Nadal Wins in Straight Sets, Sharapova Exits on Australian Open Day 2

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Five thoughts from Day 2 at the 2020 Australian Open, where Rafael Nadal, Daniil Medvedev and Dominic Thiem advanced on the men's side, and Karolina Pliskova, Simona Halep and Elina Svitolina moved through to the second round in the women's draw.

• After a rain-interrupted first day, Tuesday was an absolute festival of matches. Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic won with ease on Monday; today it was Rafael Nadal’s turn. The top seed made quick work of Bolivia’s Hugo Dellien, a fine shotmaker but an unthreatening one. Nadal has won this event only once—as he’s often reminded—but his game is well-suited for this surface, he is (by his standards) uncommonly healthy, and, significantly, he’s not in the same half of the draw as Federer and Djokovic.

Rafael Nadal

• It is unseemly to suggest that players retire, especially in an eat-what-you-kill individual sport. But it is fair to wonder how much longer players accustomed to great success in earlier days, are willing to endure humiliations. Which bring us to Maria Sharapova. Winless since last August, she fell to No. 19–ranked Donna Vekic today in straight sets, 6-3, 6-4. Failing to defend fourth round points from 2019, Sharapova will now drop—wait for it—out of the top 350. Because of her track record and celebrity force field, she will able to scoop up some wild cards. And Sharapova is uncommonly persistent/stubborn, an asset that has served her well throughout her career. But as often as players talk of going out on their own terms, this may be a case that proves otherwise.

• A subplot to the first half of 2020: Olympic eligibility. Each country is permitted a maximum of four singles entrants. For some countries, the lineups for Tokyo will be assured. For others, there will be a real fight. The United States falls into the latter category, especially the women’s side. Serena Williams is a virtual lock. Madison Keys is likely on the team as well. After that, it’s up for grabs. Today two candidates in the bakeoff fared very differently. Ali Riske, now at a career-high No. 19, won her match in three sets and will only rise. Amanda Anisimova, who reached the fourth round here last year, will drop, falling today to Zarina Diyas in three sets.

• Players can help themselves at a major, even before their first match. By playing well at the ATP Cup, Daniil Medvedev moved into the No. 4 slot, ensuring that he will not play a higher-ranked opponent until the semis. By the same token, players who get sloppy and fall out of seeded positions set themselves up for peril. Enter Frances Tiafoe, a top 30 player last year who’s struggled mightily over the last six or so months and has fallen to No. 50. Unseeded, Tiafoe had the misfortune of drawing Medvedev in round one. Tiafoe competed gamely but Medvedev prevailed, winning 6-3, 4-6, 6-4, 6-2 to push Tiafoe out of the top 70.

• Nick Kyrgios isn’t perfect. And the game of peek-a-boo that he plays with his talent has long gotten stale. But calling him “tennis’s bad boy” or casting him as a villain is, in tennis terms, a bad unforced error. For every ill-considered remark or indefensible bit of behavior, there is an equal and opposite act of goodness. Kyrgios comes in for credit as the figure who catalyzed tennis’s response to the Australian bushfires. He also demands to play on a smaller venue, so all fans with ground passes can watch him in action. On Tuesday night in Melbourne Arena, the Man of the People put on a show, beating Lorenzo Sonego. A showdown with Nadal looms.