2023 Australian Open Day 3: Jelena Dokic optimistic about an Ash Barty tennis comeback

Former tennis player Jelena Dokic says she’s hopeful that Ash Barty will one day come out of her retirement from tennis, as the temperamental Melbourne weather continues to wreak havoc at the Australian Open.

Greek star Maria Sakkari has narrowly avoided an early exit from the tournament, while top seeds Rafael Nadal and Felix Auger-Aliassime both face difficult battles against their second-round opponents.

And a dedicated chair umpire has earned praise from all over after he ran after a towel-stealing spectator.

Aussie Ash Barty, the reigning Australian Open women’s singles champion, made her long-awaited return to Melbourne Park early on Wednesday morning.

Barty famously shocked the tennis world when she announced she was retiring from the sport in May of 2022, and announced she was pregnant with her first child earlier this month.

She appeared alongside her mentor Evonne Goolagong Cawley at Melbourne Park on Wednesday to launch the tournament’s second annual First Nations Day.

The pair participated in an on-site smoking ceremony, with Barty even having a hit with the kids, sporting her growing baby bump.

Speaking about Barty’s appearance on a Wednesday morning pre-match broadcast, Nine Sports commentator Dokic said to have Barty involved in the initiative post-retirement was “phenomenal”.

“To have Ash Barty and Evonne Goolagong Cawley here, it doesn’t get much better than that,” Dokic said.

When prodded about whether she could see Barty ever returning to the professional circuit, Dokic said she was hopeful.

“Look, we can dream,” she said. “It would be great to see her back.”

Ash Barty

Ash Barty and Evonne Goolagong Cawley at Melbourne Park on Wednesday. Photo: AAP

Ash Barty

Goolagong with Barty, who recently announced she is expecting her first child. Photo: AAP

Barty didn’t hint at a potential return to tennis while speaking to reporters, instead discussing the players she thought could nab the women’s singles title this year.

“In the women’s draw, there’s so much depth spread across the board and you have to have quality over the whole calendar to be a top player,” she said.

“I think Iga (Swiatek) has obviously shown she was probably that level above most for most of last year, but there are certainly some very good players in there that may not have had slam success in terms of winning it but have made quarters and semis.

“I think it will come down to whoever can handle the occasion best, trust themselves and play their best tennis.”

Though, if Barty’s currently-airing Optus advertisement is anything to go by, it does sound like her tennis days are well behind her.

In the ad, Optus’ new chief of inspiration says she knew she’d achieved everything she’d ever wanted once she won the 2023 Australian Open women’s singles title.

This isn’t the first time Dokic has loudly sung Barty’s praises.

When Barty won her historic Wimbledon title in July 2021, Dokic gave an emotional tribute to the player and her parents live on television.

“I want to give a shout-out to her parents Robert and Josie, because people underestimate the importance of family. [Barty] talks about that all the time,” she said.

“As someone who didn’t have that support, it is so important. This will set an example for parents in Australia and around the world. Not [just] how to raise a champion, but a genuinely wonderful human being.”

Nadal latest

Two of the top players in the men’s singles draw – Rafael Nadal and Felix Auger-Aliassime – are facing tough battles to stay in the running.

Top seed Rafael Nadal has entered a medical timeout in his second round match against American Mackenzie McDonald.

The defending champion, who is currently one set down, exited the court after appearing to injure his knee while stepping down on the court.

McDonald is currently up five games to three in the second set.

Prior to the timeout, the Spaniard was seen dripping with sweat and looked to be struggling with the muggy Melbourne weather.

Meanwhile, sixth seed Auger-Aliassime’s second round match against Slovakian player Alex Molcan is shaping up to be a five-set epic.

The Canadian reached the quarter-finals in last year’s slam, but has found himself dangerously close to losing his second round match.

Molcan seized the first two sets 6-3, 6-3, while Auger-Aliassime nabbed the third 6-3 and is rapidly closing in on the fourth.

Sakkari survives

Sixth seed Maria Sakkari has kept her Australian Open dreams alive by the skin of her teeth after an intense second round contest.

Sakkari, who hails from Greece, has often called the Australian Open her “home tournament” thanks to the booming support from Melbourne’s Greek community.

Sakkari definitely relied on the support of the crowd when taking on unseeded player Diana Shnaider.

18-year old Shnaider, who made her Australian Open debut on Monday, put up a surprisingly firm fight.

Sakkari struggled to find momentum, and was broken in her first service game.

She put up a fierce fight and survived five set points, before eventually relinquishing to a determined Shnaider.

Her killer instinct eventually kicked in in the second set. She broke Shnaider back to secure the second set, and eventually, claimed the third.

In a post-match interview, Sakkari joked that Shnaider, who is a college student, should consider joining the pro tour full time.

“Maybe she should consider not going to college,” Sakkari laughed.

Sakkari said she was happy she was able to turn the tide, and had to push herself to be aggressive.

“That’s how you have to play these days. If you’re not aggressive, they’ll eat you alive.”

In more news for the women’s draw, world No.1 Iga Swiatek has made easy work of her second round opponent Camila Osorio, taking the match 6-2, 6-3.

And 2019 Australian Open finalist Petra Kvitova has tumbled out of the tournament against unseeded Ukrainian opponent Anhelina Kalinina.

The fifteenth seed, who recently made the quarter-finals at the Adelaide International, fell to Kalinina 7-5, 6-4.

Umpire saves the day

A clip of well-known chair umpire James Keothavong is circulating social media after he attempted to hunt down a thief at Melbourne Park.

Keothavong was observing a match between Lin Zhu and Rebecca Marino on Monday when the brazen robbery took place.

He had just shaken hands with Zhu and Marino when Marino told Zhu that someone had taken off with towel.

Keothavong instantly sprung into action, running from his umpire chair and out the gate.

It hasn’t been confirmed whether the towel was successfully retrieved.

However, one tennis blogger claims to have seen the event unfold.

“I was walking past the court when it happened and the umpire actually managed to get it back and also take a selfie with a fan on his way back to the court,” Twitter user @tennisdramatics shared on Tuesday morning.

Chair umpire runs after towel thief

Source: Twitter

The incident comes two days after one of Rafael Nadal’s racquets mysteriously went missing.

The Spaniard had put aside a racquet to be restrung by a ballkid in his first round match against Jack Draper.

However, he found that the ballkid had apparently taken the wrong racquet.

“This one’s for the stringer, not that one. I need the racquet back!” he told to the chair umpire.

The incident caused a brief delay in the match, for which Nadal apologised to his opponent.

It’s unknown whether the racquet made ever made it back into his possession.

Rafael Nadal's racket goes missing

Source: Twitter

Wet weather woes

Damp conditions have thrown tournament organisers’ scheduled into complete disarray, after already being heavily impacted on Day 2.

Aussies Thanasi Kokkinakis, Aleksander Vukic and Max Purcell were all scheduled to take to the outside courts today to resume their Round 1 matches.

Their matches were all delayed due to extreme heat, and then paused overnight due to heavy rain on Tuesday evening.

However, unending drizzle at Melbourne Park means these matches are yet to commence on Wednesday.

Play has been continuously pushed back in 30 minute increments, leaving dozens of players hanging and unsure when they’ll take to the court.

It’s especially frustrating for Kokkinakis, who is a tantalising five points away from securing victory against Italy’s Fabio Fognini.

The delays have also left Aussie wildcard Olivia Gadecki in the lurch, who was expected to play Ukraine’s Marta Kostyuk in the afternoon.

British tennis star Emma Raducanu will face a steep battle against seventh seed Coco Gauff at Rod Laver Arena at 7pm.

And three big-name Aussies are certain to take to the covered courts this evening, all hungry for a win.

Aussie delight Rinky Hijikata will make his centre court debut this evening against Greek third seed Stefanos Tsitsipas.

John Millman faces a tough battle against 2021 and 2022 Australian Open finalist Daniil Medvedev.

And rising star Jason Kubler will take to John Cain Arena after securing his first-ever main draw Australian Open win on Monday.

Kubler will be vying for his second against 18th seed Karen Khachanov.

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