Melbourne | Zverev steps up his challenge
The player who is expected to upset the Big Three this year, Alexander Zverev, produced a comfortable opening Australian Open win over Aljaz Bedene, the former British citizen who decided to return to his homeland of Slovenia, and in the process confirmed his fitness having arrived in Melbourne nursing a hamstring and a turned ankle, the latter collected during practice.
I've had about 86 injuries and the ankle is still a bit swollen. But I've done everything right in my preparation. Now I either play well or I don't. Alexander Zverev
The German fourth seed finished last season on a real high by beating Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic back to back to win his biggest title at the ATP Finals, recovered from an opening service break to inflict a one-sided 6-1 6-4 6-1 defeat over his opponent.
“I was a little bit sloppy so it was a wake-up call to play better,” Zverev said of the early break of serve, and when asked how his ‘injuries’ were faring, he responded with a grin: “My body is close to perfection right now.”
But on a more serious note, he added: “I’ve had about 86 injuries and the ankle is still a bit swollen. But I’ve done everything right in my preparation. Now I either play well or I don’t.”
The 21-year-old Zverev, who has yet to progress past the third round at Melbourne in three previous appearances, will play either Jeremy Chardy or Ugo Humbert in round two.
Last year’s semi-finalist Hyeon Chung of South Korea, also staged an impressive comeback, recovering from two sets down to defeat Bradley Klahn 6-7(5) 6-7(5) 6-3 6-2 6-4.
Cheered on by a large number of supporters on Court 8, the 24th seed mounted an epic fightback to the delight of his many fans.
Gritty Chung held both arms aloft and looked to the sky in triumph as he converted on match point after three-hours and 37-minutes and then was swamped by ecstatic fans waving Korean flags and clamouring for autographs as he tried to leave the court.
The 22-year-old, who was the 2017 ATP NextGen Finals champion, was forced to retire from his semi-final last year with eventual champion Roger Federer because of injury.
He will play world number 55 Pierre-Hugues Herbert of France in the second round.
In contrast eighth seed Kei Nishikori, the Brisbane champion, looked to be in major difficulties against qualifier Kamil Majchrzak when he lost the opening two sets after just one hour and 40-minutes. Fortune though favoured the Japanese icon when the Pole suffered cramping early in the third to pull himself back into the match and take control before Majchrzak decided to retire with the score line reading 3-6 6-7(6) 6-0 6-2 3-0.
“It’s unfortunate how we finished. I feel sorry for him. I wouldn’t say it was a good game (because of how it ended) but I have to be happy for the next round,” a relieved Nishikori said.
“I didn’t play badly but I have to give credit to my opponent who played better. He was amazing defensively and was stronger than I had imagined. His movements were restricted (after the injuries) and all I tried to do was not lose my concentration.
“I have to be happy that I didn’t lose today.
“I will try to be more positive for the next round and hope I can keep playing better. I’m really happy to be back (at the Australian Open) because last year I missed it due to my wrist injury. I hope I can have a good two weeks.”
His next opponent will be the Croat giant Ivo Karlovic, the oldest man in the draw aged 39, who fired 39 aces during his first-round win over Poland’s Hubert Hurkacz.
Nishikori leads Karlovic 3-2 in their head-to-head.
Meanwhile wildcard Alex Bolt, who gave up tennis in 2016 to work in the building industry, needed four sets to see of America’s Jack Sock, 4-6 6-3 6-2 6-2 and admitted: “I feel lucky.”
Referring back to his days away from the sport he said: “When I stopped, that could have been my life. I could be wilting away in the heat putting up fences right now. That’s a career path I would not have done well in, that’s for sure.
“Leaving tennis was the best thing I ever did.
“Before my break, I was living and dying by everything I did on the court. I couldn’t lose a point. I couldn’t lose a match. But coming back, my mindset was different.”
The 155th-ranked South Australian wildcard will next face French No29 seed Gilles Simon.
But injury-plagued Thanasi Kokkinakis was forced to retire early against Taro Daniel with a pectoral problem after taking a set lead then deciding to retire when trailing 4-2 in the second.
Daniel will face Denis Shapovalov in the next round
Elsewhere, 15th seeded Russian Daniil Medvedevwent through in three sets while 12th seeded Italian Fabio Fogninibeat Spain’s Jaume Munar, who retired with cramps while two sets down (7-6 7-6 3-1) and the 11th seed Borna Coric defeated Steve Darcis 6-1 6-4 6-4 to record his first-ever first round victory in Melbourne.