On Saturday the top half of the men's singles draw was completed. It was an exciting and predictable day at the same time, with Djokovic and Murray coming through easily in straight sets, and then we saw two upsets, with Mikhail Kukushkin upsetting Gael Monfils in 5 sets and Lleyton Hewitt put together an inspiring performance by defeating Canadian Milos Raonic in 4 tough sets. In other matches, Jo Tsonga eased by Frederico Gil, David Ferrer beat Juan Ignacio Chela, Richard Gasquet defeated Janko Tipsarevic, and Kei Nishikori overcame Julien Benneteau in 4 close sets.
In the best match of the day, Lleyton Hewitt overcame the odds and beat young rising star Milos Raonic 46 63 76(5) 63. Quite simplistically put, it was an amazing match by Hewitt, and he played with passion and emotion that we saw from him when he was in his prime. The turning point of the match came in the 3rd set tiebreak when at 6-5, Raonic had an easy (yet awkward) overhead putaway and missed it, giving Lleyton the two sets to one lead. That point was huge because it permanently swung the momentum in favour of the Aussie veteran, and he closed out the fourth set after forcing an early break. Being Canadian, I was disappointed to see Raonic get eliminated, thus preventing him from facing the World #1 Djokovic, which I was quite looking forward to. Nevertheless, I could not be too upset because I saw what the win meant for Hewitt. He was almost in tears at the end of the match and he showed once more where his true allegiance lies in pro tennis. He continues to put forth incredible performances at the Australian Open, and especially now, after the injury-riddled 2011 he had, a win like this over the decade-younger and higher seeded Raonic is a huge accomplishment. Hewitt is a class act and I have all the respect in the world for him for his competitive spirit and never-say-die attitude. The embrace between Lleyton and Milos was touching - it was really mature of Raonic to act so graciously in what had to be a very tough loss for him. But I guess he knew what I knew and that this win means a lot more to Lleyton than a loss means to Milos. Raonic has his entire career ahead of him and will likely be a top 10 player in the near future. Hewitt had a wonderful moment and it will certainly go down as one to be cherished.
In perhaps the biggest upset of the day, Kazakhstan's Mikhail Kukushkin defeated Gael Monfils 62 75 57 16 64. The first two sets were heavily controlled by Kukushkin and Monfils was struggling physically. Then, after failing to serve for the match at 5-4 in the 3rd set, the momentum swung and Monfils won the third set 7-5 and then the 4th easily 6-1. In the 5th, it was a close affair but the Kazakh got the better of La Monf in the end. This win is very important for Kukushkin and Kazakhstan. He is now the first man of that country to reach the 4th round at a Grand Slam, and for that, a big congratulations must go out. He has played very well this tournament and deserves all the success he receives over this fortnight.
To recap the other matches:
-- Djokovic strolled by Mahut 60 61 61. Mahut was visibly injured and he should have retired, but didn't, and for that he got admiration from Djokovic and the crowd. Djokovic has not been tested at all so far this tournament but he hasn't played anyone of note that could even hope to challenge him. The second week will be far more telling than the first if he has to play Hewitt, Ferrer, and Murray/Tsonga back to back to back.
-- Murray and Llodra played a tight match in the first set and a half before Andy ran away with it 64 62 60.
-- Tsonga was sharp as ever in a 62 62 62 win over Gil.
-- Ferrer overcame a 3-0 deficit in the first set against Chela to take the match 75 62 61. Ferrer is looking very good right now, and is in the same kind of form he was in when he upset Nadal last year.
-- Richard Gasquet, in a surprising result, beat 9th seed Janko Tipsarevic 63 63 61. Richard is playing great tennis right now and this is a big win for him in a Slam over a top 10 player.
-- Kei Nishikori beat Julien Benneteau 46 76(3) 76(4) 63. Nishikori became the first Japanese player to make the Round of 16 at the Australian Open.
A few notes that I took from the day:
-- Djokovic is VERY good right now, but I am unsure if getting through the first three rounds this easy will be a detriment to him. He hasn't had any true competitive match practice and hasn't had to worry at all through the first week. Yes, the great chances are that Novak will get through to the finals and probably win, but it will be interesting to see how he handles the second week of the Open. I know he won't take anyone lightly, but he could have some very tough, physical matches coming up. His improved fitness will definitely be tested against Hewitt and Ferrer, should that match happen.
-- Kukushkin is a very impressive player to watch. Ever since I saw him give Federer a test in the 1st round of last year's Wimbledon, he has impressed me. He goes for shots and plays a balls-to-the-wall kind of style. He is confident right now and could give Murray fits in their 4th round encounter.
-- Judging by their forms right now, I would take Tsonga over Murray if they were both to meet today. Jo has been firing on all cylinders and we know how Andy can struggle with guys who are too offensively overpowering for him (goes into a defensive shell and loses).
On Sunday, there are 4 potentially incredible matches slated on the men's Round of 16 bottom half. Kohlschreiber vs Del Potro, Berdych vs Almagro, Nadal vs Lopez, and Federer vs Tomic (match of the tournament thus far) could all and should all feature great tennis. Expect Del Potro, Berdych, Nadal, and Federer to all win in 4 or 3 sets. I would love to see Lopez test Nadal but I'm afraid there are very slim chances of that happening. On the women's side, there are some sweet matches lined up, starting with last year's final, Kim Clijsters vs Li Na. Honestly, take your pick, because it should be a very tight match. #1 Caroline Wozniacki also meets Jelena Jankovic, and that should be a good match if both can bring their best games.
It's an absolute mouth-watering day ahead at Melbourne Park, one that EVERY tennis fan across the globe should see. There should be some stellar matches with the biggest names. I know I'll be pulling another all-nighter to watch the action. I hope it's fantastic.