Feliciano Lopez finds way to stay alive in record 75th Slam

Spain’s Feliciano Lopez, 39, came from two-sets-to-love down to beat Lorenzo Sonego in five and make it to the third round of the Australian Open

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Feliciano Lopez reacts after winning his five-set match to Lorenzo Sonego at the Australian Open

Feliciano Lopez fought back from two sets down to stay alive in his record 75th consecutive Grand Slam appearance.

The 39-year-old defeated  Lorenzo Sonego 5-7, 3-6, 6-3, 7-5, 6-4 in a match that lasted three hours and 18 minutes to make it to the third round of the Australian Open.

The veteran Spaniard, who made his Grand Slam debut at the 2002 French Open – had beaten Australian wild card Li Tu in four sets in his first round clash.

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“I’m exhausted, obviously,” Lopez said.

“I was already tired the first day when I won my first match, so even more today.  But I was feeling better today on the court, not the first two sets, but after the break I managed to do a 3-All in the third set and I started to play better, more aggressive. My serve was working way better than in the first two sets.

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“It was such a coincidence that after this break I was feeling much better also physically on the court.”

The World No 65 started to find his rhythm from the third set, despite already looking down the barrel of what seemed a likely second round exit.

His unforced errors started to reduce (he conceded 19 points on unforced errors in the first set compared to just six in the fifth), and he started to move Sonego along the court.

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The Italian, a World No 35, had last year pulled off an unlikely win over Novak Djokovic in his run to the Vienna ATP 500 final. But on the night he couldn’t deny Lopez a memorable five-set win.

“Well maybe pole position,” Lopez said when asked how he rated this win.

“To win a match in a Slam for me now is very special.  If I do it the way I did today, even more. I think it’s over any expectations, honestly, coming here with very short preparation.

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“I became father just (recently), I didn’t practice much and my preparation was (during) quarantine here.  So to be in the third round now it’s something very special for me.  So that’s why I’m very happy today.”

Now competing in his 75th consecutive Grand Slam, Lopez, who will turn 40 in September, still remembers his first ever Major appearance, back at Roland Garros in 2001.

“I think I got killed in the first round by Carlos Moya,” Lopez says of the match he lost 6-1 6-4, 6-0 to the 1998 French Open and former World No 1.

“I qualified and I lost to him.  He was my idol when I was growing up as a junior, Carlos was always someone I really admired when I started playing professional.  And, yeah, for me it was like a gift to play against Carlos in the French Open.”

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Defending champion Kenin loses

Last year’s champion and French Open finalist Sofia Kenin crashed in the second round after a 6-3, 6-2 loss to hard-hitting Estonian Kaia Kanepi.

The shock upset lasted only 64 minutes on the match clock, and saw the 35-year-old strike 22 winners as opposed to the 10 from the American’s racquet.

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The win over the World No 4 puts Kanepi into the third round, where she will play 28th seed Donna Vekic of Croatia.

Tsitsipas holds off Kokkinakis

A Greek tragedy threatened to befall Stefanos Tsitsipas at the Australian Open on Thursday before the fifth seed steadied to fend off local wildcard Thanasi Kokkinakis 6-7(5) 6-4 6-1 6-7(5) 6-4 and reach the third round.

The day after Nick Kyrgios sent John Cain Arena into delirium with a thrilling comeback, 267th-ranked Greek-Australian Kokkinakis appeared set for the boilover of the tournament when he threaded a backhand down the line to send the match into a fifth at Rod Laver Arena.

It was not to be, though, as Tsitsipas captured the decisive break in the fifth game and held on grimly to close out a four-hour 32-minute epic.

Tsitsipas will meet Sweden’s Mikael Ymer for a place in the fourth round.

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