Melbourne, Jan 19 (IANS) A string of unexpected upsets highlighted Day 2 of the 2016 Australian Open tennis tournament, as past champion Rafael Nadal and women’s singles World No.2 Simona Halep bowed out in the first round here on Tuesday. On a day where eight seeds were bundled out across the men’s and women’s draw, there was no bigger name to fall than Spain’s 14-time Major singles champion Nadal, who was upstaged by compatriot Fernando Verdasco, in a five-set epic at Rod Laver Arena (RLA), reports Xinhua.
Verdasco’s 7-6 (8-6), 4-3, 3-6, 7-6 (7-4), 6-2 win sent shockwaves around Melbourne Park, consigning the 2009 Australian Open champion to his first opening round exit at the tournament. Back in that same year, Nadal and Verdasco played out an almost equally absorbing — and long — match in the semi-final. On that occasion, Nadal had the last laugh, but seven years on Verdasco put back the clock to turn the tables on his counterpart. Verdasco thumped 90 winners in the enthralling four hours and 41 minutes classic, with 41 of those coming from the forehand wing.
After the shock loss, the 14-time Grand Slam champion said Verdasco’s attacking game plan served him well. “Everybody now tries to hit all the balls. There are no balls that you can prepare the point. The game has become a little bit more crazy in this aspect,” Nadal told the press. “I was practising a little bit different, trying to be more aggressive.
I can play defensive or offensive. But if you stay in the middle, then I am dead.” On the women’s side, Halap will also be booking an early flight out of the country, after China’s Zhang Shuai overpowered the Romanian 6-3, 6-4. “It’s tough, I’m really disappointed,” Halep, a past quarter-finalist at the Australian Open, told reporters. “I tried to change … but she beat me — she was just better today.” Other seeded players to bite the dust over the course of the second day were Venus Williams, Kevin Anderson, Caroline Garcia, Fabio Fognini, Irina-Camelia Begu and Lesia Tsurenko. Stanislas Wawrinka, on the other hand, did not suffer the same fate, winning in a 7-6, 6-3 walkover against Russian Dmitry Tursunov, who succumbed to injury.
Likewise, 14th seed Victoria Azarenka reminded people why she has been crowned Australian Open champion twice, wiping Belgian challenger Alison Van Uytvanck 6-0, 6-0 in a 53-minute whitewash. The evening schedule provided casual Australian tennis fans with a mouth watering all-Australian affair between Lleyton Hewitt and James Duckworth. Earlier in the week, Australian Open officials had christened Day 2 of the tournament ‘C’mon Day’ in honour of what could have potentially been the final match of Hewitt’s career.
Pitted against a retiring legend, Duckworth was cast as a villain for the night with almost all the hometown spectators in Hewitt’s court. True to script Hewitt — in his 20th and final Australian Open — extended his farewell tour at his home Grand Slam, with a 7-6 (7-5), 6-2, 6-4 win. Fittingly, Hewitt won through to the second round with a trademark lob over Duckworth. The 34-year-old said he was not overawed by the sense of occasion. “I felt pretty good, pretty pumped up, before I went on. I think I was able to block out everything else once I was out there,” Hewitt said. “I had my game face on, (but) it might have been in the back of my mind a couple of times.”