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TTI Slam Cast: Best of the 2016 Australian Open (First Round)

Welcome to Slam Cast, a new segment at TTI for 2016! Following each round at a Grand Slam, the each member of the TTI crew will get together and deliver our favorite moment from the previous round — a (moderately witty) observation, a match that we want to rave about, a player that let us down, etc. Without further ado, we present TTI Slam Cast: Australian Open R1.

SAM: Oops, (Misak)i Did It Again

Spare a thought for Misaki Doi, who for the fourth straight Grand Slam had victory snatched away from her and lost a heartbreaker to a much higher ranked player — this time, No. 7 seed Angelique Kerber came back to gut out a 6-7(4), 7-6(6), 6-3 win after saving a match point.

But really, take a look at Doi’s slam results in the last year.

Who knows what could have been if only a few more points had gone her way in just one of these matches? Regardless of results, the current World No. 64 punches well above her ranking and has one of the biggest weapons on tour in her monster of a lefty forehand.

(I may or may not have tweeted last September that I thought Doi would be seeded at Wimbledon 2016, and while I’m not as confident in that prediction now, I still think we’ll see a big jump in her ranking between now and the fall, when she has more to defend.)

As for Kerber, it’s difficult to say how much we should care that she struggled against a player she nearly double-bageled in Canada last year.

My inclination: not much. She was far too passive and visibly frustrated for much of the match and blew big leads in the first two sets, but the German still hung in, found a way, and closed the deal — something she hasn’t always been the best at.

NICK: One Shining Moment

Zhang Shuai delivered what will in all likelihood go down as the most heartwarming moment of the tournament on Monday, when the 26-year-old took out the No. 2 seed, Simona Halep, in straight sets and proceeded to empty her reserve of emotions.

It was Zhang’s first ever victory in the main draw of a Grand Slam. She had lost her first 14 matches in majors and had lost 20 consecutive sets in them, so to say this was a shock would be an understatement. Following the match, Zhang, who was in tears during the post-match on court interview, told the press that she had considered retiring several months ago due to her inability to win matches.

For many players, all of the hours and work they have put forth towards making themselves the best player possible will culminate in one shining moment. While we don’t know if this will be Zhang’s career highlight, we do know that for many touring professionals that one shot at glory is enough to keep them motivated and hungry for years.

RENÉ: A right old Cluster-Sock

The early exits of Halep (Simona, we need to talk…) and Rafael Nadal might be the biggest news of the first round but as the two big names were upset, a particularly odd first round encounter went on between No. 25 seed Jack Sock and compatriot Taylor Fritz on the outer courts. The 18-year-old had battled his way through qualifying, whereas the Nebraskan had struggled with flu-like symptoms over the weekend that forced him to retire from the final in Auckland.

The Americans split the first two sets with Sock feeling nauseous towards the end of the second set. Then — maybe in an attempt to save some energy — the No. 25 seed all but skipped the third set, only winning a total of four points.

The match took a turn for the even more dramatic when Sock apparently twisted his ankle in the fourth set, with the subsequent MTO rattling Fritz even further. Sock to pounce through the remainder of the encounter, looking far from the sick man he was earlier in the match.

An utterly bizarre five-set tussle saw the early frontrunner for “Sportsmanship Hero of 2016” swing back and forth between looking like he’s about to keel over, actually keeling over and moving as if nothing ever happened. A lot of people have thrown about the terms “tanking,” “gamesmanship” and so forth and they probably have a point. A more experienced player might have been able to keep his focus but in his first main draw match at a Grand Slam, Fritz was clearly caught off-guard by the kitchen sink that Sock threw at him.

VIKA: This is Sparta

Two marathon women’s matches gave us all we could’ve wanted and more on Monday, with Greek qualifier Maria Sakkari and resident “GIF with legs” Yulia Putintseva proving that the battle for best fist pump is well alive in Melbourne.

An unknown quantity for most, Sakkari edged fellow qualifier Wang Yafan in a two-and-a-half hour slog that felt like four, 6-4, 1-6, 6-3 in the brutal midday heat — as the two players engaged in long, protracted rallies and ran each other ragged at the baseline on nearly every point. Sakkari’s mother, Angelika Kanellopoulou, was also a professional tennis player, and the young Greek’s rise in women’s tennis has not come without adversity.

Hours after Sakkari’s fiery display, then, Putintseva — the resident queen of the lion-hearted — had a battle on her hands in more ways than one. She duly delivered, though, as she rallied past No. 16 seed Caroline Wozniacki 1-6, 7-6(3), 6-4 in 3:12. Although the Kazakh was her usually demonstrative self over the course of the first two sets, she toned it down considerably in the third — telling the press that keeping her emotions in check was the key to closing it out.

Until she didn’t have to anymore.

JEFF: The Round in GIFs

It’s the Australian Open. That means that beyond the greater-than-normal coffee intake, late night munchie-stocked pantry, and painfully skewered sleep schedule — sometimes, you wake up trying to navigate a handful of crazy results.

Like, this bird:

bird

Last night, we saw a massive upset as Verdasco cracked 90 winners in a 2009 revenge-defeat of Nadal (who I may or may not have somewhat contentiously named a “dark horse” for the tournament. Sloane Stephens was my other pick and that also didn’t go well, so ignore me for a while.) We also saw an emotional, fairytale win for Zhang over Halep – her first win at a major in 15 attempts.

Here they are in an endless loop.

Here are a few more GIFable moments fro the day’s action that you might have missed:

Diego Schwartzmann, a diminutive Argentine of the counterpuncher variety of tennis, was leading by two sets before dropping the third in a tiebreak to Aussie John Millman. In yesterday’s dense Melbourne heat, Schwartzmann’s body just couldn’t keep up with his style and he ended up retiring with cramps in a scary scene.

schwartzmanncramp

Elsewhere, Andy Murray hit this shot around the net:

murrayaroundthenet

After getting hit in the face:

And (appropriate dark horse candidate) Milos Raonic crushed his first round opponent Lucas Pouille with a notably improved return game – he won 40 percent of points on return.

raonicpouillepoint

Later on in the day, Ernests Gulbis and Jeremy Chardy played the longest match of the tournament thus far, with the Latvian once again succumbing to fifth set pressures Down Under.

gulbischardy

It’s safe to say Chardy was pleased, but how well will he fair with only a day’s recovery? Fifth set tiebreaks in the future, says me.

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