and Sofia did everything to keep it that way, huge respect to her,” Swiatek said. “I managed to get my level up in the second set.”

Swiatek faces another ex-Australian Open finalist next.

Danielle Collins, runner-up here two years ago, beat 2016 champion Angelique Kerber 6-2, 3-6, 6-1.

“A tough little bracket that we have!” Collins said. “I was like, ‘wow, I get really great draws now. But if you’re trying to win a Grand Slam, you have to beat everyone.”

Kerber was one of three past champions making their returns to Melbourne Park for the first time as mothers. She joined four-time major winner Naomi Osaka as a first-round exit. Caroline Wozniacki, the 2018 winner, has reached the second round.

Last year’s runner-up Rybakina advanced 7-6 (6), 6-4 over former No. 1-ranked Karolina Pliskova.

Victoria Azarenka, who won back-to-back titles here in 2012 and 2013, won a hard-hitting contest with Camila Giorgi of Italy 6-1, 4-6, 6-3.

Sloane Stephens picked up her first victory at the Australian Open since 2019, beating wild-card entry Olivia Gadecki 6-3, 6-1.

Among the other men advancing, 11th-seeded Casper Ruud beat Albert Ramos-Vinolas 6-1, 6-3, 6-1, No. 13 Grigor Dimitrov overcame Marton Fucsovics 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (1), 6-2 and Cameron Norrie defeated Juan Pablo Varillas 6-4, 6-4, 6-2.

There were some player complaints about the relaxing of rules that now allow fans to enter and exit arenas after every game, rather than just at the changeovers. But everyone has been warned now. Meanwhile, opinion is divided on the two-level bar beside Court 6.

Regardless, the second round will get underway Wednesday. Three-time major finalist Ons Jabeur is first up on Rod Laver against 16-year-old Mirra Andreeva and fourth-seeded Jannik Sinner opens the program on Margaret Court.

Defending champions Novak Djokovic and Aryna Sabalenka headline the night matches, three days after wrapping up the first-ever first Sunday at Melbourne Park.

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

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