A day before the Australian Open 2013 Play-off, Sam Groth, John-Patrick Smith, Olivia Rogowska and Ashleigh Barty had a friendly hit of mixed doubles for the media on Show Court 3 at Melbourne Park, happy, relaxed and motivated ahead of the event that could grant them direct passage into the main draw of the first Grand Slam for 2013.
As the top two seeds in the men’s and women’s draws respectively, much of the focus was on this impressive quartet as the draws were made on that Sunday. With Groth up against Optus 18s winner Nick Kyrgios, the big-serving Victorian was fancying his chances against an opponent who’d been forced to sweat through a two-hour-plus Optus 18s final that same day.
“I’m confident coming in. I’m ranked where I am (No.216) for a reason, and not to put any pressure on myself on the back of that, but I feel good,” he said.
He did, however, note: “Everyone here can play and everyone’s beaten everyone here at different stages.”
Those words proved perceptive.
In a sign of the turbulent week that lay ahead, Kyrgios stunned the top seed in four sets, displaying a maturity and firepower beyond his 17 years to create the biggest upset of the tournament so far. That was before Rogowska quickly followed Groth out of the event the next day, the women’s No.1 seed eliminated in straight sets by the unheralded Tammi Patterson.
With the tournament tipped on its head, the surprises continued. On Wednesday, Kyrgios nearly engineered another upset when he led No.8 seed Matthew Barton 4-0 in the fifth set, only for the extreme heat to cause the ITF world No.4 junior to succumb to severe cramping.
“Physically I feel alright, I could’ve kept on going, but just mentally it was tough. To lose that fourth set in such circumstances, having so many opportunities, it’s tough. But luckily physically I could hang on,” a relieved Barton recounted.
Around the same time, highly-fancied sixth seed Luke Saville was bundled out in straight sets by No.3 seed Matt Reid.
The next day, the women’s event suffered another major shock when 16-year-old prodigy and second seed Barty was unable to take advantage of a one-set lead, falling to the gritty Bojana Bobusic in three. Just one match remains – between Patterson and Priscilla Hon – before the women’s semifinalists are all confirmed.
Of that top quartet at the beginning of the play-off, only Smith remains, the second seed making his way through to the semifinals with the loss of just one set. He is joined in the final four by semifinal opponent Reid, Barton and fifth seed Ben Mitchell, with all remaining players now just two wins from a prized Australian Open wildcard. Mitchell looks to be in ominous form like Smith, having lost just one set en route to the semifinals and ousting in-form No.4 seed Adam Feeney along the way.
The confirmed women’s semifinalists are Bobusic, who will take on No.4 seed Arina Rodionova, and third seed Monique Adamczak, who will take on the winner of the Patterson-Hon clash. Rodionova and Adamczak have progressed with little fuss and fanfare, breezing through their respective matches without the loss of a set.
The remaining players will continue to battle tooth-and-nail throughout the rest of the week at Melbourne Park, trying to restore some semblance of order to an otherwise wacky wildcard play-off event.
You can catch the action every day at Melbourne Park – the play-off is an event free to the public – from now until Sunday, the day on which both the men’s and women’s finals will be contested, and a lucky pair of Australian Open 2013 wildcard winners crowned.