Australian Open must feel like opportunity for younger men

Sports

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — There was a moment at the Australian Open on Saturday that must have felt very much like a chance for a career-defining result for some of the young men moving into Week 2.

This is seen by most as a period of transition in men’s tennis, a chance for new faces to make themselves known, and players such as Andrey Rublev, Holger Rune, Alex de Minaur, Tommy Paul and J.J. Wolf all took key steps forward with victories in the afternoon at Melbourne Park.

That No. 5 seed Rublev, a 25-year-old from Russia, and No. 9 seed Rune, a 19-year-old from Denmark, would still be in the bracket, and are set up to face each other for a quarterfinal berth on Monday, should come as a surprise to no one.

Still, neither has been past the final eight at any Grand Slam tournament. Nor has No. 22 de Minaur, a 23-year-old from Australia, who advanced Saturday and was awaiting the winner of 21-time Slam champion Djokovic’s contest against three-time major semifinalist Grigor Dimitrov.

Two other unseeded players who won Saturday — Paul, 25, and Wolf, 24, both Americans — never have been past the fourth round at one of the four biggest events in tennis.

After early losses by high seeds such as No. 1 Rafael Nadal, the defending champion and owner of 22 major trophies; No. 2 Casper Ruud, twice a major finalist last year; and No. 7 Daniil Medvedev, the 2021 U.S. Open champ and the runner-up at Melbourne Park each of the last two years, have at the very least made some newcomers feel welcome in the latter stages.

Even if they do not want to talk about the disruptions in the bracket.

“Of course, I know what’s happening,” said Rune, who appeared to hurt his ankle and wrist in a fall during a 6-4, 6-2, 7-6 (5) win against Ugo Humbert and pronounced himself OK afterward. “But mainly I just focus on myself.”

Rublev sounded a similar note following his 6-4, 6-2, 6-3 victory over No. 25 Dan Evans.

“There were some moments before when I feel there is opportunity to go to semis or even final maybe and, in the end, nothing happened,” said Rublev, who delivered 60 winners. “So this time, I just don’t want to even try to think about opportunity or something.”

Wolf, who is ranked 67th and without an ATP title, and Paul, ranked 35th and with one tour-level trophy, both won lopsided all-American matchups on Saturday. Wolf beat lucky loser Michael Mmoh 6-4, 6-1, 6-2, while Paul eliminated Jenson Brooksby — who was responsible for Ruud’s ouster in the second round — by a score of 6-1, 6-4, 6-3.

Wolf gets the winner of Ben Shelton vs. Alexei Popyrin, while Paul’s next opponent will be Andy Murray or Roberto Bautista Agut.

An intriguing fourth-round matchup on the women’s side was established with No. 5 Aryna Sabalenka to take on No. 12 Belinda Bencic. Sabalenka is now 7-0 in 2023 after beating Elise Mertens 6-2, 6-3, and Bencic stretched her winning streak to eight matches by defeating Camila Giorgi 6-2, 7-5.

Also moving into Week 2: two-time major finalist Karolina Pliskova, Zhang Shuai and Donna Vekic.

___ AP freelancer Simon Cambers contributed to this report.

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