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By Chris Oddo | @TheFanChild | Tuesday January 21, 2020

Hubert Hurkacz

88 matches boiled down to five thoughts. Welcome to Aussie musings, where we wax poetic on the day that was in Melbourne.

Photo Source: Mark Peterson/Corleve

Five thoughts on the run of play of the first two days at the 2020 Aussie Open.

1.The Mentality of Hubert Hurkacz

As we saw with Denis Shapovalov, Miomir Kecmanovic and Felix Auger-Aliassime in Melbourne, it isn’t easy to manage the nerves and expectations at a Slam when you’re an up and coming player that everyone has eyes on. It looked like Poland’s Hubert Hurkacz, who dropped so many jaws with his impressive play at ATP Cup, was going to take his lumps as well on Day 2 as he fell behind Austria’s Dennis Novak two sets to love.

But Hurkacz stayed calm, reversed course and dug his way out of a giant hole to earn his first comeback from two sets down and the first five-set victory for his career. The Pole's calm demeanor was on full display as he set about solving the problems he faced from both himself and Novak and focused his mind on getting back into the match one point at a time.

Hurkacz put up 17 winners v 30 unforced errors in the first two sets; in the final three he managed 34 winners against 21 unforced. Clearly the 22-year-old battened down the hatches and found his steady, bad self down the stretch. For a player that entered the Australian Open with four Grand Slam main draw wins from seven appearances (and blew a two sets to one lead at his last Slam vs Jeremy Chardy in the first round of the US Open) the victory could prove to be a harbinger of things to come. It’s unlikely in our estimation that Hurkacz will lose a lot of first-rounders at the Slams going forward. Belief builds with matches like these and the Pole did himself a solid by digging deep and finding a solution on Day 2.

Aussie John Millman looms next for Hurkacz, in what should be a great second-round tilt.

2. Ons Jabeur, Top 20?

One of the most thrilling and creative shotmakers that TOO MANY tennis fans have never heard of? That would be Ons Jabeur of Tunisia, who pulled the biggest upset of the first two days of this Australian Open when she knocked off 12th-seeded Johanna Konta on Day 2.

Turns out Jabeur wants to make sure you know her name by the end of the season. Check out her goals:

“I am hoping to be Top 20 this year, hopefully qualify for Zhuhai or something,” she told reporters on Tuesday. “It’s really big for me but I think I can do it, I think I can do it, I proved that I won against many players. I put the hard work in off season—I need a little bit experience, but hopefully I can get to my goal.”

A 2011 Roland Garros girls' champion, Jabeur became the first Arab woman to reach the third round of a Grand Slam at Roland Garros in 2017 and the first Tunisian to reach a WTA final (Moscow, 2018). Her career-best ranking of 51 is the highest-ever hit by an Arab player.

Konta, who has battled a knee injury and hopes that she’s on her way to full health, gave Jabeur high marks for the victory.

“I expected her to play well against me,” Konta said. “I expected her to be inspired to play well, and she's the kind of player that also gets on a bit of a roll. That also unleashes more of her creativity and more of her unpredictableness. That's also why she's very difficult to play.”

3. Maria Sharapova World 366?

Believe it, it’s true, Maria Sharapova’s ranking will drop to around 366 when rankings come out after the Australian Open. It’s hard to fathom that it has come to this for the once vaunted Russian, who owns five majors and held the No.1 ranking for 21 weeks.

Alas, injuries have caught up with the 32-year-old in a big way and she’s been on and off the tour quite a bit since returning from her doping ban in 2017. There have been promising signs over the last few years, but each time it seems there is a step forward the inevitable two steps back come next. Right now, all the steps seem to be backwards. Sharapova has lost eight of her last nine since reaching the second week of the Australian Open and it’s difficult to imagine a way back from this.

Could this be the end of Sharapova, or will she gather herself and refuse to give in? Your guess is as good as ours, and to be honest, it doesn’t even sound like she knows what to do in the present moment.

“I don't know if I can look at the ranking and really think about it in depth, just because I really haven't played, and I was injured most of the year,” Sharapova said on Tuesday after falling to Donna Vekic in straight sets. “You know, I certainly have to take that into account. As far as the work that I did, yeah, I did all the right things. I put in all the right work. There is no guarantee that even when you do all of those things that you're guaranteed victory in a first round or in the third round or in the final. That's the name of this game. That's why it's so special to be a champion, even for one time.”

4. Kyrgios and Playing for More than Self

Recurring theme during this Aussie summer: Nick Kyrgios is hitting his stride and stepping up as a big-hearted team player who seems to be coming into his own as a human. Always extremely complicated and some would say mercurial (others might say unstable), it seems like Kyrgios has established a direct connection to the things that make him feel whole, both on the court and off. It's a process, and Kyrgios is evolving, and he's taking very positive steps in terms of recognizing his mission and indentifying and executing ways to follow through on it.

Will this latest evolution be enough to ever keep Kyrgios from going off the rails again? Probably not, it’s a process with the Canberra native, but this Aussie summer he really appears to have turned a corner and, perhaps most important, he realizes that he is his best self and can therefore do the most good when he is being the best tennis player he can be—for mates, for kids and for country.

Spearheading--and being praised for spearheading--tennis' sweeping bushfire relief charities has been a very for Kyrgios and it has helped the people recognize that at heart he is a patriot and a kind-hearted soul. Tennis isn't the important element in this equation but Kyrgios' tennis likely will thrive in light of these developments.

Does it mean NK will roll to the title in Melbourne or that he is going to train like Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal so that he can climb to the top of tennis? Probably not—that’s not who Nick Kyrgios is, but what it does mean the 2020 Kyrgios is giving himself a chance to be a factor night in and night out. That’s good for Kyrgios and good for tennis, and good enough for us.

On Tuesday he plowed past tricky Lorenzo Sonego in straight sets, saying that he’s only interested in taking it one match at a time in Melbourne this year (Gilles Simon is next). Never mind that looming round of 16 matchup with Rafael Nadal—no biggy.

5. Felix Fizzles, Don't Panic

What is up with Felix Auger-Aliassime? Well, he’s 19 is what’s up, and the young Canadian, while extremely talented and most certainly destined for big things, has A TON OF THINGS TO LEARN about managing his nerve and serve on tennis’ biggest stages.

In one year’s time FAA has gone from a sparkling, precocious wunderkind that was taking tennis by storm to a man with a target on his back that is not quite comfortable dealing with the spotlight and the extreme pressure that comes with having zillions of fans expecting you to roll into the second week of majors like you were taking candy from babies.

The fact of the matter is that if anybody is a baby in this scenario it is Auger-Aliassime, and he looked like the kid against the big, burly and bearded Ernests Gulbis on Day 2. The Latvian is a veteran of 45 Grand Slam main draws and his ranking of 256 is in no way, shape or form an indication of how good he can be when he’s at his best, or even close to his best.

On Day 2 Gulbis was good enough to continue a trend for Auger-Aliassime. That trend being that the Canadian is not exhibiting a ton of self-belief and he’s not executing with complete clarity in the biggest moments. Is it strange that Auger-Aliassime has lost in the first round in three of his four appearances in the main draw of a major? To that question, we answer, was it strange that Stefanos Tsitsipas lost the first eight ATP-level matches of his career, or had been eliminated from his last two majors prior to this year's Australian Open in round one?

Let’s be patient, Felix is young, and still very much still coming into his own as a player. Clearly he needs some time to process all that has gone on in his career over the last 18 months and that’s okay, because he’s got tons of time.


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