2016 Australian Open: Key Takeaways from 1st-Round Action

Michael Whitlow@@MAWhitlowFeatured ColumnistJanuary 19, 2016

Rafael Nadal's early exit at another major will only raise more questions as to when he'll win another major outside of Roland Garros.
Rafael Nadal's early exit at another major will only raise more questions as to when he'll win another major outside of Roland Garros.Mark Baker/Associated Press

There seemed to be a dark cloud hovering over the opening round of the 2016 Australian Open, and it had nothing to do with the weather.

A conjoined report from BuzzFeed and BBC on potential match-fixing in major tournaments by some major players has the tennis world buzzing over the backlash that could be coming to the sport.

On top of the report, the first two days of the tournament felt like utter chaos. 2009 Australian Open champion Rafael Nadal, No. 2 seed Simona Halep and seven-time major winner Venus Williams were all eliminated from the tournament during the second day of action.

The Dab even made an appearance, courtesy of Victoria Azarenka:

Here are a few key takeaways from the first two days of the 2016 Australian Open, starting with the opening-round upsets.


Upset City

Between the men’s and the women’s singles draw, six seeded players lost in the opening two days Down Under.

The most notable defeat by a ranked player: Nadal.

It took seven years, but Fernando Verdasco finally got some payback on his fellow Spaniard. During Nadal's run to the 2009 Australian Open title, he and Verdasco played the match of the tournament: a five-hour, 14-minute duel of epic proportions.

Verdasco gave Nadal all he could handle, despite losing the second and third sets after an opening-set win via tiebreak. After taking the fourth set in another tiebreak, Verdasco finished off the 14-time major champion with a dominant 6-2 performance in the final set.

For Verdasco, his opening-round upset had to feel like sweet redemption.

For Nadal, it was another early-round exit at a major.

With his early exit from the tournament, that makes nine straight major tournaments without a win for Nadal.

Not including French Open victories, Nadal has won just one major (2013 U.S. Open) since his dominant 2010 season, when he won three of the four major tournaments.

On the women’s side of the draw, Serena Williams’ quest to win her seventh Australian Open got a bit easier. Not only did Halep bow out to qualifier Zhang Shuai in straight sets, she lost to a player who hadn’t won a Grand Slam match in 14 attempts.

On top of Halep’s stunning exit, Johanna Konta knocked out Serena’s sister, Venus, in straight sets as well.

It was a rough day at the office for the older Williams sister, who decided to make an even quicker exit from the tournament by skipping her post-match press conference.

Skipping the presser isn't a good look for Venus, who has bowed out of the first two tournaments she's played in during 2016 in the opening round.

Frustration over her play, on top of the fact that Williams will turn 36 years old this summer with her playing days numbered, makes for an angry woman.

But still, the eldest Williams sister knows better, and knowing her, she'll be back with a purpose the next time she's on the court.


Who Becomes Djokovic’s Biggest Threat?

It’s a new year, but the top dog of men’s tennis remains the same.

Novak Djokovic cruised to a 6-3, 6-2, 6-4, straight-set victory in his opening match against Hyeon Chung.

Djokovic, a five-time Australian Open winner in 11 tries, has won four of the last six major tournaments on the men’s side. With Nadal—a thorn in Djokovic’s side in majors over the years—gone, the top-two-seeds paths to titles have gotten simpler.

The two easy answers to the question are Roger Federer and Andy Murray. Between the Big Four of Djokovic, Federer, Murray and Nadal, the four men have won 21 of the 24 Grand Slam tournaments since the start of 2010.

Out of the three tournaments not won by the Big Four, Switzerland’s Stan Wawrinka has won two of those events (2014 Australian Open and the 2015 French Open).

During both runs to his two major titles, Wawrinka beat Djokovic, including a five-set gem during Wawrinka’s run to the Australian Open title two years ago.

If someone is going to keep Djokovic from his fifth major title in the last seven tournaments and his 11th of his career, look no further than the Stanimal.


Lleyton Hewitt Is Still Alive in His Final Australian Open Performance

A long time ago, in a galaxy not far away, Lleyton Hewitt was the world's best tennis player.

Hewitt became the youngest player in history to become the world's No. 1 player at the age of 20.

Two major titles and 14 years of up-and-down play later, he's set to retire from the game after this year's Australian Open.

Hewitt defeated fellow countryman James Duckworth in straight sets in his first-round match.

“It was a tough situation, absolutely, to block out everything else that was going on,” Hewitt said, via Jai Bednall of News.com.au. “Playing ‘Ducks’ as well who I’ve tried to help out the last few years—that was really awkward.”

Hewitt will play No. 8 seed David Ferrer in the second round of the tournament.

Ferrer may put the nail in the coffin for Hewitt's playing days, but it'll be quite a scene if it's in fact the final match in Hewitt's career.

It's hard to write a better ending for Hewitt with his career slated to end in his home country.


Michael Whitlow is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. You can find his other work here, and you can follow Michael on Twitter: @MAWhitlow.


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