Kyle Edmund Kyle Edmund

Five things we learned on Day 9

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1. Unseeded and looming…
The upsets keep on coming at Australian Open 2018. Hot on the heels of six-time champion Novak Djokovic’s first straight-sets defeat in over a decade at Melbourne Park Monday night, Tuesday saw both Elina Svitolina and Grigor Dimitrov eliminated in the quarterfinals.

The thread linking their conquerors? All unseeded at the start of the tournament. Chung, the world No.58, did for Djokovic to reach the quarterfinals, while No.4 seed Svitolina lost the battle of the unbeaten records to Hobart champion Elise Mertens and No.3 seed Dimitrov fell to Kyle Edmund.

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Match highlights from Elise Mertens straight sets victory over Elina Svitolina in the quarterfinals at the Australian Open 2018.

Elise Mertens v Elina Svitolina match highlights (QF)

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As a result, this year’s Australian Open will feature unseeded semifinalists in both the men’s and women’s draw for the first time since 1999. Back then, in the age of 16 seeds, Amelie Mauresmo burst onto the scene at the age of 19, beating three seeds including world No.1 Lindsay Davenport to reach the final, where she lost to Martina Hingis. There were three unseeded players in the men’s semis that year – Tommy Haas, Nicolas Lapentti and Thomas Enqvist – but it was No.10 seed Yevgeny Kafelnikov who claimed the title.

Not to get ahead of ourselves, but in case you’re wondering: the last unseeded Australian Open champion? Serena Williams, who returned after an injury-besieged 2006 season to win the 2007 Australian Open title while ranked No.81 in the world.

2. Edmund’s Gonzo figures come to the fore
One hundred and twenty-seven forehand winners: an average of 25 per match, plus change. That’s the weapon that has fired Edmund to his first Grand Slam semifinal, and those who saw the hammer blows he was striking against Dimitrov will attest: it’s got to be one of the most destructive shots in tennis.

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Kyle Edmund's win in the the quarterfinals against Grigor Dimitrov at Australian Open 2018.

Kyle Edmund def. Grigor Dimitrov match highlights (QF)

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“I've believed always,” said the world No.49, who will face Marin Cilic in the semis. “I know I have a big shot in that. I know my game. It's nothing new to me. I know what I need to do out there: go out there and work out ways to get my forehand, work out ways best how to use it. As I get older, wiser, more experienced, I'm learning how to use it more effectively. So, yeah, I have really big confidence in it. That's the way I've played my game.”

With Edmund, it seems, it was a case of see one, hit one, hone one. Asked who his idols were growing up, the 22-year-old referenced Australian Open 2005 champion Marat Safin and 2007 finalist Fernando ‘Gonzo’ Gonzalez, the Chilean nicknamed Mano de Piedra, or Stone Hand.

“I enjoyed watching Safin just because of the way he played. He was a very explosive, powerful player. On his day, he could be really good. I like Gonzo, as well, just because of his forehand and stuff. The players I liked to watch is how I like to play, you could say.”

Perhaps Thursday night should be billed battle of the forehands: Edmund may lead the FH winners tally but second on the list is one Marin Cilic, 12 shy of the Briton’s tally with 115.

3. Mertens is flippin’ great, tweets Kirsten
The reaction says it all. Elise Mertens, Australian Open debutant, Grand Slam semifinalist.

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Elise Mertens on court interview after defeating Elina Svitolina

Elise Mertens on court interview (QF)

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Melbourne and Belgium has been a match made in heaven for the past 20 years or so, from the days of 2004 winner Justine Henin and ‘Aussie Kim’ Clijsters, the 2011 champion. But it was Belgium’s unsung heroine Kirsten Flipkens who heard herself name-checked after Mertens’ straight-sets demolition of No.4 seed Elina Svitolina as the last woman playing under the Drapeau de la Belgique to reach a Grand Slam semifinal.

That mantle now belongs to the world No.37, who will face Caroline Wozniacki for a place in Saturday’s final. And 32-year-old Flipkens, who reached the final four at Wimbledon in 2013, couldn’t be happier to give up the honour:

Now here’s a thing: Mertens hasn’t lost a tour-level match on Australian soil since the second week of January – in 2017. Missing out on the chance to qualify for her first Australian Open while playing in Hobart, she went on to win the tournament, and won again in 2018; the first player in history to defend the Hobart International title.

Combined with her run at Melbourne Park this year (and skating over her non-WTA results at Hopman Cup earlier this month), if you squint, Mertens is on a 15-tour-level-match winning streak on Australian soil and counting. Can she make it sweet 16 in the semi?

4. A thousand-word shot for their thousands of words and shots
This popped up on my Twitter feed Tuesday evening:

That’s our AO Blog writer Leigh Walsh paying tribute to Ben Solomon, one of the many fine AO photographers turning sport into art around the grounds at Australian Open 2018 – both, incidentally, worth following on Twitter (LW, BS) and Instagram (LW, BS). 

It was a timely reminder as we move within sight of finals weekend at Melbourne Park that for the writers, photographers, videographers, editors, social media managers and all those whose wicks are lit at both ends these two weeks in Melbourne, trying to bring the AO experience to those who can’t be here – this is our Grand Slam too. With each round, we all look to up our game. One thing I know: these two will still be zoning come Sunday.

5. Painful way to go for former champ Nadal
It happened again. Rafael Nadal, in the midst of battle for a Grand Slam title, was betrayed by his body, forced to retire at the start of the final set of his quarterfinal against Marin Cilic.

And given his history of injury problems at Australian Opens of years gone by, it was a tough exit for the top seed to take.

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During match against Marin Čilić, Rafael Nadal has to retire due to injury at Australian Open 2018.

Rafael Nadal retires game early

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“I am a positive person, and I can be positive, but today is an opportunity lost to be in the semifinals of a Grand Slam and fight for an important title for me, no?

“In this tournament already happened a couple of times in my life, so it's really I don't want to say frustration, but is really tough to accept, especially after a tough December that I had without having a chance to start in Abu Dhabi and then Brisbane.

“I worked hard to be here. We did all the things that we believed were the right things to do to be ready. I think I was ready. I was playing okay. I was playing a match that anything could happen: could win, could lose. I'm being honest – he was playing good too.

“I don't want to complain because it happened to me more than others. But on other hand I was winning more than almost anyone. That's the real thing. But who knows, if I didn't have all these injuries...”

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Match highlights from Marin Čilić's win over Rafael Nadal in the quarterfinals at Australian Open 2018

Marin Cilic def. Rafael Nadal match highlights (QF)

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Who knows indeed. Since winning his Australian Open title in 2009, the Spaniard has suffered a string of match-altering injuries at Melbourne Park:

  • • 2010: Forgoes title defence in quarterfinals, retiring with a knee injury against Andy Murray
  • • 2011: Suffers a hamstring strain early in his semifinal showdown with compatriot David Ferrer 
  • • 2013: Misses tournament after contracting a stomach virus following six-month injury absence
  • • 2014: Suffers a back injury in the final that hampered his serve against Stan Wawrinka
  • • 2015: Arrives after off-season blighted by a wrist injury and appendicitis, falling in straight sets to Tomas Berdych in the quarters

And now this latest episode of wretched luck. Get well soon Rafa – we’ll see you in 2019.