The Zigs and Zags of the American Surge

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Photo by Getty

Bill Simons

THE ZIGS AND ZAGS OF THE AMERICAN SURGE: The phrase “nice while it lasted” came to mind after all the giddy joy of America having its best Australian Open in 27 years was diminished. 

Six US players fell yesterday. 

On his birthday Frances Tiafoe lost 11-9 in a fourth set tiebreaker to Karen Khachanov. Rafa-slayer Mackie McDonald fell to Japan’s No. 31 Nishioka Yoshihito. Wimbledon champ Elena Rybakina beat last year’s finalist Danielle Collins. Vika Azarenka downed Madison Keys. 

But hold on, American fans still have lots to cheer for. Elegant Seb Korda scored a convincing win over former No. 1 Daniil Medvedev. The dynamic duo of Jessica Pegula and Coco Gauff pounded their foes, Ukrainian Marta Kostyuk and American Bernarda Pera. Today Jenson Brooksby meets Tommy Paul and J.J. Wolf faces Michael Mmoh in two All-American matches and Ben Shelton will play Aussie Alexei Popyrin.

A TOUGH DAY FOR MADDY AND MEDDY: Both Madison Keys and Daniil Medvedev had rough outings yesterday. Keys had never beaten Victoria Azarenka, but the American powerhouse broke serve three times and sprinted to a 6-1 first-set lead. Vika, who’s twice won the Aussie Open and is a considerable counter-puncher, roared back winning 12 of the last 15 games. “Things have suddenly unraveled,” noted the Tennis Channel. Azarenka prevailed  6-2, 6-1.

Medvedev has reached the Aussie Open final in the past two years and in Melbourne he likes to dismiss tall Americans. Last year, amidst controversy, he beat 6’6” Max Cressy, but this year 6’5” Seb Korda took Medvedev down in straight sets, 7-6(7) 6-3 7-6(4).

THE BEAUTIFUL TENNIS OF SEB KORDA: Seb Korda, the No. 3 American, became the first player to reach the Aussie Open fourth round and he’s now reached the fourth round at a Grand Slam on every surface. After his win, the net-charging 22-year-old was ecstatic: “Unbelievable match,” said the No. 31 player in the world. “I’m thrilled right now. I played amazing, and it was an unbelievable match for me.”

Korda had a match point against Novak Djokovic in the ATP warm-up in Adelaide, but faltered. Still, Nole said the American was bound for the Top Ten, and noted that Seb “has kind of the cleanest striking technique that you can see on the tour…Everything seems just effortless…The way he plays, the way he moves…just beautiful-looking tennis.” 

Korda, who comes from a super-talented sporting family, joked about his parents, who were elite tennis players, and his sisters, who are great golfers. “I don’t know where I’m going to be ranked [after this result] but my mom’s career high was 24, my dad was No. 2, Nelly my sister was No. 1, my other sister Jessica was No. 6…so I’m definitely the worst athlete in the family so far.”

Korda will now try to reach his first Grand Slam quarterfinal, when he plays Pole Hubert Hurkacz. 

Medvedev, who was No. 1 in August, had his worst performance in Melbourne since 2018 and will drop out of the Top Ten. The Russian’s loss means the top half of the draw will produce a finalist that has never won a Slam. Stefanos Tsitsipas is the only one to have reached the final of a major.

A CURIOUS OPEN: It’s been quite a quirky Aussie Open. Andy Murray was not allowed to go to the bathroom at 3 AM. We were told that fans who booed Djokovic excessively would be booted out, but it took forever to kick out a drunk who was continually jeering him in the second round. 

Maria Sakkari complained to the press that her teen opponent, Diana Shnaider, was cheering too much for herself. Russian and Belarusian flags were banned. Iga Swiatek chewed out a fan who threw an autograph ball at her and Daniil Medvedev got pooped on by a bird. 

EVERT’S COURAGE: Being open and communicating about taboo subjects can be heroic and even save lives. Chris Evert, whose sister Jeanne fell to cancer, has been incredibly transparent about her successful fight against the dreaded malady and the many steps she’s had to take.

NO HOPE: Less than a week ago No. 107 Michael Mmoh, who lost in the last round of qualifying, was about to go home. He recalled, “Honestly at that time I had no hope.” But then the Floridan, got a call from the tour supervisor, who said there was an opening in the main draw and he could play if he could get right over to the courts. So he threw his tennis gear together and rushed over to play. Since then, Mmoh, who won the Fairfield, California Challenger in October, has beaten No. 12 Alexander Zverev and France’s Laurent Lokoli.

THE FOG OF WAR: When noting the fall of Medvedev, Martina Navratilova observed, “I don’t know if we can underestimate the emotional toll the [Ukrainian] war takes on…The Russian players, particularly, are not necessarily fan favorites. It can’t be helpful.”

DON’T FORGET THE MIDDLE WAY: While describing the game of the powerful Madison Keys, commentator Paul Annacone said, “Her middle gear has always been her biggest challenge. She’s so good offensively that she sometimes forgets that middle gear is good enough. She goes too big, too soon. That’s her challenge.”

THE TRIUMPH OF TECHNOLOGY: John McEnroe pointed out that at Slams on hard courts and grass, human linespersons are probably gone forever. But humans still call the lines on clay at the French Open. Chris Fowler wondered, “Do you think 50 years from now at Roland Garros there will be a chair umpire jumping out of the chair to run around and check a mark on the clay? Or will they finally give in to Hawk-Eye technology?”

THE CURSE CONTINUES: Many of the players in the Netflix docuseries Break Point didn’t make it to the Australian Open, or lost early. Stars Nick Kyrgios, Fritz Taylor, Matteo Berrettini and Paula Badosa are all at home. Of the nine players featured, only Felix Auger-Aliassime is still in the tournament.

IGA-WATCH: Iga Swiatek crushed her foe Cristina Bucsa, 6-0, 6-1. This was the fifteenth time she’s scored a bagel set in a major. To reach the final, she’ll have to beat Elena Rybakina and possibly Coco Gauff and Jessica Pegula.

GO FIGURE: Players have come back from two sets down seven times to win…No. 6 seed Maria Sakkari lost to China’s No. 87 Lin Zhu. 

SHOULD BE SWEET: No. 3 Stefanos Tsitsipas will face No. 15 Jannik Sinner in the fourth round. For the first time in his career, the Italian came back from two sets down, as he beat Hungarian Marton Fucsovics. 

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