Surging stars keep the pedal to the metal

  • Ravi Ubha

You’ve heard the expression, “Class is permanent, form is temporary?” Well, imagine players who possess quality and also showed good form heading into a major. It can carry them a long way. 

MORE: All the scores from Day 2 at AO 2021

With that in mind, let’s take a look at how some surging players fared in their openers on Day 2 at Australian Open 2021. 

‘A+’ for Andrey 

Andrey Rublev, who won all four of his matches at the ATP Cup last week to help Russia take the title, thumped 17 aces in a comfortable 6-3 6-3 6-4 victory over Germany’s Yannick Hanfmann. 

“Because of the ATP Cup, so I adapt to the courts really fast, so I'm already here feeling good,” said the seventh seed.  

And Rublev said switching from best-of-three to best-of-five sets is no problem. 

“For me it's more easy to transfer from best-of-three to best-of-five than, for example, to go straight after the Grand Slam to play normal ATP tournament,” he said. 

“This is a little bit tougher because you feel like have you less time.”

Rublev flourished, too, leading into last year’s Australian Open, landing titles in Doha and Adelaide before a fourth-round showing at Melbourne Park. 

He will be hoping for a longer stay this year, and could meet compatriot and longtime pal Daniil Medvedev in the quarterfinals. 

Booming Berrettini

Matteo Berrettini won three of his four matches at the ATP Cup, but the draw for AO 2021 didn’t do the Italian any favours. Hello, Kevin Anderson! 

Anderson isn’t seeded after injuries stopped the two-time Grand Slam finalist’s momentum, but the South African is now healthy. 

Unsurprisingly, serves dominated and Berrettini saved all three break points he faced in a 7-6(9) 7-5 6-3 win. 

F_Berrettini_Day 2_09022021_01
Anderson loomed as a dangerous opponent, but Berrettini was rock-solid

The turning point? Berrettini fending off eight set points in the first and converting on his second chance. 

The ninth seed finished with a superb differential of 45 winners and 15 unforced errors.  

Mertens magic 

Another player who loves the Australian summer? Elise Mertens

The Belgian won her first title in Hobart in 2017, successfully defended her crown in 2018, and went all the way to the Australian Open semifinals about two weeks later to announce herself to the tennis world. 

Then last week at Melbourne Park, she triumphed at the Gippsland Trophy. 

Mertens had a tricky opener Tuesday — against up-and-comer Leylah Fernandez of Canada — but progressed 6-1 6-3 despite saying she lacked energy and didn’t have a good sleep. 

The 18th seed added that when “you don’t have to travel, that makes it easier for the energy. Also the same courts, same conditions, so it’s very positive that we can stay in one place.” 

Brady’s bunch … of big first serves

Jennifer Brady made a splash in Melbourne in 2017, reaching the fourth round in her Grand Slam debut. 

The American is now playing the best tennis of her career, helped by a semifinal showing at the US Open where she nearly upset eventual champion Naomi Osaka in a high-quality thriller. Osaka said it was among the top two matches “I’ve played in my life.”

First serves aided Brady that day, and last week’s Grampians Trophy semifinalist won 85 per cent of her first-serve points in beating Spain’s Aliona Bolsova 6-1 6-3 on Tuesday. 

Brady served her way past Bolsova

“It was nice to have that opportunity to play a tournament to get some matches under my belt before starting the Australian Open and also it was a little bit of a distraction mentally, just focusing on that tournament and not really focusing on the upcoming Grand Slam,” said the 22nd seed. 

“So I think I was able to use it to my advantage and hopefully I can keep it going.”

Let’s hear it for Estonia! 

Kaia Kanepi is sometimes described as a giant killer, memorably upsetting Simona Halep at the US Open in 2018 and almost eliminating the Romanian — leading by a set and break — at the 2019 Australian Open. 

Who is to say Kanepi won’t complete her Grand Slam quarterfinal collection next week? 

Kanepi made the final of the Gippsland Trophy — after trailing Australian wildcard Astra Sharma 6-1 5-3 in the first round — and eased past Grand Slam semifinalist Anastasija Sevastova of Latvia 6-3 6-1 in 58 minutes on Tuesday. 

The world No.65 next faces … defending champion Sofia Kenin. 

With Kanepi going deep at the Gippsland Trophy and Anett Kontaveit making the final at the Grampians Trophy, it had to be the best week ever for Estonian tennis. 

Kontaveit matched Kanepi on Tuesday by seeing off Belarus’ Aliaksandra Sasnovich 7-5 6-2. 

Ann Li, who shared the trophy with Kontaveit at the Grampians Trophy after knocking off Brady, maintained her own momentum. She beat Australian Open 2016 quarterfinalist Zhang Shuai — foiled by an arm injury last week — 6-2 6-0. 

Defeat for Dan

All six of last week’s women’s finalists won their first-round tussles at AO 21, but the men’s winners fared differently.

Jannik Sinner faced a quick turnaround after winning the Great Ocean Road Open on Sunday and fell to Denis Shapovalov on Monday in five absorbing sets before Dan Evans exited 6-4 4-6 6-4 7-5 to fellow Brit Cam Norrie — who grew up in New Zealand — on Tuesday. 

Fatigue caught up with Evans on Tuesday

Evans looked jaded at times, but still held a set point on his own serve to force a fifth set. Fifty six unforced errors ultimately undid the 30th seed. 

“I was a bit flat,” he conceded.