Saturday January 21st, 2012

Mikhail Kukushkin is into the fourth round of a major for the first time. (AFP/Getty Images)

MELBOURNE, Australia -- On Day 6 of the Australian Open, Gael Monfils lost a bizarre match, Lleyton Hewitt extended his unexpected run and the top players in both singles draws rolled. Here's a rundown of the day's action.

What happened

Shock...: It's not just that Monfils lost to Mikhail Kukushkin 6-2, 7-5, 5-7, 1-6, 6-4; it's how the Frenchman did it. This match was completely absurd in its ups and downs and momentum shifts.

Monfils, the 14th seed, felt his back lock up midway through the first set and could barely move, allowing Kukushkin to race to a 6-2, 5-1 lead. The way Monfils was moving, it was looking like a certain retirement.

Monfils, however, not only continued but also got himself back into the match. As he gingerly scurried around the court to junk balls back, Kukushkin started misfiring. And as Kukushkin's frustration grew, so did the spectacle. Monfils was hitting trick shots and lazy, flat-footed forehand winners, and slicing balls back into play. Kukushkin let it get into his head. The Russian-born 24-year-old, who now plays for Kazakhstan, barely survived the second set and when Monfils broke him to take the third, Kukushkin went on full meltdown mode. With Monfils riling up the crowd, Kukushkin -- and anyone who was watching -- saw the match slipping away.

But after going on complete walkabout for the fourth set, Kukushkin buckled down in the fifth -- much to Monfils' surprise. The two traded holds until Monfils was serving at 4-5. That's when the surreal became the absurd. At 30-15, an oversized tennis ball came flying onto the court and disrupted play, forcing a let. Monfils didn't win another point. He double-faulted to 30-30, hit a forehand error to 30-40 and then, wait for it, double-faulted to lose the match. And so Kukushkin survived to advance to the fourth round, where he'll face No. 4 Andy Murray.

And awwww...: In front of a packed house in Rod Laver Arena, Hewitt turned back the clock and played not like a man whose body was worn and broken down from years of service, but as a reenergized veteran who was more than up to the task. Riding the wave of support, the Aussie knocked off No. 23 Milos Raonic 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (5), 6-3 to reach the fourth round. The 30-year-old Hewitt proved to be too steady for Raonic, who seemed to tighten up on the big stage. The 21-year-old Canadian hit a very tentative overhead long to give Hewitt the break in the second set, and after battling back from 3-5 in the crucial third-set tiebreaker, Raonic missed an easy forehand volley to give Hewitt the set.

"He was more constant the whole match. I was more up and down," Raonic said.

After his first appearance on center court at a major, Raonic added: "I'm only going to keep learning. As much as I hate to really look at anything positive out of today, it's a learning experience. There's so much to take from it."

As for Hewitt, he moves on to face Novak Djokovic, who has lost 10 games in three matches.

"He's the No. 1 player in the world for a reason at the moment," said Hewitt, who entered the tournament ranked 181st. "I'm going to enjoy going out there and having a crack."

Cruisin' for a bruisin': Speaking of Djokovic, he wished Nicolas Mahut a happy 30th birthday with a 6-0, 6-1, 6-1 drubbing. The defending champion had 31 winners and eight unforced errors.

The other top players followed suit in a way that made you wish for a bit of mercy. On the men's side, Murray eliminated Michael Llodra 6-4, 6-2, 6-0; David Ferrer ousted Juan Ignacio Chela 7-5, 6-2, 6-1; and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga routed Frederico Gil 6-2, 6-2, 6-2. On the women's side, Maria Sharapova dominated U.S. Open semifinalist Angelique Kerber 6-1, 6-2; Petra Kvitova led 6-0, 1-0 when Maria Kirilenko retired; and Serena Williams crushed Greta Arn 6-1, 6-1.

The fact that so many of the top players have made it through the early rounds with relative ease means that the second week will be chock full of high-profile matches. That's not a bad thing.

The Entertainer: Murray put forth a fantastic display against Llodra. The Scot thrived with having the target that Llodra provided with his serve-and-volley game. The match was full of cat-and-mouse points worthy of the highlight reels (see below).

"My movement was way better than the first two matches," Murray said. "I moved great. That's a good sign for me because when I move well, the rest of my game goes well."

Photo of the day

Lleyton Hewitt celebrates after defeating Milos Raonic in the third round. (Reuters)

Go figure

5... Games lost by Sharapova in her first three matches.

74... Minutes that Djokovic needed to dispatch Mahut.

2-4... Record for French men Saturday. Julien Benneteau, who lost to Kei Nishikori, joined Monfils, Mahut and Llodra in departing. Tsonga was joined in the win column by Richard Gasquet, who topped No. 9 Janko Tipsarevic 6-3, 6-3, 6-1.

Video of the day

Murray and Llodra played several stirring points, including four in the final game of the second set.

*****

Bits and bobbles

• Saturday's scoreboard premonition: "KUKU MONF."

• Vania King, an accomplished singer, revealed that had she defeated Ana Ivanovic (in a match that featured another umpiring controversy), she would have belted out We Are the Champions. Bold to the say the least. Meanwhile, Ivanovic hasn't dropped a set in three matches and next meets Kvitova. An upset there would give Ivanovic her first quarterfinal appearance at a Grand Slam tournament since 2008.

• No. 7 Vera Zvonareva was in tears after falling to 56th-ranked Ekaterina Makarova 7-6 (7), 6-1. Zvonareva was a semifinalist here last year and in 2009.

They said it

"After my video, every player watch me don't say hello. [They] say, 'Yo, yo.'" -- Zheng Jie, into the fourth round after beating Marion Bartoli, on the locker-room reaction to her Jay-Z video.

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