Going into day three in Melbourne there had been relatively little in the way of upsets. Heather Watson had dumped out Australian seed Sam Stosur, which was a surprise, and Simona Halep’s defeat at the hands of American Shelby Rogers was a bonafide shock, but Halep entered the tournament following a slump in form and played through persistent knee pain in her first round encounter.
Generally, thus far, there was a feeling that the big guns were making their way through the early rounds unscathed. When Roger Federer and Venus Williams booked their places in the third round courtesy of straight sets wins, it seemed as though day three was going to follow that trend.
Enter Dan Evans.
The 26-year-old from Birmingham produced a surprise run to the final in Sydney last week and saw off the challenge of Facundo Bagnis in the first round here on Monday. But in his second match at the Australian Open, he would meet world number seven Marin Cilic, former US Open champion and last year’s winner at the Cincinnati Masters.
Just go down swinging and hope to put in a plucky effort then?
Building on the confidence drawn from reaching a career-high ranking of 51, Evans recovered from losing the first set 6-3 to come back and beat Cilic in a thrilling four-set affair. Undoubtedly his biggest career win to date, Evans triumphed 3-6, 7-5, 6-3, 6-3 and for anyone who had been blissfully unaware of their respective rankings, they would surely have assumed it was the Brit who belonged in the world’s top 10.
“To come through on the last match point was pretty pleasing for me,” Evans said. “I struggled early with the shade on the court and his ball was coming through pretty quick.”
“Once the sun went down though I got into it. It was great. The Aussie boys told me it was going to be pretty noisy. I’m looking forward to Friday.”
Friday will bring the test of one of those ‘Aussie boys’, Bernard Tomic, who beat Víctor Estrella Burgos in four sets. Almost certain to be on one of the show courts, Rod Laver or Margaret Court Arena, the world number 27. will of course have the cauldron of noise in his favour. But Evans is a man on a roll and if he can come through today, then he’s capable of going much further.
Federer made his way into the next round with a three-set win over talented 20-year-old Noah Rubin, but the match itself wasn’t as easy as the scoreboard suggested. The 17-time major winner was made to work by the American qualifier, prevailing in the end 7-5, 6-3, 7-6(3), to set up a tasty third round tie with Tomas Berdych. The world number 10 beat another American in straight sets, Ryan Harrison, and will be a tough ask for Federer on Friday. Though the Swiss Maestro leads their head-to-head 16-6 and beat Berdych in style in last year’s quarter-finals, he remains short on match fitness following his return from knee surgery and at 35, you’d have to fancy the Czech if the match goes five sets.
Venus Williams’s route to the third round was secured by her 6-3, 6-2 victory over Stefanie Voegele, lining up China’s Ying-Ying Duan in the process. If Williams comes through that meeting, in the fourth round Australia’s Ashleigh Barty may be waiting. She’ll take on Mona Barthel for that opportunity, after dumping out Halep’s conqueror Shelby Rogers today.
With Tomic and Barty through, it wasn’t shaping up to be a bad day for the Aussies and it looked to get even better when polarising maverick Nick Kyrgios took a two set lead over Andreas Seppi. Having reached the quarter-finals of his home slam in 2015, Kyrgios’s first round win had given hope that the talented but troubled youngster could finally deliver on his potential. But with all going hi sway against Seppi and with one foot in the third round, it all went a bit… well, Kyrgios.
In a complete implosion – though not to take credit away from Seppi who fought back valiantly – Kyrgios squandered his advantage and soon found himself battling in a deciding set. Seppi now had the momentum on his side, but Kyrgios regained some composure on serve in the fifth and with neither man able to break the scoreboard was approaching double figures.
Then, whilst leading 8-7, the Aussie brought up match point on Seppi’s serve and it seemed for a moment as though the struggle would all be worthwhile, that Kyrgios would be redeemed. But the Italian saved it, and would then go on to reel off three consecutive games to take the set 10-8 and seal a remarkable comeback victory.
Possibly broken by his failure to convert match point, Kyrgios nonchalantly played a tweener return between his legs as Seppi was serving for the match.
The man remains an enigma.
One man who is less difficult to decipher is world number one Andy Murray, who was last on court at Rod Laver Arena against 19-year-old Andrey Rublev. For the loss of just five games, Murray punished the young Russian to win 6-3, 6-0, 6-2. Next up for the Scot, Sam Querrey, he of third-round Wimbledon upset fame against Novak Djokovic.
Elsewhere there were victories for Angelique Kerber, Garbine Muguruza, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Kei Nishikori, as well as Eugenie Bouchard, who so far this week has been looking more like her 2014 best. After two years in the wilderness and having suffered a career-stagnating drop in the WTA rankings, the 22-year-old Canadian stormed into the third round here with a 7-6 (5), 6-2 victory over Shuai Peng, setting up a meeting with American starlet CoCo Vandeweghe.