Struggling Swiss former champion Stan Wawrinka’s Australian Open campaign is over after a convincing second round defeat by American Tennys Sandgren on Thursday, while Garbine Muguruza and Johanna Konta also crashed out.
The 97th-ranked Sandgren downed ninth-seeded Wawrinka 6-2, 6-1, 6-4 and will next play Germany’s Maximilian Marterer.
Wawrinka, who was playing in his first tournament since Wimbledon six months ago following double knee surgery, was nowhere near his best and is still rebuilding following a lengthy absence from the game.
“Today was extremely tough to feel that way on the court, to lose that way, even if he was playing well,” Wawrinka said.
“When you have won three Grand Slams, you don’t feel great on the court like today. But I need to be still positive. I think the last 12 days was more than what I could have dreamed for coming here.
“I really came without thinking I will be able to play the first match. That’s a big step for me.
“I only had surgery five months and three days ago and to be that far already, it’s more than what we could have expected with my team.”
He was never in the contest and had his serve broken five times and made only 21 winners and 35 unforced errors.
The triple Grand Slam winner, who defeated Rafael Nadal to win the 2014 Australian Open, has slipped to nine in the world rankings and faces a battle to climb higher after his early round exit.
He made the semi-finals at last year’s Australian Open where he lost to eventual champion Roger Federer in five sets.
Wawrinka had a troubled lead-in to the year’s opening Grand Slam, pulling out of an exhibition event in Abu Dhabi on his way to Australia.
He had not played a competitive match prior to his first round win over Lithuania’s Ricardas Berankis, having only decided to take part last weekend.
“My plan is to leave here and go back to practice, especially fitness-wise at the beginning,” said Wawrinka, who has runner-up points to defend at the French Open in June.
“I know I have a lot of work to do. I need to be really patient. It’s going to be tough. But I’m ready for it.”
He said his next tournaments would be Marseille and Rotterdam.
Sandgren’s next opponent, world No. 94 Marterer, reached the third round with a 6-4, 4-6, 7-6 (5), 3-6, 6-3 win over Spanish veteran Fernando Verdasco, who had upset No. 20 seed Roberto Bautista Agut in his Melbourne opener.
Third-seeded Muguruza succumbed to the sweltering heat as she fell 7-6 (1), 6-4 to Taipei’s Hsieh Su-Wei in one hour and 59 minutes earlier in the day on Rod Laver Arena.
The reaction says it all! 😱
— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) January 18, 2018
Ninth-seeded Konta of Great Britain was sent packing by Croatian-born American world No. 123 Bernarda Pera 6-4, 7-5.
Konta, who made the semi-finals in Melbourne on her tournament main draw debut in 2016 and reached the quarter-finals last year, said her defeat was not a “massive catastrophe” as she contemplated an early flight home.
The ninth seed had been tipped as one of the contenders for the title in a wide open field.
She looked in good form in her opening win over Madison Brengle but struggled to find her game in very hot conditions at Melbourne Park and came up against an inspired opponent.
Pera had never even played in a Grand Slam let alone won a match before arriving in Australia and appeared to be going home after losing to Viktorija Golubic in the final round of qualifying only to be given a second chance when Margarita Gasparyan withdrew.
There was no doubt the 23-year-old played well above her ranking but this was a poor performance from Konta and another sign of the anxiety issues that have stemmed from the five-match losing sequence with which she finished 2017.
Konta said: “I think she played very inspired and I didn’t quite do as much as I wanted. I think in the points I did okay, and I think I stayed quite strong. But I don’t think I did enough with my service games, and I don’t think I did enough with my returns.
“It’s a bit frustrating, but I’m still taking good stuff from this. I don’t feel, by any means, it’s a massive catastrophe. I play every event to be there until the end, so I definitely don’t want to be going home this early.
“But I think in terms of building myself back up again and then playing the way I want to play, I think I keep moving forward.”
Novak Djokovic has called for the ATP Finals to travel from their London base Thursday, saying they were a big asset that should be exploited more.
In its current format, the elite season-ending tournament has been held in the British city since 2009.
But with the announcement that Shenzhen in China will host the WTA Finals from 2019, with prize money doubled to $14 million, the Serb said it made sense for the men’s event to also cash in.
“I mean, that’s a big success for WTA, for all the female players. They deserve it. No doubt about it,” he said at the Australian Open.
“When it comes down to World Tour Finals, for us and the ATP, London has been a great success for us.”
“Because it’s just probably the biggest leverage that we have. I mean, outside Grand Slams, ATP is obviously not behind Grand Slams. This is the biggest event that ATP has,” he said.
“I think it’s probably the biggest asset. Best eight players in the world, singles players, best doubles players, are playing there.”
He acknowledged that London was a “safe” option and virtually all players only had praise for the event, but suggested it could be “exploited a little bit more”.
“It should be leveraged more because of the promotion of our sport,” he said.
“If we want to grow our sport, especially in regions like China or those parts of the world where tennis is popular, I think we should think about it, just maybe travel it a little bit more.”
He said he wasn’t pinpointing China as a possible new venue, where women’s tennis is more popular than men’s thanks to the exploits of players such as Li Na, but it could be an option.
“Men’s tennis is picking up (in China) as well,” he said.
“We also have some big events there that they are doing very well. Obviously they have great facilities. Chinese economy is obviously doing great. They love tennis. They put a lot of money into tennis.”
Novak Djokovic says the furnace conditions at the Australian Open were right on the limit as he won a survival of the fittest battle with Gael Monfils to reach the third round on Thursday.
The six-time champion staggered over the finish line to stretch his unbeaten record over Monfils to 15-0, one of the longest at Tour level, after dropping the opening set.
Djokovic, playing in his first tournament for six months after an elbow injury, just did enough at the end to carve out a 4-6, 6-3, 6-1, 6-3 win in 2hr 45min on baking Rod Laver Arena.
The 12-time Grand Slam champion has a day to recover for his third round encounter with Spanish 21st seed Albert Ramos-Vinolas.
Playing conditions were described as brutal as temperatures hovered around 40°C, prompting Djokovic to say a safety limit had been reached for the players.
“People might say at this level you have to be as a professional tennis player fit,” Djokovic said.
“It’s the beginning of the season. You work and train hard to be able to sustain these kind of conditions, to be tough.
“But I think there is a limit, and that is a level of tolerance between being fit and being, I think, in danger in terms of health. It was right at the limit.”
The extreme elements made it a desperate struggle just to finish the match with Monfils looking the worse for wear early before Djokovic had enough in the tank to win on his fourth match point in a gruelling eight-minute final game.
“It was brutal conditions and we both suffered, it was a big challenge for both of us,” Djokovic said.
“Gael is one of the best athletes in our sport but he was not at his best in the second and third sets. It was about just hanging in there and try to use every opportunity.”
Asked about the state of his right elbow, Djokovic added: “It’s still not 100 per cent, but it’s building. I have a lot of faith and belief in what I am capable of.”
GASPING FOR BREATH
It was another step forward for the Serbian former world number one, who has been working his way back with a remodelled serve after elbow problems.
A decade after winning his first Melbourne Park title Djokovic has slipped to 14 in the world, his lowest in 10 years, but he has survived the opening two rounds in his comeback Grand Slam.
Monfils, who was often hunched over gasping for air in between points, said it was the hardest match he had played.
“It was tough to breathe. Yeah, I think it was the hardest (match) I have,” Monfils said.
“No matter how much you train in the heat, how much you like the heat, it’s very tough, maybe a little bit too hot.”
Monfils added: “I got super dizzy. I think I had a small heat stroke out there.
“I trained this winter in Miami. Was pretty hot. I thought I was very good. I’m telling you, I was dying on the court for 40 minutes.”
Djokovic, showing the effects of the struggle, fended off Monfils’ renewed late effort and the Serb needed his fourth match point to claim victory.
Women’s third seed Garbine Muguruza one of those who suffered due to the conditions on Thursday, crashing out in straight sets.
“I think the surface of the court, I don’t know how much heat, it’s terrible, very, very hot, and it’s easy to get blisters and red,” she said.
“I had a more tougher match under the heat in previous years at the Australian Open, but today was — it was hot, but I don’t think was the hottest day.”
French eighth seed Garcia spent three gruelling sets in the sun against Marketa Vondrousova before limping to a 6-7 (3), 6-2, 8-6 victory.
“It’s definitely hot,” she said afterwards. “My feet are burning. But we know it’s like this in Australia — the next day it can be freezing.”
The conditions present the ultimate test of fitness and stamina, with organisers only activating the extreme heat policy when the temperature exceeds 40 Celsius and the wet bulb globe temperature index hits 32.5°C.
Tournament organisers said they had been “close” to calling a halt to play and shutting the main stadiums roofs.
Maria Sharapova was untroubled by the heat, although she was on court in the morning and avoided the worst of it.
“I love the summertime,” she said breezily after dispatching 14th seed Anastasija Sevastova in straight sets.
Players are urged to keep themselves hydrated and use ice wrapped in towels to cool off at changeovers in the draining weather.
Fifth seed Thiem took the advice to heart as he struggled through a energy-sapping five-setter against Denis Kudla.
“I’m off to have an ice bath,” was all he managed to say after the marathon match.
A cooler change is expected to blow through Melbourne from Saturday.