Game, set and match at Australian Open

Italian Camila Giorgi exited the Australian Open following her defeat by Czech Karolina Pliskova on centre court last Saturday night. Photo: Peter Haskin

IN an eventful week at Melbourne Park, Jewish players Diego Schwartzman, Madison Brengle, Camila Giorgi and Denis Shapovalov have now all been knocked out of the Australian Open.

As The AJN went to print last week, Argentinian Schwartzman was head-to-head in a five-set thriller with unseeded American Denis Kudlo. While Schwartzman (ranked 19th) started strong and claimed the first two sets, he dropped the third and fourth. At 170cm tall, he may be small in stature, but he showed big heart and even bigger fight, as he made the ultimate comeback to win the fifth set, 6-4, 7-5, 3-6, 6-7, 6-4 – much to the delight of the Schwartzman-skewed crowd of supporters.

“It was great with many people watching,” shared Schwartzman post-match.
“There were many Argentinians, and many people from here cheering for me. So it was a nice atmosphere out there to finish the match.”

Schwartzman’s luck was not to continue. He bowed out of the Open in his third round match against former Wimbledon finalist Tomas Berdych, 7-5, 3-6, 5-7, 4-6. The 196cm towering Czech dominated with his blazing 207km/h serve which contributed to his achievement of 19 aces – as opposed to Schwartzman’s eight. Indeed, it was Berdych’s serve which proved to be the insurmountable challenge and “the best part of his game”, Schwartzman told The AJN.

He may have been defeated in the singles, but after some food, rest and stretches, Schwartzman returned to the court only hours later alongside fellow Argentinian Guillermo Duran in their first round doubles match against Aussie duo Blake Ellis and Alexei Popyrin. However, in under 90 minutes, the match wrapped, with the Australians blitzing their way to victory, 7-6, 6-4.

A downtrodden and defeated Schwartzman reflected, “We played a really bad match. A really bad one. I didn’t play well today. My partner was better than me, but I was not playing good enough.”

Meanwhile, the Jewish girls of the court did not fare much better – the Pliskova effect ultimately spelling the end of the Open journey for American Madison Brengle in round 2, and Italian Camila Giorgi in round 3.

Brengle, ranked 89th, took the first set from the Czech 7th seed but was not able to sustain the intensity, with Karolina Pliskova’s powerful performance at the net sealing Brengle’s fate in three sets, 6-4, 1-6, 0-6.

Following Giorgi’s defeat of Polish qualifier Iga Swiatek in round 2, she then met Pliskova in round 3 on centre court on Saturday night.
Pliskova made a strong start, taking the first set 6-4. While Giorgi, ranked 27th, fought back to win the second set 6-3, she dropped the third set 2-6. Giorgi’s game was littered with more than double the unforced errors of Pliskova – 53 to 25. Serving accuracy was also an issue, with Giorgi receiving eight double faults.

“I think she has to be more consistent,” Pliskova said in the post-match press conference, adding, “I think she can be dangerous for a lot of players, especially at the top, because she’s playing without fear.”

As for the young buck Canadian Denis Shapovalov (ranked 27), he defeated Japan’s Taro Daniel in his second round match. But he then came up against a whole new challenge in round 3 – world number one Novak Djokovic.

It was a clash that is representative of the turning tide in tennis – a new wave of the younger generation, including Shapovalov, Alexander Zverev, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Alex De Minaur, and Karen Khachanov, rising to challenge the long-established kings of the sport, Djokovic, “Rafa” and of course, Roger Federer.

As Shapovalov and Djokovic met on the hallowed surface of Rod Laver Arena on Saturday afternoon, “the Joker” triumphed for the first two and a half sets – his experience, swiftness, backhand prowess and aggression demanding the standard of the match. But Shapovalov answered the call, and while he may have been down 1-4 in the third set, when the nerves finally settled, he played out of his skin, surpassing a stalled Djokovic to take the set.

With a raucous crowd strongly siding with Shapovalov, Djokovic’s frustrations ran high as he played himself back into the match exhausting “Shapo” in the final set, to take the win, 6-3, 6-4, 4-6, 6-0.

“Honestly, he’s such a smart player,” Shapovalov applauded Djokovic. “He’s moving you around, draining you, draining the opponent. I think that comes with experience, his knowledge of the game. He knows he doesn’t have to go for outright winners if he doesn’t need to. That’s why he is where he is.”
“[I’m] definitely mentally a little bit tired right now. Kind of want to take a nap,” he joked.

Following the match, Djokovic praised Shapovalov with having “a pretty complete game”.

“He’s got the big serve, a lot of rotation on the ball. He can hit it flat. He can hit it with a spin… He’s very positive on the court, always backing himself up. I like that,” Djokovic said. “He showed his quality, and definitely why he is one of the players we are going to see in the future.”


Novak Djokovic (right) and Denis Shapovalov after their match last Saturday at the Australian Open at Melbourne Park. Photo: Peter Haskin