Highlights from the men's draw at the 2015 Australian Open
It was an Australian Open to remember for more reasons than one. While Roger Federer’s early exit made the headlines in the first week, Rafael Nadal’s return from an injury layoff was closely monitored by everyone. Juan Martin del Potro pulled out of the tournament at the last minute, and Stan Wawrinka came into the tournament as the defending champion for the first time in a Major.
While a lot of talk before the tournament was about the draw, things settled down once the first Grand Slam of the year got underway. Here is a look at the major talking points from the men’s draw during the fun-filled fortnight:
Note: You can catch all the best moments from the Australian Open on Sony Liv Sports here.
Top players tested early
Nadal faced a tricky opponent in the form of Mikhail Youzhny in the first round. But the Spaniard showed why he is one of the best in the business as he domintated proceedings from the start and won the match while dropping just seven games.
The first upset, if you can call it that, came on Day 1 when the No. 11 seed Ernests Gulbis lost to unseeded local favourite Thanasi Kokkinakis in a thrilling five-set encounter. Meanwhile, India’s Yuki Bhambri had a short stay in his first main draw Grand Slam appearance, as he bowed out in a straight sets loss to Andy Murray.
Gael Monfils came back from two sets to love down in his match against compatriot Lucas Pouille in an entertaining match on the second day of competition. Monfils also hit a between-the-leg tweener in the midst of the intense match that brought the crowd to its feet. However, Monfils couldn’t progress beyond the second round despite leading by two sets to one against Jerzy Janowicz. The Pole played attacking tennis and outlasted the Frenchman in a rally slugfest.
No. 13 seed Roberto Bautista Agut found Gilles Muller’s serve too hot to handle as he exited the tournament in four sets. Fan favourite Lleyton Hewitt was in a commanding two-sets to love lead against Benjamin Becker, but the German came storming back into the match with some aggressive tennis. He was also helped by a string of unforced errors by the former World No. 1 from Australia.
In the bottom half of the draw, Nadal was tested by American qualifier Tim Smyczek. The World No. 112 led by two sets to one and looked like causing the first big upset in the men’s section, but the 2009 champion found his A game just in time to squeak past Smyczek in a 4 hour, 12 minute marathon match.
Aussie players impress, but Federer doesn’t
The Australians made deep inroads in the tournament as the likes of Sam Groth, Bernard Tomic, Kokkinakis and Nick Kyrgios all made it past the first round in their home Grand Slam. But while that was going on, the first big upset in the men’s draw came about on Day 5 of the competition when Andreas Seppi took out four-time champion Roger Federer in four sets. The Swiss maestro committed an uncharacteristic nine double faults to go with 55 unforced errors to exit the tournament unceremoniously. This was the first time in 10 years that the 17-time Grand Slam champion failed to reach the semifinals at Melbourne Park.
Seppi got to play Kyrgios after that though, and couldn’t get past him despite holding a two sets to love lead. Backed by a vociferous home crowd, Kyrgious played some explosive tennis to clinch the match 8-6 in the fifth set.
Unfortunately for the local fans, Aussie players kept running into each other at the start of the tournament. First Kokkinakis played Groth in the second round, with Groth riding his big serve to steal a fifth-set epic that threatened to bring the roof down.
After that, Groth played Tomic in the third round, and once again support for the two Aussies was evenly divided. Tomic came through this contest with relative ease, although he couldn’t handle Berdych’s power in the fourth round.
High quality tennis all around
Nadal took care of the big serving South African Kevin Anderson in straight sets with some sizzling play that seemed to signal that he was back at his best. Meanwhile, Milos Raonic came through in a contest of big servers in his match against Feliciano Lopez.
No. 5 seed Kei Nishikori put on a shot-making exhibition to dismiss David Ferrer in a comfortable win to make it to the last eight stage, and Murray played some spectacular defense to offset Grigor Dimitrov’s beautiful groundstrokes to register a high quality four-set win.
Surprisingly though, all the quarterfinal matches were one-sided affairs as Djokovic, Tomas Berdych, Murray and Wawrinka won their matches in straight sets. The highlight of the day was Berdych registering his first win against Nadal since October 2006. He avoided entering history books for becoming the first man to lose 18 consecutive matches against a single opponent.
Semifinals and final throw up interesting clashes
Djokovic and Berdych entered the semifinals as the only two men to have not dropped a single set in the tournament, and seemed like favourites to reach the final. The Czech started his semifinal against Murray in fine fashion, taking the opening set in a tiebreak. But the Scot stormed back as he bagelled Berdych in the second set. It was one-way traffic after that as the No. 7 seed did not show any signs of a fightback and crashed out of the Australian Open.
The other semifinal pitted defending champion Wawrinka against four-time champion Djokovic. The two men went the distance in their two previous matches in Melbourne and the fans were expecting an evenly contested match this time as well. The match did live up to the expectations in that respect, as this one went five sets too, although the quality of the play wasn’t quite as high.
The Serb took the first set in a tiebreak after multiple breaks of serve. But Wawrinka went for his winners and kept the points short to even the scores at one-set all at the end of second set. It was difficult to pick a winner in a match that saw momentum swing one way, then another.
Both players committed a lot of unforced errors, but hung in there thanks to some delightfully placed shots in the critical moments of the match. The match went to a decisive fifth set and the No. 1 seed was all over Wawrinka’s serve to bagel the defending champion and reach his fifth Australian Open final.
Djokovic enters an elite club
After two weeks of amazing tennis, Murray and Djokovic met in their fifth Grand Slam final. It was 2-2 as far as Major finals were concerned before this, and expectations were high. Djokovic got off a good start, breaking Murray’s serve early in the first set, only to hand it away in the ninth game. The set went to a tiebreak and it was Murray who got the first mini-break. But the No. 6 seed couldn’t capitalise as he gave away a 5-3 lead to trail by a set to love.
Djokovic got the early break in the second set as well, but Murray broke back to take the set to another tiebreak. The Brit did not squander the early mini-break this time around and clinched the second set.
Murray broke the Serb’s serve yet again in the early goings of the third set to lead 2-0. But the World No. 1 fought back as he reduced the number of unforced errors and attacked Murray’s serve. He kept the points short as the Brit was winning most of the long rallies in the match. Once he got the break in the third set, there was no looking back for Djokovic as he won nine straight games to seal the match.
Murray lost his fourth Australian Open final to continue his tradition of heartbreak in Melbourne. Djokovic, on the other hand, is now the only man to have won five Australian Open titles in the Open era, thus entering a truly exclusive club.