AUSTRALIAN OPEN DAY ONE, LIVE BLOG

Tennis is back.

Ben Goren and Tristan Jung here to provide you live updates from the first day of the Australian Open. Follow along with us!

6:13 PM CST

Ben Goren: We’re underway! The first slate of matches, well, it’s not amazing.

The women’s side has slightly more interesting matches, with Ostapenko and Stephens in action. Tristan will be watching Cornet vs Yu Wang. Me?

I picked Edmund to win this quarter because I am a very dumb idiot man. Let’s see how this goes.

6:24 PM CST:

Ben: Sloane Stephens update:

Breaks serve to start the match.

Gets broken.

Breaks back.

Normal player. I hate that this match is on ESPN2, by the way.

6:30 PM CST:

Tristan Jung: We’re kicking off this live blog by discussing how Taylor Townsend is getting smoked. She gets the honor of being the first person to lose a set, doing it in a crisp 21 minutes.

That’s the only thing of note so far.

Also, Andreas Haider-Maurer…retire.

6:42 PM CST:

Tristan: Ben, how badly do we want Sela to beat Harrison?

Ben: God, so much. Ryan Harrison is trash, and deserved to lose to Alex De Minaur two weeks ago. He didn’t. And now he’s easily put aside Noted Challenger Winner, Dudi Sela 6-3 in the first. I hate it!

6:48 PM CST:

Tristan: Haider-Maurer inexplicably broke back because Dolgpolov is a total head case. Cornet somehow lost serve at 5-2 and but still has another shot to close out the first. Goerges looks really, really good. She’s lost just four points on serve in her quick 6-4 first set against Kenin, who is a good returner and not even playing badly.

Ben: Meanwhile, Edmund and Anderson are playing a surprisingly exciting match. They’re both getting into their opponent’s service games and playing some long rallies. It’s good!

6:53 PM CST:

Tristan: I don’t want to speak too soon, but Goerges is nearly unbeatable when she serves like this. She’s won 14 in a row so it’s not like I’m making stuff up, by the way.

Folks, Carreno Busta is down a break to Kubler.

Ben: Bablo Parreno Custa imo.

6:57 PM CST:

Ben: I’m seriously impressed with Kyle Edmund so far. There’s a lot of time for him to completely fall apart mentally, but he’s really gritted out some tough service games. I still think he has the game to be a really, REALLY good player. Maybe he figures it out this year? I’m buying all your Edmund stock.

7:01 PM CST:

Tristan: Alright, this Wang/Cornet match is just about over. Wang has a ridiculously good backhand and little else. Should be fun to watch going forward as she reaches her 20s though.

Oh, hey, Dudi Sela has broken Harrison twice and is trying to consolidate at 3-1!!!

Ben, I know you love whacked-out ball tosses so you should watch Herbert for a bit.

Ben: Fuck off.

7:06 PM CST: 

Tristan: Jason Kubler is an interesting story. Was billed as the next Nadal as a junior but really never plays on hard courts. Then he got injured for two years and is just making a comeback. Won his first hard cort Challenger title in December and is now trying to upset Carreno Busta. Aaaaand he just choked serving for the set. It’s good to me.

7:13 PM CST:

Ben: Kyle Edmund lost the set. Why am I surprised. Why do I believe in Kyle Edmund. I fully expect him to RIP that ejection cord and get sunk in 3 sets. Gosh darn it. I hate it!

7:20 PM CST:

Ben: In 10 minutes, John Isner will begin his 2018 Australian Open. I hate John Isner with a burning intensity. He is boring and awful and boy howdy is the draw set up for him. In a year that figures to be full of weird happenings and open doors for good not great players, John Isner should have his chances. The courts are fast and his serve is still massive. If it’s going to happen…maybe it happens here?

God I hope not. I’m a real Matthew Ebden fan now.

7:30 PM CST:

Tristan: Getting some final results in now. Rybarikova is through. Duan is through 6-0, 6-1 in 50 minutes.  Solid win for Ostapenko over Schiavone as well.

And the next wave of matches should be starting shortly.

7:38 PM CST:

Ben: WELL HELLO THERE.

Kyle Edmund, my sweet son, breaks Anderson to go up 4-2 in the second. That’s the first break of serve in that match. That’s huge.

Also happening, Stephens goes from serving to the match at 5-4 to losing convincingly in the 2nd set tiebreaker 7-2. We’ll go to a decider. This is a really big test for Stephens, who, again, has not won in months. Zhang isn’t the better player, and she hasn’t even been the better player in the last set, but the court is certainly tilted towards her. Gut check time.

7:45 PM CST: 

Ben: Tristan how dumb am I for picking Belinda Bencic?

Tristan: Not that dumb. She’s even odds with Venus and has been playing spectacularly. No idea what’s happening in that one to be honest.

Ben: 90% of my Bencic appreciation is due to her playing doubles with Roger Federer at the Hoppman Cup. Let’s see what happens.

Tristan: Wow Sloane. Wowwwwww.

Ben: You know what time it is, TJ.

7:56 PM CST:

Ben: Dudi Sela, TJ. He is about to do it. Remember when Ryan Harrison had hype? Remember when people wrote puff pieces about how American tennis was actually good after Sock and Isner made a Masters 1000 semifinal? What a time that was.

Tristan: Hey, there’s still Mackenzie McDonald. Dolgopolov is on his way to being the first man through into Round 2.

8:01 PM CST:

Ben: JASON KUBLER!

Tristan: Kason Jubler.

Ben: Remarkable.

8:08 PM CST:

TJ: Monica Niculescu just let out an inhuman screech after hitting a backhand into the net to bring up match point. Then she blasted the next backhand to lose the match and threw her hat. Okay, maybe being mentally tough is still really important.

Dolgopolov also lost serve immediately after I said that.

8:13 PM CST:

Ben: Stephens was an underdog in this match, and deservedly so. But the concerning part of this match was how good she looked early on. She was completely in control, and she was serving for the match. Then some switch got flipped in her head and it all went off the rails. She gets broken, gets smashed in the tiebreak, then appeared to physically lose it and get broken twice en route to losing the final set 6-2. I don’t know where she goes from here, but it isn’t good.

Oh, and Venus Williams just got broken.  I might cash out on this Bencic thing after all.

8:24 PM CST:

BEN: Rain delays!

Here’s your full scoreboard.

Williams and Bencic is 100% living up to the hype. Before play was paused, Bencic fended off 5 break points after breaking Williams’s serve. That’s a heck of a fight. Of course, we’re at deuce and play is paused, so who knows.

Edmund and Anderson are also playing a really fun match. These guys hit the ball astonishingly hard, and no one’s ejected out mentally yet, which is half surprising. Overall, pretty exciting first day of action so far!

8:42 PM CST:

Ben: We’re back! Color me extremely shocked that Kyle Edmund, who is prone to choking, came out after a rain delay and immediately got broken. Terrific. Really shocked.

Tristan: Alright, I’m back from an Arizona traffic jam and lack of cell service. I also have the cable broadcast up now. I think Zhang Shuai is pretty good. Not an easy First Round opponent by any means.

8:52 PM CST:

Ben: VENUS WILLIAMS DO NOT READ THIS.
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.
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Belinda Bencic…hello. Boy did she look strong after that rain delay. Two breaks, a nails hold, and she grabs the first set 6-3. IS VENUS SHOOK, TRISTAN JUNG???

Tristan: Venus looks…tired. Doesn’t look like she can keep any rallies in play for longer than a few shots. Bencic has so much match experience in the last two months playing (and winning) those tiny WTA 125Ks and then dominating in the Hopman Cup. Venus lost her sole warm-up match and it wasn’t very close. Bencic just needs to keep heaving forehands back into play and let Venus spray shots out or hit some week slices.

Super impressive that she survived that rain delay. I find that players often seem to choke after rain delays (see Edmund, Kyle from five minutes ago) and she was just out firing. If Bencic gets an early break here it’s probably over. Venus is just not a good enough returner.

8:53 PM CST:

Oh, Venus gets the break.

9:01 PM CST:

Ben: Oh, Bencic breaks back immediately.

Hey, let’s talk about everyone’s favorite Russian teenager, Andrey Rublev.

I really like his draw, but this first round matchup is going to be tough. Ferrer started the match with a break, but some power returning earned Rublev a break back to knot the first set at 3-3.

Rublev is fun because he hits his groundstrokes punishingly hard and deep. It’s really hard to screw up Ferrer’s timing, but Rublev seems to be punishing the geriatric Spaniard. This is going to be a fun match.

And this look is CLEAN.

9:16 PM CST:

Tristan: Edmund/Anderson looking like match of the First Round so far.

Ben: When this goes five, who do you have? I have precisely zero faith in either of these guys in clutch moments.

Tristan: I have no idea. I’m leaning Edmund because Anderson just doesn’t look right today.

Ben: And yet Edmund looks like he’s feeling some fatigue now too. I lean Anderson. Also, Coco Vandeweghe just lost the first set to a Hungarian doubles player. That American tennis narrative we had going after the US Open is looking really stupid right now.

9:25 PM CST: 

Tristan: Denis Istomin just closed out Pierre-Hugues Herbert in four sets. Istomin has a ton of points to defend after taking out Djokovic last year and looked pretty good in this match. I’d say he has a really high ceiling and could be a dark horse in that relatively weak Anderson/Sock/Edmund quarter. I think of all the players in that quarter, Istomin is one of the best five-set players you can find. I don’t really rate him against Anderson, but if he faces Edmund I think it’ll definitely be close.

Istomin really dominated on serve for most of the match and won 63% of his second serve points. If he can just get his serve down and win a couple breakers, he could find himself in a wide-open quarter depending on what Sock does. He seems to really like these new-look Australian Open courts (another ridiculous narrative, but whatever) and I like his experience. Hopefully he can stay healthy and shorten points when possible.

Ben: Meanwhile, there’s Andrey Rublev taking the first set 7-5 by breaking David Ferrer. I am living.

9:30 PM CST:

Ben: Some personal news:

9:43 PM CST:

Ben: A lot is happening. There are like 5,000 matches on right now. Edmund got his serve broken, then broke right back. Shapovalov broke Tsitsipas in his first and second opportunity and is in danger of running away from Tsitsipas. Ahhhh there’s so much to get caught up with. Oh, and Rublev got broken and broke back.

The big news, of course, is Belinda Bencic taking out Venus Williams in straight sets. She controlled that match, too. I picked her to win, so I’m going to take a victory lap. The lesson learned here is that if you get close enough to Roger Federer, you become great. Food for thought.

10:07 PM CST:

Ben: TJ, Belinda Bencic just took out Venus in straights and looked awfully good doing it. How open is this draw for her now?

Tristan: I don’t see a major test for Bencic until the Fourth Round. She’ll get the winner of Kumkhum and Larsson, which is a peak tennis hipster matchup. I like Kumkhum to win that, but I don’t see her troubling Bencic. After that, it’s Martic or Begu, both of whom have really high ceilings and really low floors. Bencic’s consistency should help there.

But after that, she faces Julia Goerges, arguably the only player who has more momentum than Bencic. While Bencic has reeled off 21 of her last 22 matches (exhibitions included), it’s hard to predict what’ll happen if she meets Goerges, who has won two straight tournaments and is serving like Serena right now. Goerges, when on, definitely has more power and class than Bencic, so it’s hard to see what’ll happen. I think Goerges would take it though.

Ben: Do we rev up the “WHAT’S WRONG WITH AMERICAN TENNIS???” take yet? Stephens, Williams, Vandeweghe, Kenin and Bellis all out.

Tristan: I think this is more a function of an awful, awful draw for American women in this tournament. Venus Williams got extremely unlucky by playing an underseeded Bencic coming off of injury. Bencic is a top 20 player in terms of potential and she would’ve been a nightmare for any of the top five.

Stephens has been injured but also got a really, really tough First Round opponent in Zhang Shuai, a very competent pro who pushed Pliskova in the US Open. Vandeweghe also got another underrated player in Babos, who can pull off world-beating, top 30 stuff when she’s on.

Kenin ran into the Goerges steamroller. Bellis, on the other hand, was favored against a struggling Bertens and really, really should’ve found a way to win that one. This is the second time she’s been upset in a Slam, and I’m not totally sold on her yet.

10:20 PM CST:

Ben: Holy shit, what a match. Kyle Edmund lost the first set, lost the third set, and then came back to beat Kyle Anderson 6-7, 6-3, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4. As the brain genius who picked Edmund to come out of this quarter, this is a pretty big day for me. But holy cow, what an incredibly fun match.

Tristan: This match from Edmund was the best I’ve ever seen him return. Anderson really, really gagged that one away at the end, but what do you expect (double fault at 15-15, what are you doing Kevin?). Quarter is wide open now with Sock on the other side of the draw and no one really looking dangerous. You look at guys like Kohlschreiber, Pouille, and Istomin and they have to be raring to go. But maybe Edmund can build off this to make a quarter himself.

Ben: He hits the ball like a monster. That forehand is extremely good. And maybe all he needs to straighten himself out mentally is a big run. There’s a lot to like.

10:30 PM CST:

Ben: Alright, why the hell are these ESPN2 talking heads saying the Nick Kyrgios is the best bet of anyone outside of the Big Four? Do they know that he’s Nick Kyrgios?

I would love it, LOVE IT, if Nick Kyrgios made a deep run. But you’re out of your mind if you think he’s a “best bet” kind of player. There are a lot of lower seeds who you should feel way more confident about. Shoot, MONFILS probably has a better bet at a deep run.

I understand that Kyrgios pushes more merch than someone like Goffin, but Goffin is a better player by miles. Why can’t he be given his due?

10:37 PM CST:

Ben: It’s all Denis.

El Shapo is putting an absolute beat down on Stefanos Tsitsipas. It’s a little alarming.

If you watch Shapo early this season, you’d know that his serve has another level. It’s coming in harder than it was last season, and it’s way more diverse. He can go up the T or out wide on both sides, which he absolutely could not do last year.

I didn’t think he was going to win this match, which I guess makes me an idiot, because Denis Shapovalov is playing better than he literally ever has.

What it all comes to for Shapo is if he can get himself into rallies. His return of serve is shaky, especially on the backhand side. Or maybe it was shaky.

Through two sets, he’s notched four breaks of Tsitsipas and is yet to give up a game on his own serve. He is positively in control, and with a quarter that isn’t especially intimidating, all of a sudden Denis Shapovalov looks every bit the part of a real contender.

That rocks.

10:47 PM CST: 

BenJohn Isner, retire, bitch.

10:55 PM CST: 

Tristan: John Isner just got completely outworked by Matthew Ebden. It was just a classic Isner letdown performance with awful volleys and forehands, so I have nothing more to say about it.

Ben: TJ, talk to me about a potential Rublev-Dimitrov matchup. Am I wrong to think that Rublev is the PERFECT guy to take down the world number 3? He punishes soft serves, and he hits hard enough to push Dimitrov off the baseline. If his serve is even moderately on, I think he could not only win, but win big.

Tristan: I think Dimitrov needs to come up with a totally different gameplan if he wants to beat Rublev. Monfils really changed up the game against Rublev and put the Russian off balance. Dimitrov has to try coming to net more to maximize his energy given how Rublev is going to move him around. Has Dimitrov ever put someone out of his comfort zone ever? Uh, file not found.

11:09 PM CST:

Tristan: While we’re in a bit of a lull, so worth noting a couple other results. Irina-Camelia Begu knocked out Ekaterina Makarova. Katerina Siniakova, a very promising young player, survived a tough match against Maria Sakkari. Andreas Seppi knocked out my boy Corentin Moutet, however, which is very disappointing for me.

11:27 PM CST:

Ben: And there’s the win for Denis.

There’s no question he came all the way off the gas pedal in the third set after getting an early break, but all the credit in the world to him for buckling back down and winning the tiebreak.

Next up for Shapovalov will probably be Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, an opponent he handled easily at the US Open. Is he the favorite in the quarter? No. But you have to feel a million times better about him now than you did at the start of the tournament.

Here’s him struggling with a banana.

11:55 PM CST:

Ben: Uhhhhhh what the hell?

This is not good! Rublev had this match completely salted away. He was pushing Ferrer around, and had a double break up 5-2. Then. Uh. He didn’t. He lost the breaker 8-6.

We had already envisioned a dream 3rd round matchup between Rublev and Dimitrov. Now, it would be nothing short of a shock if he made it out of the first round.

Of course it would be David Ferrer who would ruin the Russian kid’s dreams. Ferrer is, best I can tell, 54 years old. He still motors around the court and good goddamn if he doesn’t make you earn it.

This fifth set is gonna suck a lot.

12:15 AM CST:

Tristan: Alright, the tides have really turned in the last hour or so. As we’ve seen, Rublev completely threw away a set, but he’s not the only one. Kateryna Kozlova went up 3-0 and a double break on Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova but she lost six straight games. Jack Sock has just gone and gotten breadsticked by Yuichi Sugita. I don’t think he’s going to win that match. He’s down another break and it’s probably over.

Damir Dzumhur, who’s favored to win over Paolo Lorenzi, has thrown away two sets and might be in the process of throwing away another. Phillip Kohlschreiber, a potentially dangerous candidate in the Sock/Anderson quarter, forced a decided by beating Nishioka 6-1 and then promptly lost the final set 6-2 himself. It’s been a strange series of twists and turns. Karlovic broke Djere in game 1 and then somehow gave the break back. Alex Bolt went up 3-0 against Troicki in the third set (after losing a 2-0 set lead already) and is now losing 5-3. It’s crazy.

12:40 AM CST:

Ben: Some housekeeping updates here:

Paolo Lorenzi, who I cherish, couldn’t quite close out the match in straights, so we’re going 3 there.

Vasek Pospisil is taking Cilic to a 4th set because he is an asshole.

Jack Sock has awoken and is battling Yuichi Sugita for the 2nd set, one that Sock truly needs.

Puig and Stosur are playing a really good match.

And Andrey Rublev, out of freaking nowhere, found a way back in against Ferrer. He ended up closing out the match by breaking Ferrer to win the 5th set 6-2. That match is going to be harder than whatever he faces in the next round.

I still like Rublev to get past Dimitrov and make a deep run. His groundstrokes look as crisp as ever.

1:00 AM CST:

Ben: [to the tune of “American Woman”] Yuichi Sugita

1:20 AM CST:

Ben: A cool thing that just happened on ESPN2 was the announcers considering whether Marin Cilic would’ve been a “Big Four” level player if he never got hurt. What immediately followed afterwards was Marin Cilic tossing away a 40-15 to win the match, getting broken, and finding himself in a real match against Vasek Pospisil, who is not good at tennis.

Also, Dzumhur is going to force a fifth set against Paolo Lorenzi, who does not look very good at this stage in the match. If Dzumhur keeps his wits about him, he’ll probably win. The bad news is that Paoo Lorenzi has a tremendous ability to completely fry his opponent’s brain.

1: 35 AM CST:

Tristan: Well, we’re in the “short guy” session of the tournament with Mackie Mcdonald, Yuichi Sugita, Damir Dzumhur and Diego Schwartzman all playing simultaneously.

Dusan Lajovic just got denied a break of serve on the worst line call I’ve seen in the tournament, and now he’s given Schwartzman a critical break in the third. Diego is not playing that well and it’s a bit crazy that’s he even in this match. He’s qualitatively better than Lajovic but he’s only just eked ahead in total points won and service points won here in the fifth. But his 44 percent return points won rate is keeping him in, and he’s forced 20 break point opportunities through 4.5 sets, which is more than Isner has in most tournaments. No idea what we’ll see from him in this tournament.

Next we have Yuichi Sugita, who blew a double break lead in the second, only to somehow steal a tiebreak from Jack Sock. Sugita, like most 5-foot-8 players, can’t really serve too well. He’s not as good at defending as Schwartzman, Dzumhur or Nishikori, which makes success all the more strange (in percentage of return points won, Sugita is well behind Nishikori, Diego, Ferrer, etc and more with Cilic, Carreno Busta and Thiem). Sugita does have really clean groundstrokes, which makes him more Goffin-esque than Diego-esque, in my opinion. His only ATP title was on grass, after all. Also, I hope he beats Sock.

Damir Dzumhur is just a total lunatic, but credit to him for staying composed against Lorenzi and winning the third set breaker. I love Paolo, but I have a soft for Dzumhur, who is one of the best defenders I’ve ever seen. It would be fun to see what he can do against Nadal.

While I was writing this, Schwartzman failed to serve out the match against Dusan Lajovic. Being short in tennis is really a tough life.

2:05 AM CST:

Ben: What the heck am I still doing up.

Anyway, Sugita is probably going to lose the 4th to Sock. No one knows what’s going to happen with Lorenzi and Dzumhur. And Nick Kyrgios is starting his run!

I’m extremely interested to see how he plays that match. If he plays like he did in Brisbane, it means Kyrgios is going to be Full Kyrgios, throwing points, games, and sets just for kicks. It won him a title. Can it lead him to a long slam run?

I’m skeptical.

2:32 AM CST:

Tristan: For the better part of a decade, Yuichi Sugita has been the quintessential Asian Challenger grinder. There are others, like Tatsuma Ito, who has played Sugita 11 times (Sugita leads 6-5 H2H), Go Soeda and Ze Zhang. Those three players alone have 28 career matches against Sugita. On the Asian Challenger circuit, you play in empty stadiums for low pay against the same rotating cast of characters.

But from the crucible of obscure Japanese indoor tournaments, Yuichi Sugita has finally arisen. While sitting at No. 114, he lost in February 2017 to Lloyd George Muirhead Harris (tennis names never fail) in a low-level Japanese Challenger in Kyoto. A month after crashing out of Australian Open qualifiers, he was at his lowest ranking since mid-2015 and at age 29, looked completely washed up.

After dismantling a disinterested Jack Sock in four sets, he’s risen to No. 38 in the world. To rise 20 spots would’ve been fine for Sugita. 76 spots in less than a year, his first ATP title, 3 Challenger titles and a Masters 1000 quarterfinal later, he’s now in the second round of the Australian Open with a wide-open quarter. If there’s any player that typifies the wide-open world of tennis in 2018, it’s Yuichi Sugita.

Yuichi Sugita has very few weapons. He doesn’t have a great serve, is not a truly elite returner, and has a weak forehand (he is somehow now a decent grass court player). His true talent level is probably somewhere in the mid-70s. The fact that he’s hung around in the top 40 for months and that he has the points to stick there for a while is absurd and also somewhat beautiful. This man should not be in his prime. He is not a top prospect. He’s just steadily gotten incrementally better for a decade until finally, he is playing on the biggest stage.

This guy was probably struggling to make ends meet for the better part of 10 years. He’s probably going to make more money between 2017-18 than he did for his entire career as a professional tennis player. Good on you, Yuichi, I don’t know how you’re doing this, but congrats.

2:40 AM CST:

Ben: Well, this is where I call it a night.

Nadal is putting the finishing touches on a vintage evisceration of an overwhelmed opponent. Estrella Burgos doesn’t know where the heck he is right now.

Meanwhile, our favorite Australian son, Nick Kyrgios, quickly put down a 6-1 first set over Dutra Silva. He also told a fan to “shut the fuck up” and got in an argument with an official. As always, he is Nick Kyrgios.

This will wrap up what was a pretty wild first day of action.

Portions of this draw look pretty normal. Dimitrov’s quarter is straight chalk, ditto for Cilic.

Other portions of the draw have blood everywhere. There are no seeds left in what was once the Anderson-Sock quarter. We will be treated to Edmund-Istomin and Sugita-Karlovic as the big matches in the second round. That’s..not especially exciting.

Usually, when we say the women’s side is defined by the American results, we’re being pretty self-centered. But after day one, that’s definitely the case.

Stephens? Out. Williams? Out. Vandeweghe? Out. Bellis? Out. Kenin? Out. Brady? Out. Riske? Out. Townsend? Out. Every American woman who stepped on the tennis court lost, often in embarrassing fashion.

No huge names are out. No one in their right mind bet on Sock or Isner or Anderson to win this thing. It’s hard to make any grand statements after round one, but if nothing else, we were treated to some terrific matches.

Puig-Stosur was amazing, and it’s neat that the Puerto Rican was able to get it done. She’ll have a lot of fans in her corner over the next few weeks.

Edmund-Anderson was equally incredible and now the quarter is wide open for the British Edmund.

And, very early in the morning, we got some incredible blowouts by some very talented players.

That was fun. Let’s do it again tomorrow!

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