The first Grand Slam of the year is off to a flyer, and it will be the first Aussie Open since 2011 that will not feature either of the top two seeds in the final. The Open has seen the return of the serve and volley with players experimenting the old style against the new age heavyweights.
Here are the five best matches of the tournament so far:
1. Novak Djokovic vs Denis Istomin
What happens when a six-time Australian Open Champion takes on a wildcard entry at the Rod Laver arena? Usually, a straight sets victory. However, Denis Istomin didn't get that memo. What the fans saw was an unbelievable match where the number two seed was knocked out by someone who has never been able to break into the top-30 in his career.
The indications that this was not a normal match were there from the start when the first game went on for a quarter of an hour. The entire set - 85 minutes. Even though Djokovic had dropped a set to a wildcard in Melbourne for the first time since 2012 when he played Lleyton Hewitt, most people watching the match ignored it as a small blip and when Djokovic took a 2-1 set lead, it appeared that the masses were right.
The last time Djokovic had met Istomin in Melbourne, he was the number two seed behind Rafael Nadal and had beaten the Uzbek in three sets. But the World No. 117 was not quite done yet. He broke the Serb early in the fourth set as the Rod Laver looked on in shock. The defending Champion broke back, but the sheer number of unforced errors meant that the game would be decided in the fifth set.
Midway through the decider when Istomin broke the Djokovic serve again, he never looked like he was going to mess it up winning 86% of the points on the first serve. He closed out the game as Djokovic suffered arguably the most embarrassing loss of his career. Istomin, on the other hand, went on to beat Pablo Carreno Busta in the third round to reach the fourth round of the Australian Open for the first time in 11 attempts.
2. Roger Federer vs Tomas Berdych
He is back!! The backhand is back and so is the serve. What Nadal can do, Federer can do better. The Swiss maestro had lost two of the last three matches in grand slam tournaments to the Czech but in the third round of the Aussie Open, he never looked under any sort of pressure. Federer won 95% of his first serve points as Berdych never got a single sniff of a break during the match.
After splitting the first four games, Federer earned himself the first opening in the game when he got two break points on the Berdych's serve. He needed just one and doubled Berdych's troubles two games later when he broke him again. Serving for the match, Federer missed one set point opportunity, a trend that would continue throughout the game, but converted the next one taking the first set 6-2.
Federer kept the momentum going by gaining two break point opportunities on the higher-seeded player in the very first game of the second set. Although he missed the first one, the only time the Swiss would do it in the match, Federer converted the second one to take an early lead. Both players continued to hold their serves comfortably with the scores not going over 15 until the last game of the set, where the Swiss held his serve to take a 2-0 lead in the match.
The start of the third set was identical to the second one as Berdych found himself a break down in the first game itself. Federer continued playing his shots with the accuracy his fans thought he had lost as he notched up games to close out the match with a brilliant cross-court backhand. After the game, he admitted to having ice cream the night before the game and if it continues like this Baskin and Robins might just have a new face.
3. Rafael Nadal vs Alexander Zverev
When former champion Rafael Nadal was handed a draw against Alexander Zverev, people who have followed the German's career knew it was not going to be as straightforward a match as one expected. It didn't take the teenager Zverev too long to show the Rod Laver arena why he is considered to be among the creme de la creme in World tennis by breaking Nadal in the very first game of the match.
In the first set, although Zverev had more unforced errors, he made more winners with his forehand shots to Nadal's left, which were proving to be too hot for the Spaniard to handle. The German went on to win the first set quite comfortably by a score of 6-4. In the second set, Nadal fought back and Zverev's unforced errors cost him a break, and the Spaniard used his experience to close out the set, leveling the match at 1-1.
The Spaniard, who won the Open in 2009, was behind again in the match when the 19-year-old won the third set in the tie breaker. This even prompted the commentators to call him a favorite to reach the World No. 1 ranking in the future. Nadal, who had been playing to Zverev's strengths until that time, started forcing the German to play longer rallies and it initiated a change in momentum in the match.
This resulted in Nadal breaking the Zverev serve four times in three sets, having won just one break point in the first three sets. Nadal ended up winning the last two sets 6-3, 6-2 after four hours and six minutes to book a place in the fourth round of the tournament. Tennis fans, all around the globe, will now be hoping to see a Fedal final for the first time since the 2011 French Open final where the Spaniard triumphed in four sets.
4. Andy Murray vs Mischa Zverev
This one is right up there with the Djokovic upset. The 29-year-old played some exhilarating tennis from a bygone age to beat one of the best baseline players in history proving that hard hitting is not the only way to win a tennis match. In a match that at times looked like it was a battle of old school versus the new style of tennis, Zverev brought the Rod Laver arena to its feet as he ousted the World No. 1 from a tournament he was favorite to win.
Ironically, it was Zverev who was broken first in the fourth game of the match but found himself back on level terms in the very next game. A couple of games later, Zverev missed two break point opportunities in a game that had 11 points and the problem was compounded in the very next game when Murray broke the German. Zverev, however, broke the Wimbledon Champions in back to back games to take the first set 7-5.
The second set was a mirror image of the first one as Zverev broke the Briton twice only to be broken back in the very next games and, eventually, Murray broke Zverev in the last game of the set to win it 7-5. But the similarity between the two sets did not stop there as the longest game in the set was again 11 points where the German saved four set points to stay in the set.
The third set saw the Scot losing two breaks and losing the set without exerting any serious pressure on the German. Zverev won 17 points of the 27 he attempted at the net and won 86% of the second serves to easily take the lead. He then went on to break Murray in the very first game of the fourth to take a lead early on. He continued with his style of play winning 16 out of 30 net points to secure a historic win over the British star - his first against Murray in four attempts. After the match, when Zverev was asked what was going through his mind during the match, he replied, “I was in a little coma out there.” Whatever works Mischa!
5. Angelique Kerber vs Coco Vandeweghe
After never getting past the fourth round of the Australian Open till 2016, Angelique Kerber ended up winning the tournament last year and followed it up with a silver at the Rio games and a US Open win. Coming into the tournament, she was seen as one the heavy favorites for the title and after a couple of early scares, it appeared that she had regained her form that had seen her climb up the rankings to become the highest ranked player in the world.
Angelique Kerber held a 2-0 head to head record against Coco Vandeweghe before the game and both players managed to hold their serves in the first five games of the set. It was Vandeweghe who put the early pressure on Kerber earning two break points in the sixth game. Kerber pulled it back to deuce, but the American got the break she was looking for to take a slight lead in the match. Vandeweghe kept the pressure on and when Kerber hit a crosscourt backhand long, Vandeweghe took the first set by a score of 6-2.
Kerber was in no mood to relinquish her title without a fight and broke the American in the very first game of the second set and held her serve to take an early 2-0 lead in the match. But with the score set at 3-2, Vandeweghe broke Kerber in back to back games to take a lead of 5-3. The American won her fourth game when Kerber was unable to return her serve to close out the second set at 6-3 and knock the World No. 1 out of the first Grand Slam of the year.
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