Australian Open – Round 3rd + 4th
A naturalized citizen of Kazakhstan, Mikhail Kukushkin  became the biggest sensation of the tournament after winning two 5-set matches over the seeded players and advancing to the last 16 (he had never passed beyond the second round in majors before). In the third round he survived a weird battle with a 5-set specialist Gael Monfils on Margaret Court Arena. The Frenchman won two opening games, then lost 10 in a row. He looked like a player who’s going to retire but battled back from 2-6, 0:4 to hold game points in the 11th game of the 2nd set. Kukushkin kept composure and was close to get a straight sets victory over the injured opponent serving at 5:4 in the 3rd set – Monfils since then won 11 out of 12 games (!) and led 2:0 in the 5th set. Kukushkin broke back and triumphed thanks to Monfils’s two double faults in the last game, 6-2, 7-5, 5-7, 1-6, 6-4. The Kazakh ran out of gas after two straight demanding meetings, he was unable to win a game on serve in the first two sets against a very fit Andy Murray and decided to retire. Murray now faces Kei Nishikori  who survived a lopsided five-setter with Tsonga on a very hot day, beating the Frenchman for the third time lately, despite losing the first set every time (their second encounter unofficial though, eleven days ago at Kooyong). It’s Nishikori’s initial advancement to the Grand Slam quarterfinals which gives him the Top 20 next Monday, he becomes the first Japanese to play in the last 8 of the Australian Open since Ryosuki Nunoi & Jiro Sato (1932) – the latter, best player from Japan in the history committed suicide at the age of 26… “It was tough [to close it out] because he was still playing well in the fifth”. said Nishikori, “I was having trouble with making returns. I started getting nervous. I was tired, too. It was tough to finish. But still I was playing aggressive on important points. I was making good serves. So that helped me to get the games.”
“Wild card” Lleyton Hewitt  established a record – 16th time in a row in the main draw of the Australian Open overcoming “15” of his legendary compatriots Jack Crawford and Harry Hopman, who played their 15th and final championship in 1940. Hewitt once a man who seemed destined to win the title in Melbourne, after series of injuries and drastic dropping of the ATP ranking, celebrated first week wins like wins of the second week in Grand Slam events in the past. In the third round he stunned a rising star Milos Raonic, exposing all weaknesses of the young Canadian. Hewitt’s best tournament since Wimbledon 2010 came to the end from hands of Novak Djokovic. The Australian tried his best and surprisingly took a set off Djokovic in a hopeless situation (1-6, 3-6, 0:3). The last year finalists, poker-faced Djokovic and Murray are on collision course. Their semifinal potential clash looks fascinating, Djokovic has been in scary form this year, he regained his amazing consistency from the first six months of the previous season when he was able to play every match almost without any lapse of concentration, Murray in turn, seems recently more confident than ever with an 8-time major champion Ivan Lendl in his corner.
Hewitt’s successor – Bernard Tomic won an entertaining third round match with his “mirror” opponent Dolgopolov, avenging three defeats (Tomic hasn’t played more matches against anyone) but in the last 16 he got a free lesson from the former champion Roger Federer. Tomic has had very laborious January, four matches in Brisbane, three at Kooyong, four in Melbourne… He has gathered plenty of experience which should pay off in the next few months, but his bitter defeats to Murray in Brisbane and here to Federer indicate that he still needs a lot of improvement in his game to compete with the big boys. Nevertheless I expect it’s been the last tournament in many years to come in which Tomic was an unseeded player.
Tomas Berdych was booed by the crowd on Hisense Arena after his fourth round match because he didn’t shake hands with Nicolas Almagro. It was a consequence of Almagro’s passing-shot which struck Berdych’s arm and knocked out the Czech in the crucial stage of the 4th set. The funny thing is, the ball came back on Almagro’s side – I’ve never seen such a thing in similar circumstances 🙂 Berdych fired 28 aces anyway, and won an almost 4-hour battle of flat and uncompromising shots from the baseline, winning three tie-breaks in a row #; he was *5:6 (0-30) down in the 3rd set and *5:5 (0-40) in the 4th – after being hit by Almagro’s hard forehand. Berdych has a great tie-break record in the last twelve months: 22-7 (.758). “I’m really happy to go through to make the same result as last year, and now just try to get recovered from that and to be ready for Rafa. All the past nine matches I lost to him. So it would be nice to try to change it a little bit, but I know that it’s gonna be really extremely tough.” said the Czech.
After year and a half, Juan Martin del Potro comes back to the Top 10. The Argentinian had tough draws in majors during last season, this time took advantage of a very favorable draw, he won his last two matches in impressing style destroying Lu (lost five games) and Kohlschreiber (lost seven games).
The longest match:
3 hours, 54 minutes. Berdych def. Almagro (fourth round)
Most aces: 30 – John Isner, lost to Feliciano Lopez (third round)
15-8 Feliciano Lopez; 9-4 Gael Monfils, 7-3 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, 6-2 Alexandr Dolgopolov, 5-1 Kei Nishikori, 4-6 John Isner, 4-0 Mikhail Kukushkin, 3-1 Bernard Tomic
# Australian Open 4-setters with 3 tie-breaks won by one player:
1971: Marty Riessen d. John Newcombe 7-6, 1-6, 7-6, 7-6
1994: Todd Martin d. Stefan Edberg 3-6, 7-6(7), 7-6(7), 7-6(4)
2000: Max Mirnyi d. Antony Dupuis 6-7(3), 7-6(6), 7-6(5), 7-6(5)
2005: Marat Safin d. Olivier Rochus 4-6, 7-6(1), 7-6(5), 7-6(2)
2009: Bernard Tomic d. Potito Starace 7-6(5), 1-6, 7-6(5), 7-6(6)
2012: Tomas Berdych d. Nicolas Almagro 4-6, 7-6(5), 7-6(3), 7-6(2)
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