If Novak Djokovic (1), Andy Murray (4), David Ferrer (5), and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (6) more or less cruised through their respective matches to make it to the last 16, the sixth day of action at the Australian Open brought us a big surprise with the demise of Gaël Monfils (14), and another one with the ease with which Richard Gasquet (17) dispatched Janko Tipsarevic (9). We also had yet again proof of how much grit and heart there still was in Lleyton Hewitt, as the Aussie veteran caused what appears to most as another big surprise when he defeated Milos Raonic (23).
The heart of the Lleyton
It was the last match to be played last night and contrary to the expeditive day session matches on Rod Laver Arena, this one was a four-set cracker that left everyone on the edge of their seats, as former no 1 Lleyton Hewitt faced young fast-rising Canadian Milos Raonic.
First of all, let’s make this clear: Hewitt deserves much more credit for this third-round win over Raonic than he’s been given, especially from the Canadian media and fans, who were quick to put the result on the shortcomings of the Canadian Cannonman rather than on the quality of the Aussie’s play. Yes, Raonic did tighten in key moments (that missed routine overhead that gave Hewitt the third set is the most flagrant example). Yes, he did look overwhelmed by the occasion at times (it was his first match ever on a Centre court at any Grand Slam).
However, just talking about the Canadian’s shortcomings is both denying the quality of the opponent and that of Milos himself, as he did not, per say, play a bad match, all the contrary! He was made to overplay by the grit and tenacity of the Aussie, who is, after all, very experienced and knows how to handle players of Raonic’s quality. Think about his many encounters with Andy Roddick, or his phenomenal match against Ivo Karlovic in Roland Garros a couple of years ago. So Hewitt knows how to handle big serves and turn them from an opponent’s weapon to his own.
Last night, Hewitt did just that. He fed on Raonic’s power and turned it into a powerful weapon of his own, initiating long rallies that would most of the time turn in his favour. Then again, if there’s something to be said about Hewitt, it is that he is relentless in the rallies. Once the ball is in play, he will not give in and will fight and inch his way through, capitalizing at the first given opportunity.
In truth, that is what led Lleyton Hewitt to an impressive 4-6 6-4 7-6(5) 6-3 victory over the 23rd seed. Impressive, worked, hard fought, and deserved win. Nevertheless, between this and saying that Milos Raonic played a bad match, there is a step that I refuse to take because that is not what, in my eyes, has transpired.
Being into the second week of the Australian Open is also a huge accomplishment for Hewitt, whose last few years have been marked with many an injury, and who wasn’t sure if his body would even hold the first round in this tournament. However, despite the injuries, he continued to fight to do what he likes, something that is all to his honour, and I admit that even though I have never been a fan of the Aussie, I am very happy that he is in the round-of-16 in Melbourne.
Can he cause the upset against Novak Djokovic on Monday? I doubt it, but I’m sure that no matter what, he will give it an intense shot.
Mikhail Kukushkin causes a huge surprise
It came very close not to occur. Up two sets to none in front of an ailing Gaël Monfils (lower back), Kazakhstan’s Mikhail Kukushkin all but choked and permitted his opponent to come back and force a decisive fifth set.
It is finally a double fault as he was serving to stay in the match that caused the Frenchman’s demise and made Kukushkin the first Kazakh to ever reach the second week of a major, with a 6-2 7-5 5-7 1-6 6-4 victory over the 14th seed.
This victory is an absolutely unexpected result for Kukushkin, who really improved a lot in the off-season. Who doesn’t remember seeing his name next to a favourite’s and think, “This will be an easy win for [insert your favourite’s name]”? And who doesn’t remember it usually being true?
Since the beginning of the year, however, Kukushkin has impressed on more than one level. His hard-fought match against Andy Murray in Brisbane was but one example of how the aggressive play of the Kazakh seems to have come to maturity. This should be interesting to watch as he will face the Scot once again, tomorrow.
Top half round-of-16 matchups
In the top half, the round-of-16 will feature these matches:
- Novak Djokovic vs Lleyton Hewitt
- Andy Murray vs Mikhail Kukushkin
- David Ferrer vs Richard Gasquet
- Jo-Wilfried Tsonga vs Kei Nishikori
Will there be any surprise quarter-finalist?