Australian Open: Webster unimpressed by Raducanu's defeat
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The first Grand Slam of 2022 kicked off this week, with players descending on Melbourne for their chance to win the Australian Open title.
Seven Brits started in the main draw but none of them were able to make it to week two with Andy Murray – making his first appearance in Melbourne since prematurely retiring there in 2019 – and Emma Raducanu – playing the first Major event since becoming a champion herself at the US Open – among the early exits.
Rafael Nadal and Nick Kyrgios were both forced to end their respective 2021 seasons early with injuries, but both impressed in Melbourne this week even though the Aussie was unable to get past world No 2 Daniil Medvedev in round two.
But one player notably absent in Melbourne was Novak Djokovic, as the world No 1 was deported from Australia on the eve of the tournament after having his visa cancelled.
It seems his luck isn’t about to get any better either, as the French government has confirmed he will likely be banned from Roland Garros in spring, and a ban already in place for unvaccinated foreign nationals in America, costing him a place at the US Open.
Express Sport takes a look at the biggest stories from on and off the court over the last week, as week one of the Australian Open concludes with victory for Marin Cilic over Andrey Rublev.
Emma Raducanu caught out by blisters while Andy Murray’s long-awaited Melbourne return ends early
Raducanu and Murray were among seven Brits in the main draw – alongside Cam Norrie, Dan Evans, Liam Broady, Heather Watson and Harriet Dart – but both lost within hours of each other on Thursday.
The Bromley teenager was making her Aussie Open debut as the 17th seed, in the first Grand Slam event since the US Open where she made history as the first qualifier to win a Major title.
She opened with a statement performance to knock out 2017 US Open champion and former world No 3 Sloane Stephens 6-0 2-6 6-1, and could be seen popping a blister on her hand with a pair of scissors towards the end of the match.
The more foreshadowed a tough injury for Raducanu, who was then heavily hampered by the blistering in her second-round match against Danka Kovinic.
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After racing to a 3-0 double break lead, the world No 18 started to struggle with the blisters and was unable to properly grip her racket, serve and hit forehands.
She impressively kept herself in the match with a mix of slices and backhands, managing to fight for two hours and 38 minutes despite her blisters being so bad that her team didn’t want her to play at all, but ultimately lost to the world No 98 6-4 4-6 6-3.
Murray also crashed out in the second round as qualifier Taro Daniel scored a routine 6-4 6-4 6-4 win over the five-time finalist.
It was the former world No 1’s first appearance at the Australian Open since 2019, when he broke down in a tearful press conference and admitted it would likely be the final tournament of his career as he was unable to overcome an ongoing hip injury.
But three years and one hip resurfacing surgery later, he made his highly-anticipated return to the very same court he ‘retired’ on in 2019, defeating 21st seed Nikoloz Basilashvili 6-1 3-6 6-4 6-7(5) 6-4 in a long battle, before falling to Daniel two days later.
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Rafael Nadal emotional in injury return after playing ‘best match’ of comeback
2009 champion Nadal came into the tournament as the only former winner in the men’s draw, playing just his second tournament since August.
The world No 5 was sidelined by a left foot injury but returned in Melbourne at the ATP 250 event earlier this month and lifted the title, but many – including the man himself – were waiting to see how he’d hold up over best-of-five sets at the Grand Slam.
It turns out he’s handling it pretty well, as the Spaniard is through to the second week for the 15th time, having dropped just one set.
But his only four-setter – a 6-3 6-2 3-6 6-1 victory over 28th seed Karen Khachanov on Friday – left him emotional after he called it his “best match since [he] came back.”
Nick Kyrgios fights against top seeds in singles and doubles, then is ‘threatened’ with a fight
The ever-entertaining, ever-controversial Aussie was back in action for the first time since September’s Laver Cup this week, ending his 2021 season with a knee injury and starting his 2022 season with a Covid infection that left him “bedridden” and fighting to recover in time for the Australian Open.
But he looked like a man who had spent the last few months winning matches, as he entertained the John Cain Arena crowd with his trademark unique shots including an underarm tweener serve en route to a 6-4 6-4 6-4 victory over Britain’s Liam Broady.
The current world No 115 also made Cristiano Ronaldo the talk of the tennis world this week, recreating his trademark celebration after the crowd spent the match crying out his famous ‘Siuu’, something that carried over into his matches against the top seeds in both singles and doubles.
Despite having the crowd on side against Medvedev he was defeated by the highest seed in the men’s draw 7-6(1) 6-4 4-6 6-2.
But it was a different story when he teamed up with good friend and compatriot Thanasi Kokkinakis in the doubles, as they defeated world No 1 pair Nikola Mektic and Mate Pavic in the second-round on Friday, and the Aussie wildcards later revealed that the Croatian duo’s fitness trainer and coach “threatened to fight” them in the locker room afterwards.
Video footage has since captured the moment the ‘Special Ks’ told their team what happened after they were squared up to, and retired Aussie pro Sam Groth revealed Kokkinakis messaged him during the encounter, saying: “Thanasi actually messaged me as it was happening. He said Nick got accosted in the locker room by Pavic’s fitness trainer.”
A mixed bag for the Grand Slam champs and top seeds in Melbourne
One section of the women’s draw blew wide open when Garbine Muguruza and Anett Kontaveit were defeated on Thursday, before Elena Rybakina was also forced to retire.
Defending champion Naomi Osaka was also knocked out early, losing to 20-year-old Amanda Anisimova in Friday’s third-round, as the young American will next take on world No 1 Ash Barty.
Barty is one former Major champion managing to cruise through the draw, as well as two-time Grand Slam champion Simona Halep who is another player still coming back from an injury-stricken 2021, while recent French Open champions Iga Swiatek and Barbora Krejcikova are also through to week two.
On the men’s side, Daniil Medvedev, Alexander Zverev, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Rafael Nadal are going strong, while sixth seed Andrey Rublev just failed to make it out of the first week as he was defeated by former finalist Marin Cilic in the final match on Saturday.
But some of the other top 20 seeds including Hubert Hurkacz, Cam Norrie, Diego Schwartzman, Roberto Bautista Agut, Cristian Garin and Aslan Karatsev have all fallen in the first week.
Novak Djokovic could be restricted to just Wimbledon if he wishes to compete at the Majors
Djokovic was the talk of the town in Melbourne leading into the Australian Open, having entered unvaccinated with a medical exemption granted by Tennis Australia before having his visa cancelled at the border as he failed to provide enough proof to back up the exemption.
He then won an appeal hearing to have the decision quashed and even managed to get onto Rod Laver Arena for some practice sessions before Immigration Minister Alex Hawke used his personal ministerial powers to revoke the Serb’s visa once again, and Djokovic lost an appeal hearing last Sunday which saw him kicked out of the country the night before the Aussie Open began.
The Federal Court judges’ reasonings were published on Thursday, showing that they upheld Mr Hawke’s beliefs that Djokovic’s presence in Australia could “excite anti-vax sentiment” as Chief Justice James Allsop wrote: “Even if Mr Djokovic did not win the Australian Open, the capacity of his presence in Australia playing tennis to encourage those who would emulate or wish to be like him is a rational foundation for the view that he might foster anti-vaccination sentiment.”
And things look to be getting worse for the 20-time Major champion, who could be limited to playing only Wimbledon if he refuses to get vaccinated.
America already bans non-vaccinated foreign nationals, including sportspeople, from entering the country which makes the US Open a no-go, and on Tuesday, new Covid Pass rules were introduced in France which banned any unvaccinated individual – both French citizens and foreign nationals – from public buildings including sports arenas and stadiums.
French Sports Minister Roxana Maracineanu has since confirmed that “French or foreign professionals” are also subject to this rule while Stanislas Guerin, who represents the 17th and 18th arrondissements in Paris, confirmed that Djokovic would not receive any special treatment as he said: “We can’t have two weights and two measures regarding the Covid Pass. If you are called Djoko, Nadal or Mr Whoever, you respect the rules.”
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