Nadal ignores injury troubles to make winning start at Australian Open, Kerber advances
Rising teenage star Alex de Minaur showed no ill effects following his short turnaround from winning the Sydney International by collecting a first-round triumph at the Australian Open.
- Alex de Minaur was playing less than two days after winning Sydney International
- De Minaur is the highest-ranked Australian in the men’s draw
- He may face Rafael Nadal in the third round should they both advance
De Minaur, playing less than 48 hours after winning his maiden ATP Tour title in Sydney, thrilled his home Australian crowd on Margaret Court Arena with a solid 6-4, 7-5, 6-4 win over Portugal’s Pedro Sousa.
The result continued an inspiring showing for the local contingent on the opening day, with a trio of young Australians on debut — Astra Sharma, Zoe Hives and Kimberly Birrell — also enjoying victories on day one in the women’s draw.
De Minaur had arrived in Melbourne on a high note emotionally in the wake of his breakthrough win, although his Sydney campaign proved physically taxing after he was forced to play his semi-final and final on the same day as a result of inclement weather late in the tournament.
The 19-year-old had given Australian Open organisers a spray because of the scheduling of his match in Melbourne on Monday, claiming they were “punishing” local players like himself and Ashleigh Barty, who went deep in the draw in Sydney.
He also had to contend with stifling hot conditions in Melbourne, with the mercury reaching 34 degrees as he and Sousa took to the court.
De Minaur, who entered the Open at a career-high ranking of 29, claimed a single break of serve in the opening set to gain the early ascendancy against Sousa.
Games went on serve in the second, with both players feeling the heat, before de Minaur broke at 6-5 before serving out the set.
Sousa was immediately on the back foot in the third set when de Minaur claimed a double break to leap out to a 3-0 lead but to the credit of the Portuguese world number 103 he broke back and then held serve to trail 3-2.
De Minaur, the 2018 ATP newcomer of the year, still had a break of serve up his sleeve and it proved enough security for him to finish off his opponent in just under two hours.
He will face either Mirza Basic or Henri Laaksonen in the second round, with a potential third-round meeting with world number two Rafael Nadal on the horizon.
Aussie youngsters shine on day one
Sharma prevailed against countrywoman Priscilla Ho 7-5, 4-6, 6-1 in an enthralling contest on the outside courts lasting two hours and nine minutes.
The 23-year-old Sharma, ranked 232 in the world, came through qualifying last week to earn her spot in the main draw and she took advantage of Ho’s struggles in the heat during the third set to advance to the second round.
She more than doubled her prize money courtesy of the win over the wildcard Ho, earning $85,000, and it is just reward after she took a punt on a US college scholarship to Vanderbilt University in Nashville after sustaining a broken ankle early in her career.
“I wasn’t doing too well in the pro circuit and ended up going to Vandy and definitely the coaches there took me under their wing and developed me for a good four, five years,” Sharma said.
“I came out and absolutely wouldn’t be the player I am today if I didn’t go.”
Both Hives and Birrell were granted wildcards to the main draw and they repaid the faith shown by tournament organisers with impressive straight-sets victories.
The 225th-ranked Hives, a Ballarat native, hammered veteran American Bethanie Mattek-Sands 6-1, 6-2, while the Germany-born Birrell triumphed 6-4, 6-2 against Paula Badosa Gibert.