Payback: Ebden storms into second round

Matthew Ebden has vowed to maintain an aggressive ethos and utilise his agility when he takes on Ukrainian star Alexandr Dolgopolov in the second round of the n Open.
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Ebden won his way through after taming the serve of giant American John Isner on Margaret Court Arena on Monday, claiming a 6-4, 3-6, 6-3, 6-3 victory, ensuring his strong lead-up form was not wasted. He had reached the final of the Kooyong Classic last week, having enjoyed a bumper 2017 where he shot up from 699 in the world rankings to No.78.

Isner was the tournament’s 16th seed but was unable to handle his opponent’s constant pressure.

“I probably had a little bit more of an aggressive mindset with how I was going to approach things. I was more just backing myself into the level that I know I can play, especially on my serve and my shots, things that I can control,” Ebden said.

“Obviously, I can’t always control where he’s serving, what he’s doing ??? I was still backing my movement and my agility, which I have. I’m one of the best sort of movers, agility movers in the world really, my reactions, things like that. I work hard on that. I had to use that. I was able to. It’s one thing getting there but then it’s about committing to the shots and making the shots, too.”

Ebden flourished in the big moment, declaring he “probably owed” Isner payback after he had been beaten in their recent matches. It was the first time the West n, who has been on tour for a decade, had defeated a top-20 ranked player in a Grand Slam.

‘s No.2-ranked men’s player behind Nick Kyrgios, Ebden has the ability to do more damage against Dolgopolov, who defeated Austrian Andreas Haider-Maurer 7-6, 6-3, 6-4.

“I haven’t actually played Alex before. I’m very aware of him – practiced a lot together. I know he can play at a good level – won tournaments, been in finals,” Ebden said.

“He’s been top 20 at least, nearly top 10 [and] can he play at a really good level.”

Ebden endured a rugged 2016 when a knee issue sidelined him for six months but his form and rankings, having relied on a protected ranking, have steadily been on the improve, and he could yet regain his role in the singles alongside Kyrgios in the Davis Cup.

“[At] the beginning of 2016 season, I was at sort of [ranked] 100 with nothing to defend for the next four months. The plan was to hope to head towards 50 or top 50, better if I could,” he said.

“Then I got a bit of knee pain. I couldn’t really play virtually that whole season. I took four or five months to get exactly clear on what I had to do to fix it – ended up being just a really minor little surgery that fixed a little problem.

“That was a quick fix in the end but it cost me five or six months until that point, then another month or so after that. I virtually missed that whole season.

“I had a protected ranking because I didn’t play for a six-month period. My protected ranking was around 100. Last year, the ranking was at 700 or something, I had 20 points left or something, virtually it was zero.

“I had the protected ranking just after 100 for the first six months of last year, which I used to get me into qualifying of tour events and slams.”

While Ebden celebrated, Queenslander Jason Kubler, having been awarded the final wildcard, showed promise against the 10th seed, Spaniard Pablo Carreno Busta, but fell 7-5, 4-6, 7-5, 6-1.

A star junior before knee problems hampered his career, Kubler’s fighting qualities were on show in the second set when he stormed to a 4-1 lead but Carreno Busta would break back and knot scores at 4-4. Kubler then held his nerve to break again and would hold on to take the set, completed with a deep ace past his opponent’s backhand.

Kubler maintained an attacking ethos, and went after Carreno Busta’s second serve, whether that be backhand or forehand. However, he dropped serve late in the third set, and Carrena Busta, who won the Kooyong Classic last week, capitalised. The final set was a formality, all over in 24 minutes.

Alex Bolt was also left to rue lost chances, the left-hander squandering a two sets to love advantage to Serbian Viktor Troicki to lose 6-7, 4-6, 6-2, 6-3, 6-4. It was a gut-wrenching loss for the South n, who had been handed a wildcard into the tournament.

In an All-n women’s clash, the unseeded Olivia Rogowska defeated Jaimee Fourlis 6-3, 6-7, 6-2 in a tick over two hours. Fourlis enjoyed a 24-11 advantage in winners but was hurt by having 10 more unforced errors. Rogowska, ranked 168 in the world, had lost the second set in a tie break but rebounded to surge to a 5-1 lead in the final set, all but ensuring victory.

Meanwhile, a fortnight after falling just a point shy of defeating world No.3 Grigor Dimitrov, ‘s John Millman carried his strong form into the n Open with an upset first-round win.

Millman defeated Croatia’s Borna Coric, the world No.48 7-5, 6-4, 6-1 in two hours and 19 minutes.

The 28-year-old, ranked 165 in the world, won in straights sets as the Croatian erupted in disbelief and frustration to the pending upset, smashing his racquet in the court as he saw the writing on the wall.

He was frustrated at the Brisbane International to fall short against Dimitrov so this will be of some comfort, for even if Coric is a step below, he was still a formidable opponent.