Max Purcell has given local fans something to cheer after a rough start to Tuesday’s action at the Australian Open, where Olivia Gadecki crashed out in less than an hour.
Gadecki was unable to emulate her first-round victory as a wildcard last year as one-time US Open champion Sloane Stephens sealed a 6-3 6-1 victory — her first at the Melbourne grand slam since 2020.
The 21-year-old Gadecki made a flying start, breaking Stephens to love and winning the opening eight points of the match.
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But from 2-0 up, Gadecki fell apart, winning only seven more points to drop the set with a flurry of unforced errors.
Continuing to press in the second set against the clean-hitting former US Open champion, Gadecki only managed to win one more game as she finished with 26 unforced errors to Stephens’ seven.
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Fellow wildcard James McCabe also bowed out, the 20-year-old offering more resistance in a 7-6 (7-5) 3-6 6-1 6-2 loss to American Alex Michelsen on his grand slam debut.
But Purcell, Australian tennis’s most improved performer, recovered from a labouring start to post a 3-6 7-6 (7-2) 6-4 7-5 win over Hungarian qualifier Mate Valkusz.
Purcell was the first local winner on day three, joining Alex de Minaur, Alexei Popyrin, Jordan Thompson, Chris O’Connell and Storm Hunter in the second round after posting his maiden main-draw victory at Melbourne Park.
Max Purcell is pumped up about reaching the Australian Open second round for the first time. (Lukas Coch/AAP PHOTOS) Credit: AAP
The 25-year-old had previously crashed out in round one in 2020 and 2023.
But those were the days when the Sydneysider was regarded more as a doubles specialist.
Twice an Australian Open doubles runner-up and Wimbledon doubles champion in 2022, Purcell has morphed into a singles player of real substance.
He soared to No.40 in the world after reaching the Cincinnati Masters quarter-finals in August and is currently ranked No.45, making him Australian No.3 behind only de Minaur and Popyrin.
Despite a gulf of 169 rankings spots, Purcell didn’t exactly do it easy against Valkusz, struggling for much of the first two sets to find his rhythm and then blowing six match points before finally prevailing after two hours and 52 sweat-soaked minutes.
“I was kind of just like ‘turn it up’, to be honest. The guy was pummelling me,” Purcell told the courtside crowd.
“I didn’t really stand much of a chance there, snuck my way back in the second set.
“Just tried to hold onto my serve and then hope he’d crack and he cracked and I got through it.
“I definitely needed you guys’ support deep in the fourth. I was gagging it so hard.”
He next plays Norwegian 11th seed Casper Ruud for a place in the last 32 of a grand slam for the first time.
“I played (and beat) Casper in Cincinnati in relatively lively conditions. The ball’s a little lighter than and more bouncy,” Purcell said.
“But it’s hot here, I’ll have the crowd on my side and I’m more than happy to give him another crack.”
Three more Australians play on Tuesday, including Ajla Tomljanovic in the three-time grand slam quarter-finalist’s first appearance at the Open in two years.
Tomljanovic takes on Croatian Petra Martic in the night session after missing last year’s tournament with a knee injury.