A number of little-known Aussies have made it a memorable opening day for the local contingent at the Australian Open, despite Nick Kyrgios' devastating withdrawal with a knee injury. Olivia Gadecki, Jason Kubler, John Millman and Rinky Hijikata all produced remarkable wins to surge into the second round of the Melbourne Park grand slam.
Hijikata's was perhaps the most incredible and came in the late hours of Monday night. The Australian wildcard came back from two sets down to prevail 4-6 4-6 6-3 7-6 (7-5) 6-3 over German qualifier Yannick Hanfmann, sending fans into raptures.
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Hijikata, who famously won the first set against Rafa Nadal at the US Open last year, collapsed to the court in disbelief after sealing the victory. "I'm lost for words. That was mental," he said after the four-hour, 25-minute epic.
""I don't really know what to say at the moment. I couldn't have done it without the support today.
I'm so grateful for everyone coming out. That is the most fun match I've ever played in my life."
The 21-year-old relished the vocal home support on Court 8, consistently revving up fans as he manufactured his amazing comeback. Social media also lit up in disbelief at Hijikata's epic performance.
— Jamie Muscatel (@JamieMuscatel) January 16, 2023
What a win - all guts.
— Hero (@hierohero1) January 16, 2023
What a win - crowd was awesome.
— Hero (@hierohero1) January 16, 2023
Made me cry
— love (@Icac105) January 16, 2023
A real confidence booster. Incredible!
— Silent_D (@Asian_Darkness) January 16, 2023
His win came after fellow Aussies Kubler and Millman also produced stirring victories. Millman booked a showdown with two-time finalist Daniil Medvedev after cashing in on his wildcard with a five-set marathon victory.
The 33-year-old twice trailed Marc-Andrea Huesler of Switzerland by a set, but fought back before winning 6-7 (8-10) 7-5 6-7 (2-7) 6-2 6-3 in four hours and six minutes. The win sets up a clash with Medvedev on Wednesday after the Russian star dispatched American Marcos Giron 6-0 6-1 6-2.
"They're the matches you want to play," Millman said. "He's one of the few guys that I've actually never played before. I love watching him play.
"It's a daunting prospect because you know that when you play against him, you have to work for every point. He gives you no points. He covers the court extremely well. He extends the rallies and that's how I'm winning my rallies.
"So it's going to be a really tough battle but I've had a couple of big matches before against some of these big players and generally speaking, I like to test myself against them."
Australia's epic day after Nick Kyrgios' sad withdrawal
Kubler continued his stunning career resurgence, finally winning his first match at the Australian Open ever. Kubler outclassed Sebastian Baez of Argentina - a player ranked 40 spots above him at No.44 - 6-4 6-4 6-4.
The victory is a long time in the making for Kubler, coming 13 years after he debuted at Melbourne Park as a 16-year-old prodigy. "To be able to win (here) for the first time in singles is super great but also I feel like I'm carrying a bit of the momentum from last year and I feel really proud of myself that I was able to win on the singles court," he told reporters.
"I'm proud of myself. I wasn't sure last year if I'd be in this sort of situation. With my year last year, I was able to win a round at the French, win a round at the US Open and have that pretty special run for me at Wimbledon as well.
"So it's kind of cool now, just almost the last four grand slams that I've been able to win a match in the main draw. So if anything, I'm more proud of that."
And 20-year-old Gadecki earlier lived up the the hype with a 7-5 6-1 victory over teenage qualifier Polina Kudermetova. The Queenslander is mentored by retired Australian champion Ash Barty.
The victories capped off an emotional day for Australia at the Open that saw Kyrgios announce his withdrawal due to a knee injury. The World No.21 has a cyst growing on his left meniscus that requires arthroscopy surgery.
"Trust me, my heart is broken," Kyrgios said on Twitter on Monday night. "But I'm on the table Monday to get fixed, I'll be back!"
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