There was drama on the third day of the Australian Open with two of the top attractions in the men’s draw being pushed to the limit before securing their places in the last 32.
Both Grigor Dimitrov, the third seed and 14th seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, where forced into tight five-setters while the world number one, held off his challenger with relative ease.
He [McDonald] was playing unbelievable, absolutely unbelievable. He deserves a lot of credit. Grigor Dimitrov
Dimitrov was pushed hard by a qualifier but the Bulgarian, much to his relief, prevailed 8-6 in the fifth.
Earlier, the 2008 finalist Tsonga was on the verge of defeat but made a timely recovery to avoid an embarrassing early exit.
But it was Mackenzie McDonald who produced an unexpected display of high class tennis to stun Dimitrov which really captured the public’s attention.
Having come through qualifying, no one expected the young American to put up such a fight.
He produced some powerful tennis from the start to disrupt any plans the third seed may have had of an early night as he held on to snatch the opening set and although Dimitrov recovered to level in the second and go ahead in the third having fallen behind a break. Then the writing seemed to be on the wall as far as McKenzie was concerned.
But the American didn’t stick to the script and levelled to force a deciding fifth set with a bagel!
With all to play for, the two battled it out much to the appreciation of the crowd who enjoyed the nip and tuck of the play but ultimately, Dimitrov secured his place in round three letting out huge roar of relief at finally subduing a very energetic and strong adversary, 4-6 6-2 6-4 0-6 8-6.
In his on-court interview following his victory, Dimitrov said: “He [McDonald] was playing unbelievable, absolutely unbelievable. He deserves a lot of credit.”
Fortunately for Dimitrov, he was never on the brink of defeat like Tsonga who came back from 5-2 down in the fifth to tame another young tennis firebrand, Dennis Shapovalov 3-6 6-3 1-6 7-6(4) 7-5.
The Canadian looked set for victory when he led 5-2 in the fifth but somehow the Frenchman produced an amazing comeback to win the final five games and take the match and a place in round three.
He had required all his experience to quell the 18-year-old’s challenge and avenge the US Open second round loss to him.
“I’m tired but really happy,” said Tsonga after the three hour, 37-minute clash. “I did a big fight today. It’s not easy to play the young guns, they play great and go for everything so it’s difficult to defend. I suffered physically but I continued to fight.”
In contrast the top seeded Nadal progressed in a much smoother fashion as he took Leonardo Mayer 6-3 6-4 7-6(4) out after two hours and 38-minutes to book a meeting with Damir Dzumhur, who in turn beat John Millman 7-5 3-6 6-4 6-1.
For the 2009 champion the win was his 228th in a grand slam. It was also his fifth over the Argentine in as many meetings.
Rafa had just 3 aces but his serve worked well overall, fending off 4 out of 5 break points he faced to complete the match in straight sets and preserve energy for the next encounters. It was a brave effort from Mayer, who scored his only break when Nadal served for the match in the 10th game of the third set.
The Spaniard notched up 40 winners and made just 10 unforced errors compared to 33 for his opponent.
“It’s an important victory for me,” Nadal said. “He was a tough opponent. Leonardo is a player with big potential – he hits the ball so strong. I had to hit some great shots in the tiebreak.
“Happy to be in the third round of course …. second victory in a row, it’s very important news for me.”
Nick Kyrgios also looked impressive as he contained Viktor Troicki to progress 7-5 6-4 7-6(2) and after his victory, revealed he was looking forward to clashing with Tsonga when they meet in the next round.
“It’s going to be fun,” said the Australian, who has yet to lose a match in 2018. “He’s obviously a guy I looked up to growing up.
“It was just the way he played his game. I liked his aggressive style of tennis. He had a big serve, big forehand. He played an entertaining style.
“When I was 12, I went to all his practice sessions. He made the final in 2008, I think I was 12. I went to all his practice sessions with a new ball. He signed it every day. I don’t know if he remembers.”
The men’s 10th seed Pablo Carreno Busta was the first player into the third round of the Australian Open after Giles Simon retired injured. The Spaniard was 6-3 3-0 up on the Frenchman, who had strapping on his leg and could not continue.
Also through is sixth seed Marin Cilic who encountered few problems as he defeated Portugal’s Joao Sousa 6-1 7-5 6-2.
Meanwhile Andy Murray has travelled back to London following his hip operation, tweeting as he left “Not the sort of trip I envisaged on the way over here,” he wrote “Was pumped to get back competing @AustralianOpen but ended up getting hip surgery and doing crosswords with my mum. Heading home positive about the future.”