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Australian Open 2021: Defending Champion Sofia Kenin Crashes Out; Rafael Nadal Breezes Through To Third Round

Australian Open 2021: While Indians in the main draw of the doubles section crashed out in their opening rounds, the highlight of the day was a defending champion’s early loss and a local boy’s exciting if untriumphant return to action.
Kaia Kanepi at Australian Open

Kaia Kanepi stretches to make a return against Sofia Kenin in their second round singles match at the Australian Open on Thursday (Pic: Twitter).

Sofia Kenin’s Australian Open defence came to an abrupt end in a second round loss to Kaia Kanepi of Estonia. The fourth seed lost 3-6, 2-6 in 64 minutes to the World No. 65 in the second round on Thursday.

Kenin was struggling to handle the pressure of her first Grand Slam title defence. She had admitted to emotional moments in her first round win and became the highest-ranked player to go out of the tournament yet. The strong-serving Kanepi pushed Kenin to 22 unforced errors as she became just the third Australian Open defending champion not to reach the third round since 1970, and the earliest to crash out since Jennifer Capriati fell in the first round in 2003.

“I felt like I wasn’t there, my head wasn’t there,” a teary-eyed Kenin said. The 35-year-old Kanepi will play 28th seed Donna Vekic of Croatia in the third round.

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Meanwhile, top seed Ashleigh Barty overcame a blip to reach the next round, beating compatriot Daria Gavrilova in straight sets. Barty appeared to lose focus serving for the match before closing it out 6-1, 7-6 (7).

Barty, a semi finalist last year, will play 29th seed Ekaterina Alexandrova of Russia or Czech Barbora Krejcikova in the next round.

In other matches, Ukrainian fifth seed Elina Svitolina scored an efficient 6-4, 6-3 win over 16-year-old Coco Gauff. Sixth seed Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic had a few scares before managing to beat American Danielle Collins 7-5, 6-2.

Nadal Cruises

Rafael Nadal brushed aside doubts over his injured back with a quick victory in his first two matches Down Under.

Nadal, who had pulled out of last year’s ATP Cup with back issues, beat Serbia’s Laslo Djere 6-3, 6-4, 6-1 in one hour and 52 minutes in the first round before beating US youngster Michael Mmoh 6-1,6-4,6-2. It was the Spaniard’s first competitive match since the semifinals of the ATP Finals in London on November 21.

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“It’s been a tough 15 days for me,” Nadal said after his opener talking about a back stiffness that flared during an exhibition match last month. “I needed to survive today and that’s what I did. I’m happy to be through and I think I did a good job today. Straight sets [win] is what I needed.” After the second round he admitted to not being overly concerned about his back and instead focussing on one match at a time to see how it goes.

Meanwhile, Daniil Medvedev extended his winning streak to 16 matches beating Spain’s Roberto Carballés Baena 6-2,7-5,6-1. The high profile and hugely entertaining encounter of the second round featured Stefanos Tsitsipas and local boy Thanasi Kokkinakis. Kokkinakis was making a return to professional tennis after a long layoff and was took the fifth seed Greek to five sets in a highly absorbing encounter. Tsitsipas eventually prevailed 6-7, 6-4, 6-1, 6-7, 6-4. 

Sharan, Raina Crash Out

India's Divij Sharan and Ankita Raina crashed out of the men's and women's doubles events respectively, after suffering straight-set defeats in the opening round.

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Ankita and her partner Mihaela Buzarnecu of Romania lost 3-6, 0-6 in just one hour and 17 minutes against Aussie wild card pair of Olivia Gadecki and Belinda Woolcock. Divij and his Slovakian partner Igor Zelenay lost 1-6, 4-6 against the German combination of Yannick Hanfmann Kevin Krawietz.

On Wednesday, the other Indian in men's doubles event, Rohan Bopanna and Japan's Ben McLachlan bowed out in the opening round after a 4-6, 6-7(0) defeat to the Korean wild card pair of Ji Sung Nam and Min-Kyu Song.

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