Young Americans shine on
Aussie Open Day 1
Ashley Marshall | January 14, 2019
The future of American tennis may be on track to arrive quicker than anybody expected.
Nine Americans – none older than 26 years old – advanced to the second round of the 2019 Australian Open on Day 1 in Melbourne, as the U.S. went 9-9 to begin the first Grand Slam of the season.
There were wins for 26-year-old Denis Kudla; 25-year-olds Sloane Stephens and Danielle Collins; 23-year-olds Sachia Vickery and Mackenzie McDonald; 21-year-olds Reilly Opelka and Taylor Fritz; 20-year-old Frances Tiafoe; and 17-year-old Amanda Anisimova.
But as the next generation of young Americans showed signs of bigger things to come, Team USA’s two seeds on the men’s side – 33-year-old No. 9 seed John Isner and 29-year-old 31st seed Steve Johnson – were among the casualties on an action-packed Monday Down Under.
Isner, the only Top-10 seed to fall on Day 1, was outslugged by fellow big-serving American Opelka in four tiebreak sets, 7-6, 7-6, 6-7, 7-6, in a battle on Court 8 that lasted a tick under three hours.
In an even match dominated from behind the baseline, Opelka edged the veteran by the slimmest of margins.
Isner saved the only break point either player earned during the first three sets, with each player breaking the other once in the fourth. And while Isner won five more points, hit seven more aces and recorded 15 more winners than his opponent, it was Opelka who did the damage when it mattered most.
He won four of the final five points to take the first-set tiebreak, and he replicated the feat in the second set to overturn a 6-4 Isner advantage, when Isner failed to serve out the set. Isner, who was previously 9-0 against Americans at majors, fought his way back into the match in the third, but Opelka again won four of the last five points of the match to advance to Round 2.
World No. 102 Opelka’s reward for toppling his fellow 6-foot, 11-inch countryman is a second-round encounter with No. 100 Thomas Fabbiano of Italy. It’s a winnable match for the Florida resident, who is looking to make the third round of a major for the first time in his career.
Opelka was not the only American player causing upsets at Melbourne Park, however.
Former collegiate standout Collins (pictured above) produced one of the biggest wins on Day 1, rallying from a set down to beat No. 14 seed Julia Goerges of Germany, 2-6, 7-6, 6-4, inside Margaret Court Arena.
With the exception of a quarterfinal win over then-world No. 8 Venus Williams in Miami in May, Collins, a two-time NCAA singles champion, has never beaten anybody ranked as high as Goerges. The victory points to the growth that the former University of Virginia star has shown in the past year, climbing from No. 162 just 12 months ago, when she lost in Australian Open qualifying, to No. 93, when she defeated Williams, to her current spot at No. 35. And with Monday’s win, Collins is set to break into the Top 32 and establish a new career high when the rankings are updated in two week's time.
Elsewhere in the women’s draw on Day 1, 2017 US Open champion and 2018 French Open finalist Sloane Stephens, one of 11 players who could leave Melbourne as the top-ranked player in the world, needed just 67 minutes to beat countrywoman Taylor Townsend, 6-4, 6-2. Stephens, who lost in the first round in each of her previous three trips to the Australian Open, will play Timea Babos of Hungary in Round 2 and remains on course to play No. 9 seed Kiki Bertens in the fourth round.
Sachia Vickery defeated Belgian qualifier Ysaline Bonaventure, 2-6, 6-4, 6-4, and teenager Amanda Anisimova defeated Monica Niculescu of Romania, 7-6, 6-4. Vickery will next face Collins for a spot in the Round of 32, where No. 19 seed Caroline Garcia potentially awaits, while Anisimova will look to build on the momentum of her win against 24th-seeded Lesia Tsurenko of Ukraine.
Kudla outlasted Aussie wild card Marc Polmans in five sets, fighting back from two sets down to prevail, 5-7, 1-6, 6-2, 6-3, 6-2, and Fritz defeated Cam Norrie of Great Britain, 6-3, 7-6, 6-2. Tiafoe defeated Prajnesh Gunneswaran of India, 7-6, 6-3, 6-3, while McDonald defeated Andrey Rublev of Russia, 6-4, 6-4, 2-6, 6-4.
From here, it doesn’t get any easier for the American quartet. Kudla will have a day to recover before squaring off against No. 18 seed Diego Schwartzman of Argentina, and Fritz will play enigmatic Frenchman and No. 30 seed Gael Monfils. World No. 39 Tiafoe, the fourth-youngest player inside the Top 50, will meet No. 5 seed and 2017 US Open runner-up Kevin Anderson, while McDonald will play No. 6 seed and 2014 US Open champion Marin Cilic.
Around the grounds on Monday in Melbourne, Alison Riske fell to Bertens, 6-3, 6-3; Bethanie Mattek-Sands lost to Australian wild card Zoe Hives, 6-1, 6-2; and Bernarda Pera fell to Brazilian qualifier Beatriz Haddad Maia, 6-3, 5-7, 6-4.
Qualifier Chris Eubanks lost to No. 19 seed Nikoloz Basilashvili of Georgia, 6-4, 4-6, 7-6, 6-3, and Michael Mmoh lost to Radu Albot of Moldova, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4, 6-2. Tennys Sandgren, who lifted his first career title in Auckland, New Zealand, over the weekend, lost to Yoshihito Nishioka of Japan, 6-4, 7-6, 4-6, 6-4, while Johnson lost to Andreas Seppi of Italy, 6-4, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3.
The top half of both the men’s and women’s draws conclude the first round on Tuesday.
Among the Americans in action are 23-time women’s Grand Slam champion and No. 16 seed Serena Williams, who will face Tatjana Maria of Germany, and No. 17 seed Madison Keys, who will battle Destanee Aiava of Australia. The two matches kick off the day session inside Rod Laver Arena, while U.S. qualifier Mitchell Krueger begins the evening session inside Laver against top seed and world No. 1 Novak Djokovic.