By Dave Gertler
(January 4, 2014) SYDNEY – Action drew to a close on the second day of qualifying matches at the Apia International tennis tournament on Saturday. The biggest surprise of the day was Mikhail Kukushkin, the No.1 seed on the men’s side, bowing out 6-7, 2-6 to Jan-Lennard Struff, the 23-year-old German. Third seed Benjamin Becker was also knocked out by an in-form Ryan Harrison, whose consistent serving and ability to turn defense into attack proved too much for the German on the day. Struff now faces Devvarman of India, while Harrison will take on Stephane Robert of France in tomorrow’s second round.
The official main draw ceremonies also took place on Saturday, Bernard Tomic and Simona Halep respectively being called upon to assist drawing numbers out of a glass bowl to decide the layout of the draw, the first round of which begins on Sunday.
Tomic was confident and jovial in press, gesturing tongue-in-cheek relief when he drew himself to play Marcel Granollers. Although the Spaniard is ranked No.38, Tomic conceded, “We have never played but I know and it’s going to be a tough match. He is seeded eight, I was lucky to avoid a few of the guys early.”
Juan Martin Del Potro also touched down in Sydney this morning, and by late afternoon was doing his first practice session of the Australian summer, with his team on Ken Rosewall Arena. Del Potro looked relaxed, perhaps not wanting to push himself too much after the long flight.
It was a good day for Americans toughing it out in qualifying. Ryan Harrison, Wayne Odesnik on the men’s side, as well as Bethanie-Mattek Sands, Lauren Davis, Varvara Lepchenko, Christina McHale and Victoria Duval all progressed to the next round.
The Australian men fared relatively well, with John-Patrick Smith and Jordan Thompson both advancing to the next round, Smith at the expense of countryman Matt Reid. 19-year-old Thompson will now 20-year-old face Jiri Vesely from the Czech Republic, while JP Smith goes up against Alex Bogomolov.
Romanian rising star Simona Halep was also at hand to assist with the women’s draw ceremony. She will be up tomorrow against Madison Keys, who was a quarterfinalist here in 2013. Halep, who is competing here for the first time, said, “It is a good draw, every match is difficult. I am ready now for this tournament.”
The top two seeds, Agnieszka Radwanska and Petra Kvitova, will go straight into the second round, while third seed Sara Errani will face Roberta Vinci in an all-Italian first round match-up. Eighth seed Sloane Stephens will face 2008 finalist Svetlana Kuznetsova, while fifth seed Angelique Kerber’s match with Dominika Cibulkova, the unseeded yet in-form Slovakian.
Keys and Halep are among the main drawcards scheduled to play first round matches on Ken Rosewall Arena, while the remaining qualifiers will lock horns on the outside courts throughout the day.
Dave Gertler is a tennis journalist, player and musician based in Sydney covering the Australian summer of tennis for Tennis Panorama News. Follow his Twitter updates from the tournament @TennisNewsTPN, follow him on his personal Twitter @davegertler, read his blog, and listen to his podcast, Tennis Days .