Home players impress across opening rounds of Australian Open
Popyrin and Thompson did Australia proud, while hopes are still pinned on De Minaur to go deep in Melbourne
- Only five Australians remain from the 21 that began the Australian Open
- Alexei Popyrin and Jordan Thompson both pushed top 10 players to their limits
- Five Australians went to deciding sets against higher ranked opponents in first-round losses
- Alex de Minaur and Storm Hunter are in the third round already
Four days ago, 21 Australians embarked on their respective Australian Open campaigns across the men’s and women’s singles draws. Now, barely half a week into the year’s first Grand Slam, and all but five have fallen.
Despite what may seem like a grim success rate on paper, there’s plenty for Aussie supporters to be proud of. Australian tennis is in a good place. This may not be clear by the sheer number of players progressing to the later rounds of the Australian Open, but looking at the nature of the Aussie losses is far more encouraging.
Thompson and Popyrin push top players to the brink
Take Jordan Thompson and Alexei Popyrin, for example. Both are Australian players ranked outside the world’s top 40 and were heavy underdogs with Aussie bookmakers in their second-round matches. Yet last night, they lit up Rod Laver and Margaret Court Arenas for the better part of seven hours between them, going toe-to-toe with two of the world’s best players.
Thompson, having beaten Rafael Nadal a fortnight ago, took on world number seven Stefanos Tsitsipas. The 29-year-old came out firing, winning the opening set and not dropping serve across the first two sets. While he lost the remaining three sets in a tight affair, 4-6, 7-6(6), 6-2, 7-6(4), the Australian was not without his opportunities.
“I know I was down 5-4, 40-15 in the fourth set,” said Thompson after the loss. “But I still had four set points of my own. I got a little unlucky on one of them.”
Popyrin equally took his opponent to the limit, facing Novak Djokovic in his second-round clash. The 24-year-old had not played 24-time Grand Slam champion Djokovic since he was 19, and certainly showed some of the improvements he’d made in that time.
For periods of the match Popyrin was well on top of the world number one, prompting Djokovic to state after the match that his opponent, “was the better player for a set and a half.” The Aussie also had his chances, at one stage holding three consecutive set points for a 2-1 set lead in the third set. While he was unable to capitalise, Djokovic confessed that he was “lucky” to get away with the match.
Remaining Australians led by De Minaur, Hunter
Thompson and Popyrin’s impressive performances are not outliers when it comes to the Aussie contingent at the Australian Open this year.
Of those who exited in the first round, five pushed their higher ranked opponents to a deciding set despite bet365 having them at long odds to do so. Christopher O’Connell also made the second round and skimmed a set off 16th seed Ben Shelton, while Thanasi Kokkinakis and Max Purcell are yet to play their second-round matches.
However, the shining lights of the Australian effort across the first four days of the tournament have been Alex de Minaur and Storm Hunter. Both are already through to the third round and in impressive fashion. De Minaur saw off former world number three Milos Raonic in a gritty first-round clash, before turning on the afterburners and dismissing Italy’s Matteo Arnaldi 6-3, 6-0, 6-3.
Hunter, on the other hand, has been punching above her weight. The world number 180 first won three matches to qualify for the main draw. Since, she has strung together two upsets, knocking out former world number five Sara Errani, before dispatching world number 78 Laura Siegemund.
With these results, there is a certain degree of expectation that this will be Australia’s year. For the first time since 2005 they have a top 10 player in De Minaur, one that’s full of confidence, having beaten the top two players in the world already this year.