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Nagal’s gritty run halted by Shang; Bopanna-Ebden pair advance

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MELBOURNE, Jan 18: Chinese tennis prodigy Juncheng Shang blunted Sumit Nagal’s challenge at the Australian Open to halt the Indian’s impressive run at the first major of the season here on Thursday.
Coming into the match after an inspiring win over a top-30 player, Nagal began in the same dominating fashion but the 18-year-old wild card entrant got better as the game progressed to walk out a winner with a 2-6 6-3 7-5 6-4 scoreline.
The second round contest lasted two hours and 50 minutes and it was clear that Nagal had run out of steam in the fourth set.
In contrast, Shang began to serve well from the third set onwards and was at ease in pocketing his service games despite being troubled by high backhand balls in the match.
Nevertheless, the 26-year-old Nagal, who hails from Jhajjar in Haryana, will exit the Melbourne Park with cherishable memories, having made the main draw through the Qualifiers and scripting a win over world number 27 Alexander Bublik.
Nagal will take home AUD 180,000 (nearly 98 lakh) for his effort. The money should take care of most of his 2024 Tour budget.
Nagal got the Chinese engaged in baseline fight from the beginning and drew the first blood in the very first game of the match.
It was a passing forehand winner from Nagal that helped set up the first break point and then a lucky net chord handed him his second chance which he converted with the Chinese making a backhand error.
Shang tried hard to get the break back by raising the intensity and power in his strokes but Nagal was ready to fight fire with fire and succeeded in opening up a 3-1 lead with consecutive holds.
The Chinese found himself in a spot of bother again when he was down 0-30 in game five but pulled himself out of the hole by serving well.
A forehand error by Shang handed Nagal another break opportunity for a handsome 5-2 lead but the Chinese saved that with a drop shot. Shang saved two more chances in a slugfest that saw six deuce points but a double fault gave Nagal his fourth breakpoint.
The Chinese came out playing better and aggressive in the second set and had a chance to put Nagal under pressure but could not convert the two break points in the second game.
Shang cut down on his errors, served well and the court coverage also improved and in no time, he was leading 5-2 with two breaks.
Coming out to serve to stay in the set, Nagal began with an unforced error but managed to hold. Shang was still troubled by the high backhand balls, but closed the second set in his favour with a powerful forehand, which Nagal could not return.
The third set was a tighter affair with no break of serve until Shang cashed in on a flurry of backhand errors by Nagal at 5-5. At 15-all, Nagal buried backhand on net and then netted one more to be down by two break points.
Nagal saved both but handed another chance to the Chinese, who converted with a screaming down-the-line forehand winner.
Shang served out the set with an excellent serve.
As the match wore on, Shang’s serve became better and better. He hardly conceded points on his serve. It put pressure on the Indian. A visibly tiring Nagal had his back on the wall after he lost serve at 3-3.
It was a backhand winner from Shang that earned him two break chances. At the net, Shang received a feeble return which he smashed for a winner to take a 4-3 lead and made it 5-3 with an easy hold.
The Chinese served out the set and match without fuss.
INDIANS IN DOUBLES DRAW
In the doubles, India’s Rohan Bopanna and his Australian partner Matthew Ebden came down from a 0-5 deficit in the opening set to beat the local team of James Duckworth and Marc Polmans.
The Indian pair of Vijay Sundar Prashanth and Anirudh Chandrasekar lost 3-6 4-6 to the Hungarian pair of Marton Fucsovics and Fabian Marozsan.
N Sriram Balaji, who has paired with Romania’s Victor Vlad Cornea, will now open his campaign on Friday as their match against Italian pair of Matteo Arnaldi and Andrea Pellegrino has been rescheduled due to rain.
BLINKOVA UPSETS RYBAKINA
Number three seed and last year’s finalist Elena Rybakina was knocked out by Russian Anna Blinkova 6-4 4-6 7-6(20).
A dramatic decider saw both players break three times before Blinkova came out on top in a tiebreak lasting over 30 minutes.
RADUCANU’S RETURN ENDED BY WANG
Emma Raducanu lost 6-4 4-6 6-4 to China’s Yafan Wang, who will face 12th seed Zheng Qinwen in the third round.
Britain’s Raducanu was returning to Grand Slam action in Australia after injury kept her out for almost eight months.
ALCARAZ SURVIVES
Second seed Carlos Alcaraz overcame a second-set wobble to beat Italy’s Lorenzo Sonego 6-4 6-7(3) 6-3 7-6(3) in a thrilling second-round clash.
SWIATEK RALLIES TO BEAT COLLINS
World number one Swiatek fought back from a 4-1 deficit in the deciding set of her second-round match against American Collins to win 6-4 3-6 6-4.
Collins, who knocked out the four-times Grand Slam champion in the Melbourne semi-finals two years ago, had an error-strewn third set, making 13 unforced errors. (Agencies)

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