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Australian Open – First Week

The first five days of the Australian Open have kicked off the 2023 Grand Slam season in style, with upsets galore and thrilling matches spanning late into the Melbourne night.

Four of the top 8 men’s seeds have already been eliminated  – including top seeds Rafael Nadal and Casper Ruud  –  while world No. 2 Ons Jabeur and No. 6 Maria Sakkari suffered early exits in the women’s draw.

But perhaps the biggest story of the early rounds has been the return of Andy Murray.

Back at the tournament where, in 2019, he revealed the career-threatening nature of his hip injury, the 35-year-old has willed his way to a pair of five-set wins against Matteo Berrettini and Thanasi Kokkinakis.

The American squad, fresh from the inaugural United Cup, brought it’s team spirit into Melbourne. While Tiafoe, Fritz and teammate Madison Keys all bowed out before the fourth round in Melbourne, Pegula remains on track.

Racing through her first three matches in straight sets and dishing out two bagels along the way. After a 6-0, 6-2 win against Marta Kostyuk put her through to the third round, Pegula was looking forward to competing in the Grand’s second week.

Not to be outdone, three American men scored big upsets on the men’s side.

On successive days, Mackenzie McDonald knocked off defending champion Nadal, Jenson Brooksby downed No. 2 seed Ruud and Sebastian Korda beat returning finalist Daniil Medvedev. (McDonald later lost to Yoshimoto Nishioka in the third round.)

You can no longer call any Gauff win an upset these days, as the world No. 7 chases her first Grand Slam title after reaching the Roland Garros final in 2022.

The 18- year-old lived up to her status as favourite against 2021 US open champion Emma Raducanu in the second round, winning a high-quality match, 6-3, 7-6 (4).

It was the pair’s first of what we hope will be many meetings to come. Gauf has also teamed up with Pegula in the AO women’s doubles event, with the No. 2 seeds through to the second round.

A hip injury clearly hampered the No. 1 seed, Rafael Nadal, who lost to the World No. 65 in the second round of the AO. Nadal was trailing by a set and a break when he pulled up awkwardly after striking a crosscourt backhand winner.

He has apparently pulled a muscle or ligament in his hip area, but still he battled on to complete the match rather than with any belief that he could win.

From the organisers perspective, Nadal’s early exit is only the latest blow to an event that has already lost numerous stars including the ”Netflix five”: Carlos Alcaraz, Paula Badosa, Ajla Tomljanovic, Nick Kyrgios and Matteo Berrittini.

Meanwhile the Australian Open is running behind schedule. Extreme heat forced players off the outside courts on Tuesday and persistent rain then continued the stoppages.

For Nadal, it also extends his horrific run of form since September’s US Open to seven defeats from nine matches.

He now has to assess his injury and work out a rehabilitation schedule that can put him on course for a serious go at the clay-court season that he has dominated for so many years.

The game today is so much more physical and fast  –  in times past hip flexor injury was unheard of!

Today’s game is very explosive in terms of foot movement to the ball and a sudden change of direction puts an enormous strain on the body parts.

Andy Murray turned back the clock on Tuesday, saving a match point on his way to a stunning 6-3, 6-3, 4-6, 6-7(7), 7-6(10-6) upset over 13th seed Matteo Berrittini to reach the second round of AO.

Two days after this match he had to do it all over again, and this time he was on court for 5hr. 45min.  –  only 8mins. short of the AO record set by Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal in the 2012 final.

As in the Berrittini match  –  where Murray turned the tables in the deciding set  –  it was a case of mind over matter from a man who simply refused to be beaten.

The well-anticipated match of the women’s draw was the Day 3 contest between two globally-recognised names. Coco Gauff justified top-billing with a 6-3, 7-6(4) win against Emma Raducanu at Rod Laver Arena on Wednesday night.

There are some similarities between these two young potential tennis stars. Both Raducanu and Gauff have been in the limelight from their teens, dealing with incessant hype and expectations following early breakouts and success.

Coco Gauff is the first women’s player to win 100 WTA-level main draw matches before turning 19 since Caroline Wozniacki in Madrid 2009.

When Raducanu was building a second-set comeback, Gauff did so well defending and staying in the point. A major advantage was Gauff’s variety on serve  –  flat, speed or spin Raducanu was always guessing.

The American landed 72% of first serves winning in 43/65 of those points. Last year was not good for Raducanu who endured a multitude of injury concerns.

On top of that was the ankle roll in Auckland. Wednesdays performance on Rod Laver Arena illustrated the World No. 77 is on an upwards trajectory.

If the 20-year-old can remain fit and on court for a sustained period, then she’ll start climbing the rankings in the next few months.

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