AO Live Blog, Day 4—Kenin falls; Tsitsipas survives; Italian fireworks

AO Live Blog, Day 4—Kenin falls; Tsitsipas survives; Italian fireworks

Also, Feliciano Lopez rallied to win from two sets down for the fifth time in his career. Earlier, Shelby Rogers eased past Olga Danilovic with Novak Djokovic in the stands.

The second round of the Australian Open comes to a close Thursday in Melbourne. Beginning Wednesday evening in the United States, we'll bring you updates on the many matches and happenings Down Under in this running blog.

Nadal and Medvedev roll into round three

Second seed Rafael Nadal and fourth seed Daniil Medvedev faced little resistance in their second-round contests to confidently move forward. 

Celebrating his 25th birthday, Medvedev got off the court first with a 6-2, 7-5, 6-1 victory over Roberto Carballes Baena to increase his win streak to 16 consecutive matches. The Russian has not lost since falling to Kevin Anderson in the quarterfinals of Vienna on October 30.

Nadal blitzed past American qualifier Michael Mmoh, 6-1, 6-4, 6-2, in one hour and 47 minutes. The 2009 champion was successful in 15 of his 16 trips to the net, held in every service game and, laughed off an intoxicated woman giving him the finger. (she was soon ejected)

He'll face Cam Norrie in the third round, as the Brit closed out play just after Nadal with a 3-6, 7-5, 6-3, 7-6 (3) win against Roman Safiullin.

Stay tuned for more on Nadal from Steve Tignor.

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Svitolina downs Gauff; Pegula cruises

Fifth seed Elina Svitolina defeated 16-year-old Coco Gauff, 6-4, 6-3, in the first night-session match on Rod Laver Arena.

"I think I played very solid from the beginning until the end, and yeah, it was a really great performance," a pleased Svitolina told press.

The contest came down to Svitolina rising to the occasion in key moments. The Ukrainian saved all four break points she faced, while converting two of her three chances. Svitolina, who reached the quarterfinals here in 2018 and 2019, will take on No. 26 seed Yulia Putintseva when she looks to get back into the week two conversation.

Gauff's fellow American Jessica Pegula fared better with an emphatic 6-1, 6-0 victory over home favorite Sam Stosur. The pair's stat sheet were mirror images: Pegula at 20 winners-eight unforced and Stosur at 8 winners to 20 unforced. Pegula took 13 of her 16 second-serve return points to breeze through after just 51 minutes. She'll meet the winner of Svitolina and Putintseva, if, she gets through Kristina Mladenovic. Matt Fitzgerald

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Fabio-lous match tie-break overshadowed by fireworks

If ever there was an advert for the Australian Open's decisive set format, look no further than Fabio Fognini and Salvatore Caruso. There was stress. There was shot-making. And there was smack talk. But through it all, No. 16 seed Fognini erased a match point to ultimately prevail, 4-6, 6-2, 2-6, 6-3, 7-6 (12).

Fognini fell behind 1-5 in his decisive 10-point match tie-break with his countryman. Like he did throughout the match, Fognini worked himself back into the fold and would eventually reach match point at 9-8. Caruso saved it by clipping the sideline and drawing a forced error. He saved his second match at 9-10 with deep groundstroke and reached match point with a gutsy backhand winner up the line at 10-10.

He pushed a backhand long to miss his chance, though followed up Fognini's fifth ace by wiping away a third match point after his forehand, to his opponent's dismay, caught the back of the baseline. Fognini, who had received a code violation warning for an obscenity a few minutes earlier, continued to mutter his frustration. Well behind the baseline and scrambling to his left, Fognini channeled his contempt into a highlight reel winner by rocketing a backhand cross-court pass to move ahead 13-12. His out-wide serve on the ensuing point had enough behind it to get him across the line.

As the two went to shake hands, Caruso let Fognini know he was not happy about his sportsmanship. The two Italians began gesturing and later, engaged in a heated exchange from their player benches. A supervisor was called to court, though the fireworks soon stopped, as Caruso walked off and nothing physical materialized.

"I am tired, for sure," said Fognini. That's what a near four-hour match full of emotional ups and downs will do to you. Matt Fitzgerald

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No. 5 Tsitsipas prevails in five over game Kokkinakis

The last time we watched Stefanos Tsitsipas at a hard-court major, the 22-year-old inexplicably let a two-sets-to-one—and 5-1 in the fourth—lead slip. To his credit, Tsitsipas didn't let that shock loss to Borna Coric derail the rest of his season; he went on to reach the Hamburg final and Roland Garros semifinals. If anything, the collapse emboldened him.

But you could forgive Tsitsipas if that match came to mind while serving at 5-4, 15-30 in a fifth set today. His opponent, Thanasi Kokkinakis, had yet to break his serve, and had only earned three break points over four-and-a-half hours of play. Tsitsipas, on the other hand, had earned 22 break points, and converted five. And yet, this match wasn't over already?

Credit Kokkinakis, the 24-year-old Australian who surfaced in the pros around the same time Nick Kyrgios did, but whose career has taken a much different path. Numerous injuries have held Kokkinakis back, and kept him down in the rankings—he's currently No. 267, and needed a wild card to enter the main draw. But despite some soul-searching about whether he should still pursue professional tennis, Kokkinakis has soldiered on. So much so that his journey has inspired Kyrgios, who talked about his friend and doubles partner's determination after his marathon win last night.

Kyrgios was among the reduced but energized crowd watching as Kokkinakis executed a flawless running pass to reach 15-30, and keep the improbable going. Just three years ago, Kokkinakis defeated Roger Federer at the Miami Open. And Tsitsipas, while he may play like Federer, is not Federer. This was a gut-check moment for both men—though as the prohibitive favorite, questions about Tsitsipas' mettle were greater.

Tsitipas went on to take the next three points, never giving Kokkinakis a chance to really tighten things up. After each service point won, Tsitsipas exulted, staying positive amidst an opponent that was still hitting big, remaining confident and staying resolute. It was a test passed for Tsitsipas, but also for Kokkinakis.

"He has huge potential, I think he knows it himself," said Tsitsipas after his 6-7 (5), 6-4, 6-1, 6-7 (5), 6-4 win.

The same can be said for the Greek as well.—Ed McGrogan

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Kokkinakis pushes Tsitsipas to a fifth; Berrettini stays hot 

Was he inspired by what Nick Kyrgios pulled off last night? Or perhaps he just might not be ready to take the doubles court with his good friend.

Whatever it is, Thansai Kokkinakis is making the most of his latest chance on the big stage. The wild card has turned his clash with No. 5 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas into a winner-take-all set situation. After dropping the second and third sets, Kokkinakis won his second tie-break of the day, passing the Greek with a confident-as-can-be backhand down the line to send Rod Laver Arena into a frenzy.

Just beforehand, No. 9 seed Matteo Berrettini continued his run of form Down Under, defeating qualifier Tomas Machac, 6-2, 6-3, 4-6, 6-3, in two hours and 39 minutes. A year ago, Berrettini was sent packing in this very stage by Tennys Sandgren. The former US Open semifinalist, who went 3-1 at last week's ATP Cup, meets No. 19 seed Karen Khachanov next. Matt Fitzgerald

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Is Brady the one to beat?

American Jennifer Brady made the semifinals of the most recent hard court Grand Slam last summer, and may be poised to do so again after countrywoman Sofia Kenin’s title defense ended at the hands of Kaia Kanepi.

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Brady capped off her 2020 breakthrough with a thrilling run to the final four at the US Open, where she pushed eventual champion Naomi Osaka to three sets, and is looking equally imperious in Melbourne. Sweeping aside fellow American Madison Brengle, 6-1, 6-2, in exactly 52 minutes, the No. 22 seed will play one of two qualifiers—Egyptian trailblazer Mayar Sherif or former junior standout Kaja Juvan—for a spot in the second week. 

The highest ranked player left in her section, she may yet avenge Kenin’s loss to the Estonian Kanepi and reach a second career Grand Slam quarterfinal, where she would be projected to face No. 5 seed Elina Svitolina, who takes on another American hotshot in Coco Gauff later on Thursday.David Kane

Russian troika continue their advance

After a decade of Russian dominance on the WTA Tour, a trio of men have begun asserting themselves towards the top of the ATP, led by 2019 US Open runner-up and No. 4 seed Daniil Medvedev.

While Medvedev takes on Roberto Carballés Baena later tonight, his closest-ranked countrymen are also in his half of the draw, and both No. 7 seed Andrey Rublev and No. 19 seed Karen Khachanov eased into the third round in straight sets.

Rublev has been on fire to start the 2021 season, going undefeated in ATP Cup to back up a post-lockdown surge that helped him win three 500 titles and make his World Tour Finals debut last fall. The 23-year-old struck a whopping 16 aces to close out Brazi’s Thiago Monteiro, 6-4, 6-4, 7-6(8) and move within striking distance of a fifth straight Grand Slam second week.

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Waiting for him there is the ostensibly ageless veteran Feliciano Lopez, who has no plans to retire at 39 years of age, and let his play explain why on Thursday as he rallied from two sets down to shock No. 31 seed Lorenzo Sonego in five.

Next through was the 24-year-old Khachanov, who reached the third round in Melbourne for a third straight year with a 6-2, 6-4, 6-4 win against Ricardas Berankis. With just two trips to the second week of a Grand Slam under his belt, the Russian will likely have a tough test in the Round of 32 as No. 9 seed Matteo Berrettini looms as his possible next opponent. In three 2019 encounters, the Italian ran the table, though their lone hard court clash went three sets.David Kane

UPSET ALERT: Kanepi shrugs off defending champion Kenin

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There was no question who looked like the No. 4 seed on Thursday afternoon in Melbourne, and it wasn't Sofia Kenin, who had the [4] next to her name in the draw, as well as the pressure of being the tournament's defending champion.

Instead, Kaia Kanepi played the role of a Top 10 player. In just 1:04, the heavy-hitting Estonian ousted Kenin, 6-3, 6-2, on the strength of eight aces and more than double the American's winner count. Kenin never broke sereve, and became the latest highly ranked player to fall to Kanepi—she's previouly beaten then-world No. 1s Caroline Wozniacki and Simona Halep.—Ed McGrogan

More on this match to come on

Lopez, 39, rallies to win from two sets down

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The first time Feliciano Lopez successfully overcame a two-set deficit, he was a 21-year-old newcomer to the pro tour. In 2002, at Wimbledon, the Spaniard toppled 17th-ranked Guillermo Canas, 4-6, 2-6, 7-6 (7), 7-5, 10-8.

Almost 20 years later, Lopez—the oldest men's player in the Australian Open and a tournament director in Madrid—pulled off the very same feat. Tom Brady with a tennis racquet, he defeated No. 31 seed Lorenzo Sonego, 5-7, 3-6, 6-3, 7-5, 6-4, for his fifth career comeback from two sets down.

Currently in his 75th consecutive Grand Slam main draw, Lopez has won a five-set match in 21 of those appearances. Few will mean as much, or will have been as unlikely, as this one.—Ed McGrogan

It was easy—until it wasn't—for victorious Barty

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After dropping her opening service game, Ashleigh Barty quickly recovered against countrywoman Daria Gavrilova. She took the next six games for the first set, then amassed a 5-2 lead in the second. That's when things got interesting.

After dishing out a double bagel in her first-round match, victory seemed imminent, but the Aussie twice failed to serve out the match, needing a 9-7 tie-break to close out the contest before things got really interesting.

"A different challenge every day," said the world No. 1. "I’m rusty, but I am happy."

Perhaps this was the point when Barty's lack of match play finally surfaced. Before last week's Yarra Valley Classic, which she won, the Aussie hadn't played a tour-level match since February 2020.

For a ticket to the round of 16, Barty—who had her left thigh heavily strapped Thursday—will play either Ekaterina Alexandrova or Barbora Krejcikova.—Ashley Ndebele

Bencic survives test from Kuznetsova

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While opening matches on the other stadium courts wrapped up in straight sets, Svetlana Kuznetsova and Belinda Bencic went the distance inside Margaret Court Arena. On paper, Bencic was the favorite with her No. 11 seeding, but Kuznetsova, 12 years her senior, has two Grand Slams to her name, and is ranked at a very respectable No. 37.

After dropping the second set, Bencic was visibly flustered, screaming at herself and acting out with some ball-throwing theatrics. She took a medical timeout during the set changeover to get her foot taped, and then jumped out to a 2-0 lead, but she squandered control, with Kuznetsova reeling off three straight games. Bencic righted the ship to win three straight games of her own, and appeared to have her place in the third round secured. 

But the battle wasn’t over yet. She missed out on three match points at 5-3, losing one on a double fault. Finally, at 5-4 and on her fifth match point, she managed seal a 7-5, 2-6, 6-4 win.—Nina Pantic

Pliskova turns the tables in Collins rematch

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For the second time in two weeks, Karolina Pliskova and Danielle Collins played in Melbourne. In the first collision, Collins ousted the heavy-serving Czech in two tie-breaks. It was impressive stuff from the American, with just two total breaks of serve throughout the contest.

Yet in the Thursday rematch, there were five breaks of serve in the first set alone. (Naturally, a second-serve winner ended the set.)

Pliskova struck that second-serve winner, as Collins could only graze the ball with her outstretched racquet. From there, the No. 6 seed tightened up her game, winning 77 percent of first-serve points (compared to Collins' 40 in set two) and converting three break chances. It wasn't the cleanest match, but she'll take a 7-5, 6-2 win over a 7-6, 7-6 loss any day.—Ed McGrogan

Rogers rolls Danilovic as Djokovic looks on

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American Shelby Rogers is the first winner of Day 4 at the Australian Open, dispatching Olga Danilovic, 6-2, 6-3. Daughter of famed basketball player Predrag Danilovic, the 20-year-old became the first player born in the new millennium to win a WTA title back in 2018, when she outlasted fellow teen Anastasia Potapova in the Moscow River Cup final.

From there, the Serb struggled for consistency, falling to a ranking low of No. 277 after initially cracking the Top 100 with her title run. Qualifying for her first Grand Slam main draw in Melbourne, she shocked No. 16 seed Petra Martic to book a clash with Rogers, who reached her second major quarterfinal last summer at the US Open.

Though ATP No. 1 Novak Djokovic was in the stands to cheer his countrywoman on, Danilovic failed to find her range in the hotter conditions, her lefty strokes catching several balls late as Rogers continued to find openings though a competitive second set. Scoring the crucial break at 3-3, Rogers ultimately reeled off the final four games to seal her spot in the third round, where either No. 21 seed Anett Kontaveit or Brit Heather Watson will await.David Kane