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Emma Raducanu and Andy Murray left with contrasting outlooks after early Australian Open exits

The Independent
The Independent
 2022-01-20

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It was hard to know where to look at times on a day four of the Australian Open that seemed to have it all. It ended with both Emma Raducanu and Andy Murray bowing out at the second round stage, with one showing admirable fight and spirit to rage against an early exit and the other questioning whether they still had enough to go on.

While Raducanu’s first grand slam since her remarkable US Open triumph is over earlier than many would have expected, it does not tell the full story of a wild evening in Melbourne in which she not only came up against Danka Kovinic but also a painful patch of blisters on her right hand. It forced Raducanu to change her game plan and took away the explosive weapon of her right-handed forehand but she did not allow the situation to overcome her.

Instead, it sparked a remarkable fightback from the 19-year-old in rallying against what looked certain to be a straight-sets defeat and forcing a decider while hacking away with a forehand slice. Raducanu revealed afterwards that she had been struggling with the injury before the match , with members of her team advising her not to play, but that was not evident as she reeled off a series of early breaks.

Raducanu has an ability to catch fire from the first point but in Melbourne she has also faced the challenge of the momentum suddenly swinging in the opposite direction, one of several lessons she will take away from what was just her third grand slam appearance. Kovinic’s run of five games in a row in the opening set created tension and strain, exacerbated by the growing concern of Raducanu’s right hand.

It brought a medical timeout amid much anguish over the loss of the opening set, but Raducanu’s response to the adversity was significant and impressive. Grimacing through the pain, Raducanu battled to break back in the ninth game of the second set before saving another two break points in holding serve.

Kovinic emerges with her reputation enhanced for taking back control in what was an excellent performance from the world No 98. In that regard, there are similarities between her win here and some of the surprise upsets Raducanu enjoyed as she tore through the US Open last September. Although separated slightly by age, the 27-year-old has experienced the biggest win of her career in defeating a grand slam champion and becoming the first player from Montenegro to reach the third round of a major. It’s a reminder of the additional challenges facing Raducanu as she embarks on this next chapter.

She has many more Australian Opens to look forward to in the future – a realisation that dawned just as Murray began to cast doubt on his own.

After the magic of his epic first-round win over Nikoloz Basilashvili, the 34-year-old’s hopes of a deep Australian Open run came crashing back to earth in a tame straight-sets defeat to wildcard Taro Daniel . Murray had been asked before the match how his team are working on closing out matches quicker after he was taken to five sets by Basilashvili. Instead, Daniel produced a 6-4 6-4 6-4 victory that exhibited all the efficiency and control that Murray had been looking for in his own game.

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Murray won’t be giving up the fight after this defeat but his post-match comments were telling of how disappointed he had been in his own performance. It was as flat and sluggish the former world No 1 has been since returning to the grand slams. Daniel was largely faultless, staying patient to outlast Murray in the long rallies as the errors piled up from the 34-year-old. This was the biggest win of his own career and one that defied his ranking of 120 in the world.

Murray did have chances but was unable to consistently produce the aggressive tennis needed to bypass Daniel’s clean hitting. The passiveness of Murray’s display appeared to be his frustration when suggesting afterwards that he would not come back to the Australian Open next year if he is unable to produce the performances that are required.

If Murray’s exit felt low key, Nick Kyrgios went out kicking and screaming as he threatened to bring the roof down at the Rod Laver Arena, dragging tournament favourite Daniil Medvedev into one of the wildest matches to take place at this or any other Australian Open. An inspired Kyrgios performance in the third set in front of a raucous home crowd opened up the possibility of a thrilling comeback, but Medvedev kept his head to silence the boos, jeers and “ siuuus” that were coming his way in sealing the 7-6 6-4 4-6 6-2 win.

It was always going to be a box-office match, one that took place while Murray and Raducanu were both also on court and highlighted again just how thrilling a player Kyrgios can be when he is in the mood. It led to frustration, too, that Kyrgios doesn’t offer this enough, and the 26-year-old has been unable to pull together his ability and persona into fulfilling his potential and producing these occasions on a more regular basis.

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In coming through this test, Medvedev emphatically underlined his own status as the clear favourite in the men’s draw. The US Open champion kept his head in an environment where many, including a younger Medvedev, would have lost theirs. That was, at least, until the on-court interview, as Medvedev turned on the crowd in calling out their behaviour, later suggesting a few of those jeering him between serves “probably have a low IQ” .

Those comments will inevitably lead to more noise from a home crowd whose exuberant energy is becoming a dominant talking point at this Australian Open. It may yet fuel a second grand slam title for Medvedev.

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