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Muguruza and Kontaveit crash out of Australian Open

Thursday at the Australian Open was a day of early departures as two big contenders for the title were sent packing in the second round, Garbiñe Muguruza and Anett Kontaveit in straight sets, while fans bid farewell to Sam Stosur’s singles career and Heather Watson fought hard but also bowed out.

I dreamed of winning a Grand Slam. To do what I've done, dreaming as a little kid is phenomenal. It was great to play out here again, thank you for everyone coming out. It's a really special moment for me, so thank you for coming and sharing it. Sam Stosur

Watson, the British No 2, has rekindled her love for tennis, which helped her to win her first Grand Slam singles match in a year on Tuesday but, on Day 4, the Channel Islander narrowly lost to the No 29 seed, Tamara Zidansek from Slovenia, 7-6(4) 6-4.

The World No 94 held a set point at 5-6 in the first set, but Zidansek swatted it away with a forehand volley.

It was Zidansek’s second win in a month over Watson, having also beaten the Brit in the first round at Adelaide last week.

The Slovenian next takes on Alizé Cornet after the Frenchwoman pulled off the biggest upset in the women’s draw so far, beating Muguruza, the No 3 seed from Spain, 6-3 6-3, in just an hour 27 minutes.

Muguruza was a finalist here two years ago and won the WTA Finals in November, but her preparation for the new season was disrupted when all her coaching team contracted Covid-19.

“It’s a tough day,” admitted the Spaniard. “I didn’t feel at all my game. My serve wasn’t there. I think my shots weren’t there also.

“My shots weren’t as accurate and precise; I feel also my aggressive game wasn’t that aggressive today.

“Tactically, I think, I wasn’t doing the right decisions either. On top of that she played very well, very solid game.

“I think she plays better when she’s playing against top players.”

31-year old Cornet is a player that big names hope to avoid in any draw as she has pulled off a number of upsets in her career, and has reached the 4th round at all of the Grand Slams.

“I think, today, the key was that I’m telling myself that I’m playing probably my last year,” the Frenchwoman said. “I’m not sure yet.

“When I stepped on the court, I was like, ‘You know what, just enjoy the moment because you don’t know if you’re going to come back’.”

The pair went into the match after splitting their 4 previous battles, with Cornet triumphant in their last meeting on grass in Berlin in June 2021.


Garbiñe Muguruza could not find her way past Alizé Cornet at Melbourne Park and crashed out of the tournament

© Patrick Hamilton/BELGA MAG/AFP via Getty Images

In her opening service game, Muguruza successfully fended off a trio of break points before coughing up an untimely double-fault to hand Cornet a 2-0 lead.

The French No 1, ranked 61 in the world, attacked the Muguruza serve, landing winners off both wings, and the Spaniard had to dig herself out of a 0-40 hole before making her presence felt on the scoreboard in the 4th game at 1-3.

With Conchita Martinez, her coach, in her corner, Muguruza withstood another onslaught of deep groundstrokes from Cornet, seeing off a break point to hold for 2-4 and later saving 2 set points to force the Frenchwoman to serve out the opener, who obliged by drawing the Spaniard to the net with a drop shot before whipping a gasp-inducing forehand winner on her way to claiming the opener.

Cornet extended her dominance in the second, finding ways past Muguruza as the 28-year-old continued to charge the net, despite mixed success, to break for a 3-2 lead with another forehand pass, as the World No 3’s frustrations almost reached boiling point, just stopping herself from smashing her racket in the 8th game.

Serving to stay in the match, the two-time Grand Slam champion coughed up 2 more double-faults before sending a forehand long as a delighted Cornet celebrated with a scream.

“It was a very good match, very right tactically from the beginning till the end,” Cornet said. “It’s been awhile [since I] beat a Top 5 player in a slam, so it’s a really good feeling.

“I really enjoyed it today, which doesn’t mean I will enjoy it tomorrow! That’s why when the fun is here, you have to take it. You never know how you’re going to apprehend, feel the next match.

“I feel amazing, I think I played a good match out there today,” Cornet added. “My state of mind was perfect… I felt like [I was] in a bubble.”

Cornet struck 17 winners, equalling Muguruza’s count, and made just 16 unforced errors, which was less than half her opponent’s 33.

“I’m really happy [with] the way I played,” said Cornet. “[In] two days it’s my birthday; I think this is the best gift I can give to myself!

“I think all this experience that I have today definitely helped me on the court. I’m a perfectionist. Right now, I just want to enjoy it… I really hope the journey is going to go even further for me.”

Waiting for Cornet in the round of 32 is Zidansek: “When I saw the draw, I just stopped at Garbiñe,” she laughed, admitting she did not know the identity of her potential next opponent.

The Frenchwoman is well aware that she is the only active player with an Open Era record of 60 consecutive Grand Slam main draw appearances, and she is aiming to surpass the now-retired Francesca Schiavone and Ai Sugiyama, who sit at 61 and 62 respectively.

“After that, I think it will be a good time for me to retire!”


19-year old Clara Tauson sent Anett Kontaveit, the 6th seed, packing on Thursday

© Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Muguruza’s departure was joined by that of Kontaveit, the 6th seed from Estonia, which means that two of the tournament’s top 6 seeds are now out of title contention.

Kontaveit fell at the hands of Denmark’s Clara Tauson, who is making her main draw debut in Melbourne, having won the junior title here 3 years ago, and defeated the World No 7 in 79 minutes, 6-2 6-4.

The 19-year-old is already a top-40 player and was superb on Margaret Court Arena against Kontaveit, who surged into the top 10 at the end of last season.

“Today we had a plan that I didn’t really follow because I felt really good out there, so I went for everything in my shots,” said Tauson. “It’s the first time I’m in the third round of a slam.

“Playing a player like her to reach it, it’s a really big achievement for me.

“Obviously it was one of the things I really wanted to do, to beat the good players in the bigger tournaments.”

In a bruising battle between two powerful players, it was Tauson who played the much tidier match, with the hard-hitting teenager firing 20 winners to 13 unforced errors, while Kontaveit’s 15 winners were overwhelmed by 27 unforced errors.

Tauson was particularly adept on return, winning over half of Kontaveit’s service points, including 63 percent when facing the Estonian’s second service.

The Dane controlled the opening set from start to finish, having broken Kontaveit in the first game of the match, then using heavy service returns to break easily again for a 5-2 lead, and a backhand winner by Tauson closed out a love hold to seal the set.

Kontaveit crept closer in the second as they twice exchanged breaks to reach 4-4, but from there, Tauson converted her 3rd break point of the game after a wide forehand by Kontaveit to move ahead for the 3rd time in the set.

Serving for the match, Tauson showed no sign of nerves as she quickly romped to triple match point and a final forehand miscue by Kontaveit ended the clash, with the young Dane earning her career-best win by way of ranking.

“I felt so good out here,” beamed the World No 39 after her win on Margaret Court Arena. “I heard a lot of people cheering for me… that just gave me so much confidence and I played a very good match.”

Tauson will continue to be tested when she meets No 27 seed Danielle Collins in round 3, after the American beat Ana Konjuh of Croatia, 6-4 6-3, on Thursday.

“I didn’t really go into this match with a winning thought,” admitted Tauson, adding that she had muted expectations for her first-ever battle against Kontaveit, who held a tour-leading 39 hard-court wins in 2021.

“Obviously I wanted to win, but she’s one of the best players in the world so I don’t think I can go in with the attitude I have to win this match. It was more I can win, but we’ll see what happens.

“Everything was working,” added Tauson, who won 73 per cent of first-serve points and slammed 20 winners past her much-more experienced rival.

“I felt really comfortable on court… just went for everything and it worked today. My weapons were obviously working very well.”


Sam Stosur lost to Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and waved goodbye to her pro singles career on Thursday

© Quinn Rooney/Getty Images

It was an emotional Thursday afternoon at KIA Arena as Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova struck a final forehand winner to defeat Sam Stosur.

It completed a 6-2 6-2 win for the Russian No 10 seed to send her through to the 3rd round, but it also marked the end of Stosur’s storied singles career.

The Australian champion will continue to play doubles and this year she is targeting a second AO title with Chinese partner Zhang Shuai, but she recently announced she would cease playing singles after a final appearance at her home Grand Slam.

Pavlyuchenkova surged to a 5-1 lead in the opening set, given ample opportunity to set up and deliver solid blows off both wings as Stosur’s shots frequently landed short in the middle of the court.

It was a near-identical pattern in the second, as Pavlyuchenkova broke in the opening game and never relinquished her lead.

During the on-court ceremony that followed to acknowledge a popular career, which peaked with her stunning triumph over Serena Williams in the final of the 2011 US Open, there were tears.

“It was actually very emotional for me too; I had goosebumps when everybody was clapping for Sam,” admitted Pavlyuchenkova, who goes on to face Romania’s Sorana Cirstea. “She’s such a wonderful human being also amazing tennis player, so thank you Sam.

“Of course, I’m always happy when I win, even if I play bad. But it wasn’t really the case today; it was actually a very tough match, even though the score was 6-2 6-2. I had to fight for every point.”

Stosur’s fans came out in force to say goodbye, and thanks, but the cheers turned to boos when Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley, under fire for his role in the Novak Djokovic saga, made his first public appearance of the week to congratulate Stosur on her singles career.

Stosur was clearly touched by the outpouring of support and appreciation that emanated from the large crowd assembled at KIA Arena.

“I dreamed of winning a Grand Slam,” the 37-year old said. “To do what I’ve done, dreaming as a little kid is phenomenal.

“It was great to play out here again, thank you for everyone coming out.

“It’s a really special moment for me, so thank you for coming and sharing it.

“Obviously [I would like to thank] everyone who’s been with me along this 20 years,” she continued, acknowledging her parents, brothers and partner, who were watching court-side, and hoping baby daughter Evie was awake to watch the moment.

“All my coaches, they all know who they are; they’ve all helped me in some way, on and off the court, and shaped me into the person I am.”

Stosur was honoured with a tribute video featuring messages from her rivals and fellow Aussies, as well as bouquet of flowers, before completing a lap of honour.

In her 20th Australian Open, this will always be a day to remember.


Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova lost just 4 games to Sam Stosur and then paid tribute to a great champion

© Paul Crock/AFP via Getty Images

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