Sightings of inflatable kangaroos and chants of “Oi, oi, oi!” at Australian Open 2022 will continue well into the weekend, after a pair of local wildcards booked tickets to the third round of their home Grand Slam on Thursday.
Christopher O’Connell scored the biggest win of his career by upstaging 13th seed Diego Schwartzman 7-6(6) 6-4 6-4, while in the women’s draw, Maddison Inglis battled past American qualifier Hailey Baptiste 7-6(4) 2-6 6-2.
“It’s the best feeling I’ve ever had on a tennis court,” said the thrilled Sydneysider, who began chasing fuzzy yellow balls 23 years ago, aged four.
“To have moments like this, it’s a dream come true.”
The right-hander, coached by countryman Marinko Matosevic, said he knew it was crucial to capture the gruelling 84-minute opening set, especially as temperatures rose.
“I just hung tough, really tried to use the crowd’s energy, which I haven’t done much in the past,” said O’Connell.
At world No. 175, the Aussie handed Schwartzman his earliest exit from the Australian Open since 2017.
O’Connell, felled by Radu Albot on Show Court 3 in straight sets during last year’s round of 64, said he better absorbed the stadium and its atmosphere on Thursday.
“I really took it in, really got to know the court, I think that helped me get the first set,” he said.
“Last year when I played on that court, I felt like I didn’t really look around, I was just in my own little world,” he added, noting that the crowd’s energy lifted him towards the upset.
The Aussie also credited his consistency and ability to mix up spin, slice, and flat groundstrokes, a recipe that resulted in 44 winners to Schwartzman’s 27, and an impressive 75 per cent win-rate of first-serve points.
The wildcard has scheduled a career-first showdown against serve-and-volley exponent Maxime Cressy, who took out Czech wildcard Tomas Machac in four sets on Thursday.
“He’s in really good form,” said O’Connell, adding that he’s looking forward to the challenge presented by the unseeded American, a finalist at this month’s Melbourne Summer Set.
Joining O’Connell in weekend action is Inglis, after the West Australian battled past Baptiste to extend her career-best Australian Open run.
“I’m stoked,” said Inglis, after the rollercoaster match that featured 12 collective breaks of serve, six apiece.
“To get another one here in Melbourne is really, really special,” she continued, adding that the result continues to feel somewhat surreal.
“To play out there on Margaret Court [Arena] is something that you dream about. I’m feeling really grateful and lucky.”
Like O’Connell, Inglis was urged on by Australian fans as she strung together her first back-to-back tour-level victories.
“The crowd really got me going and gave me some energy,” the world No. 133 said, describing the year’s first major as her favourite tournament.
“I’m just trying to soak it all up at the moment,” said the 24-year-old, now guaranteed to win at least $221,000 in prize money.
“It’s going to take a little bit of pressure off just me financially.
“It’s obviously quite expensive traveling, hiring a coach, not being able to come back to Australia, you’re on the road for a long time. I’m pretty grateful to have some of that stress taken off.”
The Aussie forged her own path in the draw by upsetting US Open finalist and 23rd seed Leylah Fernandez in the opening round. On Saturday, she’ll tackle Estonian veteran Kaia Kanepi, who posted a straight-sets win over Marie Bouzkova on Thursday after eliminating AO 2016 champion Angelique Kerber in the opening round.
Without a doubt, there’ll be those same cheers of “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie” to accompany the first-time clash.
Source: Gillian Tan