The big upsets continue at the Aus Open, Brit Andy Murray’s dream skittled by a Japanese qualifier ranked 120th in the world as Rafael Nadal builds his GOAT case.
Former world number one Andy Murray was stunned by Japanese qualifier Taro Daniel in straight sets in the second round of the Australian Open on Thursday.
The 120th-ranked Daniel ambushed the three-time Grand Slam winner 6-4, 6-4, 7-5 in 2hr 48min on John Cain Arena to reach the third round of a major for the first time.
RECAP ALL THE DAY FOUR AUS OPEN ACTION
He will now face either Italian 11th seed Jannik Sinner or American Steve Johnson.
“Amazing level from me. I was getting pretty nervous in the third set, I was cramping a little bit, but I tried not to make too big a deal out of this match against Andy Murray,” Daniel said.
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The 34-year-old Murray, ranked 113 and playing as a tournament wildcard, didn’t stick around afterwards and walked quickly from the court, showing great disappointment at his lost opportunity.
Murray, who had career-saving hip surgery in 2019, on Tuesday won his first match at the Australian Open since 2019.
But his five-set epic against big-hitting Georgian 21st seed Nikoloz Basilashvili left the veteran leaden-footed and he cut a frustrated figure at times, even changing his shoes at one point to stem the tide.
The 28-year-old Daniel exploited his illustrious rival’s lethargy and was whippet-quick around the court chasing down balls, while Murray was picking his battles.
The Japanese broke Murray in the third game and was broken back in the sixth game with a backhand error. Daniel broke again when Murray double-faulted and served out the opening set with an ace.
Murray tried to stay in reach of Daniel, who broke again, and despite having four break-point chances, the Scot could not find a way to break back.
Daniel served out to love to take a two-sets lead and magnify Murray’s task of wresting back control of the match.
Murray cranked up the pressure on Daniel and drew an error for 30-40 and break point. Daniel double-faulted for the first time in a show of the tension to give Murray the early ascendancy in the third set.
But Murray missed a crucial backhand in his next service game and Daniel pounced with a backhand down the line to break and level up the third set.
Daniel broke Murray’s serve again in the ninth game and served out for the match, winning it on his first of two match points.
Tennis giant quietly building GOAT challenge
You all forgot about Rafa, didn’t you?
Lost in the whirlwind Novak Djokovic saga, and the Serbian champion’s lost bid to create men’s tennis history with a groundbreaking 21st grand slam title, is one of his chief challengers in the GOAT debate – and their chance to pull ahead on the all-time leaderboard.
Rafael Nadal started his tournament without his two greatest rivals, Djokovic and Swiss great Roger Federer, and hellbent on strengthening his claim as the greatest of all time.
So how has the 20-time grand slam champion, and the only former Australian Open winner left in the men’s field, managed to fly so far under the radar?
It’s easy to understand why. He’s barely played in the past 12 months, dropping down the world rankings to leave him as an especially dangerous sixth seed in Melbourne.
He tested positive to Covid-19 just before Christmas – an experience, he revealed this week, which left him ‘physically destroyed’ and threatened to end his tournament entirely.
But after a swift recovery, Nadal has absolutely rolled through his first two rounds – not dropping a set as he set up a third-round shot at Russian 28th seed Karen Kachanov.
“I don’t have big pressure on my shoulders, honestly. I don’t feel it,” Nadal said after his second-round dismantling of German giant Yannick Hanfmann.
“The pressure is only to stay healthy and to enjoy the fact that I am competing again, then give my best as I did during all my tennis career.
“I don’t expect (anything), expect to fight and make the things better and better every single day.
“Playing against Khachanov now (is) going to be a big challenge. It always is a big challenge against Karen. In my situation today it’s going to be even more (challenging).”
Likely waiting in the fourth round is third seed Alexander Zverev, coming off the best season of his career and looking every bit a grand-slam-winner-in-waiting – but Nadal won’t allow himself to think about that tantalising match-up just yet.
“I never think that far,” he said.
“Just staying focused on my daily work, on what’s coming, and that’s it. One moment in time, that’s it.”
The Australian Open remains Nadal’s least successful grand slam, owing largely due to the fact that it is Djokovic’s domain.
The Spanish superstar was involved in a curious press conference moment before the tournament, he was asked if there were factors, such as the Australian conditions, which have resulted in failing to advance past the semi-finals since his sole title at Melbourne Park in 2009.
He politely corrected the journalist, reminding anyone who’d forgotten that he’s made the odd final in the past decade – three times in fact.
But without Djokovic flexing his muscles in the main draw, a 188cm hurdle has suddenly evaporated from Nadal’s path.
Should he secure victory here, and the certainty that he’ll start favourite at his beloved Roland Garros where the 35-year-old has 13 French Open titles, Nadal could feasibly launch himself to 22 grand slam titles in the next six months – a mark that will be tough for anyone, even Djokovic, to topple.
Originally published as Australian Open 2022: Results and news from the men’s side of the draw
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