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2023 Australian Open: Americans keep eliminating favorites

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Jenson Brooksby scores a huge win at the Australian Open
Jenson Brooksby of the U.S. celebrates after defeating Casper Ruud of Norway in their second round match at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, Thursday, Jan. 19, 2023. (AP Photo/Dita Alangkara)

The new year has been kind to unheralded American tennis players. Through two rounds of the Australian Open, unranked Americans have knocked out the top two seeds in the men’s draw and a top 10 seed in the women’s draw. 

The surprises got started on Wednesday when 27-year-old Mackenzie McDonald defeated No. 1 seed and defending champion Rafael Nadal of Spain in straight sets on Wednesday 6-4, 6-4, 7-5. Then, on the same court the following day 22-year-old Jenson Brooksby eliminated men’s No. 2 seed Casper Ruud 6-3, 7-5, 6-7 (4-7), 6-2

Those two shocking upsets mean that this is the first Grand Slam tournament since the 2002 Australian Open that the number one and two seeds have lost before the end of the second round.

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While Brooksby is no slouch, currently ranked 39th in the world, Ruud is one of the elite players on the men’s side. He was the runner-up at the French Open to Nadal in June and at the US Open to Carlos Alcaraz in September. Brooksby is making his Australian Open debut.

The young American even had a chance to close his match out in straight sets. He had three match points while trying to serve out the victory at 5-3 in the third set, but he couldn’t capitalize in on any of them. However, rather than lose focus, he came out in the fourth set and dominated his Norwegian opponent. 

The performances by Brooksby and McDonald continue was has been a truly strong run of play by American men during the first week of the Australian Open. While making the third and fourth rounds doesn’t seem like an eye-opening achievement, it’s a huge step in the right direction considering no American man has won a Grand Slam title since Andy Roddick at the 2003 U.S. Open.

In 2023, there are eight American men remaining, which is the most into the third round in the Australian Open since the same number did it in 1996.

“A lot of Americans doing really well right now, and we’re all pushing each other,” said Brooksby,after his match. 

Brooksby will play his countrymen Tommy Paul in the third round, while fellow Americans Michael Mmoh and J.J. Wolf will also clash, ensuring that at least two American men will advance to the fourth round. 

Wolf cruised past 23rd-seed Diego Schwartzman of Argentina 6-1, 6-4, 6-4, while Mmoh, who was dubbed a “lucky loser” scored another massive upside when he defeated 12th-seed Alexander Zverev 6-7 (1), 6-4, 6-3, 6-2.

In tennis, a “lucky loser” is someone who loses in qualifying but gets another chance in the main draw if someone else pulls out prior to their match. Mmoh lost last week in the final round of qualifying and had been planning to leave for another tournament when, just hours before the start of the Australian Open, he got the news that David Goffin had pulled out of the main draw and Mmoh was taking his place.

He defeated French qualifier Laurent Lokoli in the first round before scoring the upset against Zverev. As he was walking off the court, Mmoh wrote on the camera lens, “Life is crazy.”

After the match, he elaborated that “Life is crazy. Right when you think everything is looking dim, everything is looking dark, there’s light at the end of the tunnel. My week is proof of that.”

The other American men to advance were 16th-seed Frances Tiafoe, 29th-seed Sebastian Korda, and former NCAA singles champion Ben Shelton, who beat qualifier Nicolas Jarry of Chile 7-6 (3), 7-6 (3), 7-5. 

Unfortunately, the news was not all good for the American men as Taylor Fritz, the highest-seeded American male in the tournament at 8th lost a shocker in five sets to Australian Alexei Popyrin. After an early exit at the U.S. Open as well, this is now two tournaments in a row where Fritz has failed to capitalize on a winnable draw. 

However, the Australian Open upsets continued on the women’s side where 113th-ranked Katie Volynets dispatched 9th-seed Veronika Kudermetova 6-4, 2-6, 6-2. The 21-year-old qualifier from California reached the third round of a Grand Slam event for the first time in her career.

“I literally have the chills because the fans here are just incredible,” Volynets said after the match. “I’ve never played in a stadium this packed and with that many people keeping the energy up for me. It was awesome.”

Volynets is one of six American women still remaining in the draw including 3rd-seed Jessica Pegula, 10th-seed Madison Keys, and last year’s runner-up 13th-seed Danielle Collins. 7th-seed Coco Gauff also remains, and she will take on fellow American Bernarda Pera in the third round on Thursday night or Friday morning, depending on the length of the previous matches.  

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For more coverage of the 2023 Australian Open, visit amNY Sports

Michael Mmoh celebrates a huge win at the Australian Open
Michael Mmoh of the U.S. falls to the court as he celebrates after defeating Alexander Zverev of Germany in their second-round match at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, Thursday, Jan. 19, 2023. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)