Newcomers and Old Faces Shine During 2016 Australian Open Men’s Qualifying
Adam Addicott, Tennis Atlantic
The final round of qualifying for the upcoming Australian Open saw sucess for the newcomers to the tour as well as the veterans of the game.
Dan Evans has become the fourth British man in the main draw after completing a dream run in the qualifying tournament. The world No.185 produced the upset of the event in the first round when he defeated top seed Luca Vanni in straight sets. The Brit then almost made an exit in the second round after trailing by a set and 0-3 before battling back to defeat Israel’s Amir Weintraub 5-7, 7-6(4), 6-2. In the final round Evans faced 17th seed Bjorn Fratangelo. The American defeated Canada’s Frank Dancevic and Spain’s Oriol Roca Batalla in his first two matches. The final showdown was a mixed encounter for both men. Evans endured a second set blip against the 2011 French Open boys champion before winning 7-5, 4-6, 6-0 after almost two hours.
Throughout the tournaments Evans has been cheered on by world No.2 Andy Murray. During his second round match Murray was spotted in the crowd cheering him on. The 25-year-old will play in his first Grand Slam main draw since the 2014 Wimbledon Championships. Evans has put his qualifying triumph down to his ability to focus on the sport more.
“It’s nice [qualifying for the main draw],” Evans said.
“I worked hard in pre-season in La Manga, even in the summer when I was playing in England in the Futures I was trying to work pretty hard. It was playing tennis and staying professional.
“I think that’s the difference, just staying focused on court and staying more interested and focused on just playing tennis rather than all the other stuff, and that’s pretty much what I did.”
Frantagelo also made the main draw as a lucky loser, as he continues to improve his standing on the tennis tour.
23-year-old Slovak Jozef Kovalik have qualified for his first ever Grand Slam main draw after stunning second seed Ruben Bemelmans 6-2, 7-6(7). Kovalik, who hasn’t won a title since 2014, made an impressive start after breaking his Belgian opponent twice in the opening set to take it after 34 minutes on the court. Bemelmans responded at the start of the second set by breaking for a 2-0 lead before Kovalik eventually broke back in the sixth game to level proceedings. With the prospect of reaching the main draw, Kovalik endured a nerve-wracking tiebreaker. After racing to a 6-3 lead, Bemelmans triumphantly battled back to level at 6-6. Despite the late resurgence from his opponent, Kovalik held his nerve by taking the win on his fifth match point.
Tim Smyczek was the highest player to qualify for the main draw. Last year at the Australian Open, the American earned praise following his outstanding performance against Rafael Nadal in the second round. Smyczek took two sets off the 9-time French Open champion before being edged out 7-5 in the final set. During this year’s qualifying, the third seed defeated Brazil’s Jose Pereira and Russia’s Aslan Karatsev in straight sets. In the deciding round, he faced French 29th seed Kenny de Schepper. The Frenchman endured a marathon second round match, defeating Estonia’s Jurgen Zopp 12-10 ion the final set. It was a far from a straightforward final match for Smyczek who overcame Schepper 3-6, 7-5, 6-3. In the final set the world No.108 was a break down before breaking back twice to secure the win.
China’s Di Wu reached his third Australian Open main draw without dropping a set. The 24-year-old is currently ranked 240th in the world and won two Futures titles on the tour last year. In the second round he defeated Italian 26th seed Thomas Fabbiano 6-1, 6-4, to set up a final clash with Belgium Niels Desein. Desein knocked out Colombian fourth seed Alejandro Falla in the second round. Wu encountered little difficulty against Desein as he broke the belgian five times to seal the 6-3, 6-1, victory.
37-year-old Radek Stepanek defeated two seeded players to reach his 13th consecutive Australian Open main draw. The Czech knocked out German fifth seed Jan-Lennard Struff 6-4, 6-4, in the second round. Awaiting Stefanek in the final round was former world No.70 Alejandro Gonzalez. Gonzalez battled his way to the third round after a two three-set wins over Henri Laaksonen and wildcard Marinko Matosevic. Stepanek proved too strong for the 24th seed sealing the 6-3, 6-1, win after 75 minutes.
The Australian Open is a special place for Bosnian tennis. In 2014 Damir Džumhur became the first Bosnian player to play in a Grand Slam draw at the Melbourne tournament. Now Mirza Basic has become the second player from his country to play in a Grand Slam main draw. In Basic’s final match he played India’s Saketh Myneni. The world No.137 was on course to clinch the final set with a 5-2 advantage before Myneni clawed his way back to 5-5. Despite the Indian comeback, Basic broke his opponent for the third time in the match to win 3-6, 6-4, 8-6.
Ryan Harrison saved four match points during the second set to battle past Aleksandr Nedovyesov 6-7 (8), 7-6(6), 6-3. During the tiring encounter, which lasted two hours and 40 minutes, Harrison got a stronghold in the match after racing to 3-0 in the final set. The lead was enough for him to secure the match. The 23-year-old will play in the main draw for the sixth consecutive year. Harrison has a main draw win-loss of 1-5 going into this year’s tournament. His only main draw win in Melbourne against Andrey Kuznetsov in 2013.
German world No.224 Peter Gojowczyk booked his place in the main draw without facing a seeded player. The German produced an impressive second round win over American teenage world No.177 Francis Tiafoe. Next up for the German was Russia’s Alexander Kudryavtsev. The Russian stunned 8th seed Go Soeda in his second round match. Playing Kudryavtsev, Gojowczyk produced a mixed performance. After losing the opening set, the German held a 5-1 lead in the second set before losing four consecutive games. Nevertheless, the world No.224 managed to overcome his difficulties to win 3-6,7-6(3), 6-2.
One of the most promising young players on the ATP Tour, Taylor Fritz, booked his place in the main draw after battling past Mischa Zverev 6-3, 6-7(5), 6-4. The 18-year-old was on course to losing the match after going behind 0-4 in the final set before impressive winning six consecutive games to reach his maiden Australian Open main draw. Since winning the US Open boys title last year, Fritz has a win-loss record of 25-4. After staging the epic comeback, Fritz spoke of his delight.
“It feels great, what an amazing way to do it,” Fritz laughed.
“I was playing solid and then so many times I was asking myself: ‘What do I do?’ There were so many points where I thought I didn’t think I could possibly play better and he beat on them.“I told myself keep competing and not to give up and if he could keep doing what he was doing then that was too good and I’ve got to give it to him.
“I got on top. I started playing really well, got a lot of momentum on my side, was getting really pumped up and was able to finish it.”
Daniel Brands has reached his first Grand Slam main draw since the 2014 French Open after outplaying James McGee 7-6(1), 6-4. Brands have been ranked as high as 51st in the world in 2013 but has been troubled by the effects of mononucleosis in recent years. The recent trouble resulted in him dropping outside of the top 400 last year. Fourtnastely for the 28-year-old, he ended 2015 on a positive note by reaching the quarterfinals of the Valencia Open as a qualifier.
In the battle of the Frenchmen, Pierre-Hughes Herbert edged out Edouard Roger-Vasselin 6-3,1-6,9-7. Hebert is known best for his performance in the doubles after winning the US Open title last year with Nicolas Mahut. Prior to his triumph over Roger-Vasselin, Herbert produced earlier wins over 20th seed Gastao Elias and Marco Chiudinelli. Herbert is currently ranked 167th in the world and last year as a qualifier he reached the final of the Winston-Salem Open, losing to Kevin Anderson.
There was double joy for Japanese tennis. 12th seed Yuichi Sugita had to endure three three-set matches to move into the main draw in Melbourne. After wins over Ante Pavic and Yannick Martens, the Sugita outlasted American 32nd seed Dennis Novikov (6-4,4-6,6-3). Meanwhile Tatsuma Ito struggled past Spain’s Adrian Menendez-Maceiras. He clinched the victory after breaking in the final game of the match to win 6-4,1-6,6-4 after an hour and 44 minutes. The double Japanese victory means that there will five Japanese players in the main draw of the Australian Open for the first time in 41 years.
Veteran Frenchman Stephane Robert reached his third consecutive main draw in Melbourne after recovering from a set to defeat Karen Khachanov 4-6, 6-4, 6-2. Earlier on in the tournament the 35-year-old produced a straight sets win over 28th seed Igor Sijsling. One of the best moments in Robert’s career occurred at the 2014 Australian Open when he reached the fourth round as a lucky loser.
Argentina’s Marco Trungelliti was handed a placed in the main draw after his opponent Bai Yan, retired. The Argentinian was leading 6-4,6-7(8), 3-0, before Yan called it quits. Incredibly, it is the 11th time that Yan has retired from a singles match within the past 12 months. The 25-year-old Argentinian will now play in his first ever Grand Slam main draw. Trungelliti has won seven Futures titles in his career and reached the final of the Bangkok challenger last September.
Completing the qualifiers in another Argentine, Renzo Olivo. Olivo kicked-off his qualifying bid with a first round win over Swedish 25th seed Elias Ymer. The 23-year-old then edged out Benjamin Mitchell in the second round to set up a showdown with Vincent Millot. Millot upset Australian 16th seed John-Patrick Smith in his second round match. The Frenchman was no match for Olivo, who overcame some late resistance to win 6-2, 6-4.