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The Australian Open first-round, five-set rundown: Murray's Melbourne reunion; FAA fights back; Cressy ices Isner; Paire ends major skid
On Tuesday, Andy Murray upended Nikoloz Basilashvili for the second time in a week, while Felix Auger-Aliassime avoided crashing out by mounting a comeback against Emil Ruusuvuori.
Published Jan 18, 2022
TC LIVE: Discussing Murray's Sydney success
The second day of the Australian Open began without much theatre. A plethora of seeded favorites advanced with ease, keeping play moving along. But the next acts that followed staged all kinds of scenes. A rundown of the five-set fad that took over the first round:
Andy Murray d. Nikoloz Basilashvili, 6-1, 3-6, 6-4, 6-7 (5), 6-4
In 2019, Murray—who publicly announce that he would soon be calling it a career—was sent off by Australian Open organizers with a touching tribute video after he lost in five sets to Roberto Bautista Agut. Three years later, playing on the same court, Murray prevailed in five sets to win his return at Melbourne Park.
Was it ever really in doubt that he and Basilashvili would go the distance on John Cain Arena, after the two battled in a grueling Sydney clash? It’s never easy beating the same opponent twice in the span of a week, but Murray accomplished just that in prevailing after three hours and 52 minutes to oust the No. 21 seed. The five-time finalist, who also took down the Georgian at Wimbledon last year, gets qualifier Taro Daniel next.
“When I look back at a lot of my matches in like 2015, 2016, I was quite sort of efficient and clinical. When I had opportunities and when I was ahead of guys, I'd finish them off quickly,” assessed Murray. “Right now, because I'm not quite playing at that level, the matches are maybe a little bit tighter. So hopefully if I can continue to improve my level, I'll be able to shorten some of the matches.”
Felix Auger-Aliassime d. Emil Ruusuvuori, 6-4, 0-6, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4
Ninth seed Auger-Aliassime entered the first major of the season on the back of captaining Canada to an ATP Cup triumph. So it was a stunning turn of events to see the No. 9 seed manage just seven points in his second set, later falling further behind at the hands of Ruusuvuori. But the 21-year-old fought through challenging wind and a worthy opponent to pull out the victory in three hours and 40 minutes.
FAA will look to raise his level at the line after making 55 percent of his first serves, winning 68 percent of those points.
“I think I loosened up a little bit starting from the fourth set, just started serving better, was making him move a little bit more and at the end that's it,” he said. “I always really thought highly of him. I think he's a great player and he showed it today. He made me analyze and rethink what I was doing many times in the match because he was playing well.”
Steve Johnson d. Jordan Thompson, 7-6 (5), 6-7 (8), 4-6, 6-3, 6-3
It’s a coin flip on the biggest thing that played out in this match, the protracted tennis exchanges, or the mustache carrying a bigger felony. Johnson had lost his past three openers at the Australian Open; Thompson was yet to make it out of the second round. The result was two competitors coming out with intent to change the narrative.
Thompson put himself in position when he went up 3-1 in the fifth, only to see the American reel off the final five games of the contest, ending with a double fault from the ponytailed home hopeful. Johnson’s reward is an encounter with 11th seed Jannik Sinner.
It's a battle with an opponent and you try to figure out a way to go through, and today for sure it's important for my confidence. It was going to happen at some point in my career, to come back from being led in a Grand Slam, and it did today. Felix Auger-Aliassime
Maxime Cressy d. John Isner, 7-6 (2), 7-5, 6-7 (4), 6-7 (5), 6-4
Many circled this clash as one to watch—and it lived up to the hype, in terms of being a toss-up. It was the serve-and-volleyer Cressy who arrived with all the form, having shined at this very venue two weeks ago when he qualified and progressed to his first ATP final. Isner was on a three-match losing streak and had been bounced in the first round at 2021 Wimbledon and the US Open. He fought off three match points at 4-5, 0-40 in the fourth set to draw even, but his inability to convert a single break despite being handed 20 double faults from his countryman’s racquet proved a perennial disaster.
Cressy moved to 4-0 in opening rounds of majors, but now aims to get beyond the second hurdle for the first time.
Sebastian Baez d. Albert Ramos-Vinolas, 6-4, 4-6, 6-3, 1-6, 6-2
First main draw, first five-set match for Baez? No problem. The Argentine shot up the rankings in 2021 when he contested nine Challenger finals, walking away as the champion on six of those occasions. This, however, marked just the 21-year-old’s 10th tour-level match, whereas Ramos-Vinolas had 510 to his name when the pair took the court.
Youth and a slightly more assertive approach won out in the end, as Baez took an important step forward in his journey towards bigger stages. He’ll most definitely get a look at one in the second round should No. 4 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas advance.
Benoit Paire d. Thiago Monteiro, 6-4, 3-6, 7-5, 2-6, 7-5
When Paire finally put the match on his racquet, it only seemed on brand that he would entertain those watching for a bit longer. Monteiro broke at 15 when Paire provided four unforced errors, then held at love to level for 5-5. The Frenchman’s serve came and went in a rollercoaster game, but after firing his 30th ace to move back in front, Paire stepped in on his returns to deflate the Brazilian and end a five-match skid at majors in the process (0-4 in 2021).
“Honestly, it was a good match. Since the beginning of the season, I feel like bad mentally, bad physically,” he said. “Today it was different, with the all the support I received from the crowd. It was something crazy.”
Frances Tiafoe d. Marco Trungelliti, 3-6, 6-4, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3
Fifth sets haven’t exactly been kind to Tiafoe despite his persona that would seem well-tailored for the moment. Prior to Tuesday, he was 3-10 when put in that situation. With with two losses to start the New Year, Tiafoe also wasn’t high on the confidence meter, while Trungletti benefited from picking up three wins in the qualifying rounds. Both players delivered plenty of finishing touches on the day. By the end, Tiafoe did the trigger pulling in the winner-take-all set.
Arthur Rinderknech d. Alexei Popyrin, 7-5, 4-6, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3
Thanasi Kokkinakis couldn’t make the quick turnaround from Adelaide Monday night when he bowed out in straight sets. The man he stopped in the final, Rinderknech, may have drawn the larger end of the stick after all with an extra day to rest and prepare. It would prove pivotal on Court 3 against another local favorite with the crowd behind him.
Popyrin had made noise in each of his past three trips to Melbourne, scoring wins over Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Dominic Thiem and David Goffin. This time, he didn’t have the final answers for his late-bloomer adversary. Three hours and 22 minutes later, featuring 49 trips to the net, Rinderknech carved up a successful AO debut.