Konta bows out
Before the Australian Open began, Jo Konta’s new coach Michael Joyce suggested that the depth in the women’s top 50 is stronger than ever.
On Thursday, American lucky loser Bernarda Pera proved that those ranked as low as 123rd in the world can play a bit too, stunning ninth seed Johanna Konta 6-4, 7-5.
Pera lost in the final round of Australian Open qualifying but was reinstated into the draw to replace the injured Margarita Gasparyan. Here, though, she was anything but a loser or lucky, blowing Konta out of the tournament with a whirlwind of crushing forehands and a strong return game - in all, the 23-year-old American landed 72% of her returns and forged a remarkable 17 break points.
Konta was some way short of her best form, hitting 14 winners to 29 unforced errors, the majority of which came from a wayward backhand wing. Having lost the opener to a solitary break of serve, Konta broke at the first time of asking in the second to regain a sense of control.
But back came Pera, who broke again en route to restoring parity at 2-2, before breaking once more for a 4-3 lead. Konta saved three match points when serving to stay in the match at 5-3, and then capitalised as Pera failed to serve it out at 5-4, breaking back to level affairs at 5-5.
The British No.1’s resilience was admirable, but she was unable to fend Pera off for long, losing her serve again after falling to the ground and missing the ball altogether on break point.
Although Konta saved a fourth match point as Pera attempted to serve it out for a second time, the Briton framed a forehand way long on the fifth, sealing a famous victory for her unheralded opponent.
“I think she played very inspired throughout the whole way,” said Konta.
“I just didn't play well enough, to be honest. I didn't play well enough to be able to kind of earn that third set and try to earn my way out of the match.”
Hsieh outfoxes Muguruza
Another top 10 women’s seed wilted in the sweltering Melbourne heat, with world No.3 Garbine Muguruza losing 7-6(1), 6-4 to world No.88 Su-wei Hsieh.
With her unorthodox yet effective playing style causing havoc for the reigning Wimbledon singles champion, Hsieh surged into a 5-2 lead in the opening set after the pair had begun by trading breaks in the first two games.
Muguruza, who appeared to be struggling physically and had treatment for blisters on her left foot, did rally for 5-5, but her recovery efforts were in vain as Hsieh took the opener in a one-sided tie-break.
The Spaniard also fell 5-2 behind in the second set, and although she saved a match point in another comeback attempt that saw her get to 5-4, Hsieh served out the match at the second time of asking.
“She's definitely a very tricky opponent, and even more if she plays well. I think today she played well,” said Muguruza.
“I maybe could have done things better, but at the end, she deserves to win. That's really it.”
Novak Djokovic outlasted a heat-affected Gael Monfils to reach the third round of the Australian Open, recording his 15th straight win with a 4-6, 6-3, 6-1, 6-3 scoreline.
In stark contrast to his irresistible form on Monday, when he dismantled Donald Young, the six-time champion made the worst possible start against Monfils, producing errors and double faults aplenty as he fell 0-3 behind.
In truth the first set was a scrappy affair, understandably so as the surface temperature on Rod Laver Arena reached 69 degrees Celsius, and although Djokovic recovered for 3-3, Monfils broke again and maintained his advantage to take the opener.
The Frenchman’s exploits caught up with him, though, and he rapidly deteriorated in the second and third sets as Djokovic’s superior fitness told.
In the fourth, Djokovic broke for a 5-3 lead, and eventually got over the line in an eight minute game.
Around the Grounds
Maria Sharapova impressed as she beat No.14 seed Anastasija Sevastova 6-1, 7-6(1), avenging her defeat to the same opponent at the US Open last year. Next up for her is a blockbuster clash against the in-form No.21 seed Angelique Kerber, who maintained her unbeaten start to the year with a 6-4, 6-1 win over Donna Vekic.
Elsewhere, No.6 seed Karolina Pliskova beat the heat with a 45-minute victory over Beatriz Haddid Maia. No.17 seed Madison Keys went even quicker, beating Ekaterina Alexandrova 6-0, 6-1 in just 41 minutes. Meawhile No.8 seed Caroline Garcia was made to work against Marketa Vondrousova, eventually triumphing 6-7(3), 6-2, 8-6.
No.5 seed Dominic Thiem rallied from two sets down against American qualifer Denis Kudla, coming through 6-7(6), 3-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-3. No.13 seed Sam Querrey exited in four sets at the hands of Marton Fucsovics, while No.19 seed Tomas Berdych advanced in four sets.