Söderling exits Aussie Open in shock defeat

Robin Söderling's Australian Open run ended after he was stunned in the fourth round by an unheralded Ukrainian on Monday.

Söderling exits Aussie Open in shock defeat

Alexandr Dolgopolov celebrated the best win of his career, overcoming the in-form fourth seed to reach the Australian Open quarter-finals on debut.

Söderling was left lamenting the return of his Australian Open jinx Monday after he was sent packing by Alexandr Dolgopolov in his latest dismal result. Söderling’s five-set exit, 1-6, 6-3, 6-1, 4-6, 6-2, at the hands of the world number 46 extended a frustrating run at the first Grand Slam of the year for the Swede.

The 26-year-old was one of the top tips for the tournament after winning his warm-up tournament in Brisbane and he went into Monday’s match having not dropped a single set in his eight wins this year.

However, the shock defeat means he has yet to advance beyond the fourth round in six attempts here after first-round failures in 2005, 2007 and 2010 and winning only one match in both of his two other appearances.

“I’ve struggled many times in this tournament and I think I never had a good first month [of the year] in my career. But still, I won a title and made it to the fourth round here. At least it’s much better than the past years,” he said.

Söderling said he couldn’t put his finger on why he struggles at the start of each season. Despite his impeccable recent form heading into the match, including his three successive straight sets wins to reach the fourth round, Soderling said he never felt in good touch in Melbourne.

“You know, I fight through three matches, which I’m very proud of, but I never felt that I played really well, which you need to, especially in a Grand Slam. There were no weapons today,” he said.

Söderling’s powerful serve lacked its usual punch and he said he struggled with the bright Australian sun.

“I had some problems for a couple games with the sun,” he said of his serve.

“It was tough to see. I tried to put it in a little bit safer. Of course, 130 kilometres per hour on the first serve is not great. It’s not something I’m proud of, but that’s how it is,” he said.

Despite the early departure, Söderling said he still retained confidence in his ability to match it with the best.

“I think all my victories in the past years give me a lot of confidence. I really show to myself that I can do well, I can win a lot of matches, and really compete for the Grand Slam tournaments, all the big tournaments,” he said.

Söderling had shaped as one of the men to beat here and cruised through the first set in just 21 minutes on the back of his powerful serve. The Swede’s serve had been broken just once in the first three rounds, but the 22-year-old Dolgopolov stormed back into the match with successive breaks in the second set to level the match.

The rot continued in the third set for Söderling, as he won just one game and was troubled by foot blisters. The Swede grew increasingly frustrated as he struggled to find a way to combat Dolgopolov’s court coverage and bold ground strokes.

However, he managed to level the match and broke Dolgopolov in the first game of the decider. It was a false dawn though, with the youngster breaking straight back and claiming the next four games.

Two superb passing shots set up match point for Dolgopolov on the Söderling serve and although the Swede staved off three match points, he dumped a forehand into the net to end the match after 2 hours and 36 minutes.

The ponytailed Ukrainian hit 50 winners to Söderling’s 34 and made just 23 unforced errors to his opponent’s 51. Söderling said he performed below expectations, but believed Dolgopolov had a bright future.

“Maybe with a little bit of luck, I could have won, but he played better than me. He’s a good player. He has a great backhand and he’s moving very well. He’s a great counter-puncher. He has a good chance to do really well, I think,” he said.

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Roger Federer relieved after getting past ‘mirror’ Evans

Defending champion Roger Federer reached the Australian Open third round for a 20th straight year Wednesday but admitted it had been tough to get past his 'mirror' image Dan Evans.

Roger Federer relieved after getting past 'mirror' Evans
"Playing a player like Dan Evans is like facing myself," the 37-year-old Federer said after his match against the Brit. Photo: AFP

Britain's world number 189 slowed the Fed Express to a crawl, keeping the Swiss master battling for more than two hours to win the opening two sets before finally succumbing 7-6 (7/5), 7-6 (7/3), 6-3.

The 20-time Grand Slam champion, who is gunning for a record seventh Melbourne Park title and third in a row, admitted he had been given an unusual challenge by the 28-year-old, who plays a similar style of tennis.

“Playing a player like Dan Evans is like facing myself,” the 37-year-old Federer said. 

“It feels like playing a mirror a little bit. That was my mindset heading into it — how would I play myself potentially?”

Evans, whose ranking plummeted from a career-high 41 after he was slapped with a year-long ban for testing positive to cocaine in April 2017, played almost flawless tennis to stave off a set point on his way to forcing a first set tie-break.

He even had the temerity to lead 5-3 in the breaker before Federer stepped up a gear and reeled off the next four points to secure the set with a cry of “Come on!”.

“It always helps when you sneak a break in the first set,” said the Swiss star after a ding-dong contest lasting 2hr 35min. “The match might have been different.”

Federer said he had expected Evans to cause him more problems than when he cruised through their previous Grand Slam meeting at Wimbledon in 2016 for the loss of just eight games.

“I have high regard, you know, in Dan. I think he's a good player. I've seen him play some really good matches over the years, I see why he can cause difficulties,” he said.

“He's got a nice slice, defending the court well. He has the variation, which is always a hard thing to play against.

'Cat and mouse'

“He was very sort of cat and mouse. I liked the match. It was enjoyable.”

The loss of the first set after exactly an hour was harsh on Evans who had committed only two unforced errors and constantly put the third seed under pressure with his scampering, attacking game and flurry of winners off both wings.

The plucky Evans, who had covered acres of ground and found the lines unerringly, needed treatment for blisters on both feet before the second set started and immediately was broken.

But he refused to lie down and broke back as Federer served for the set to force another tie-break.

“I thought I might have pulled away midway through the second set,” added Federer. “But I couldn't, to his credit. He played well.”

The Swiss great hasn't often needed luck during his unparalleled career but he took advantage of some in the third set to finally ease the pressure.

Holding break point at 2-1, he barely scooped up a half-volley which grabbed the net cord and toppled over forcing Evans to go long.

A service game to love followed to put Federer 4-1 up and the brave resistance of Evans was finally broken.

The veteran will play unseeded American Taylor Fritz in the last 32.