MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Feliciano Lopez doesn’t remember much about his first Grand Slam match. It was 2001, the French Open, and he was 19 years old.
“I think I got killed in the first round by Carlos Moya, if I’m not wrong. He was my idol growing up,” Lopez said. “For me, it was like a gift, to play Carlos at the French Open.”
Nearly 20 years later, Lopez is not only still competing at the Grand Slam events, but doing the unthinkable for someone his age (going on 40). He rallied from two sets down, on a hot, humid day, to beat No. 31 Lorenzo Sonego 5-7, 3-6, 6-3, 7-5, 6-4 at the Australian Open on Thursday.
“He probably didn’t expect it, after two sets to love (up), you don’t expect the 39-year-old guy is going to come back,” Lopez, admittedly exhausted, said after the match.
Perhaps even more astonishing, Lopez is playing at his 75th consecutive Grand Slam event, a record among men’s singles players. He hasn’t missed a major since the 2002 French Open.
To put this in perspective, Roger Federer managed 65 consecutive Grand Slams before he had to withdraw from the 2016 French Open with an injury. The closest male player with an active streak is Italy’s Andreas Seppi at 62; among the women, it’s Alize Cornet at 56.
Lopez has carved out a decent career for himself, with seven career titles (more than half coming on his beloved grass) and four quarterfinal appearances at the Slams (including three at Wimbledon).
But it’s his longevity and consistency that sets him apart from the rest. Getting into the main draws of majors on a regular basis depends on maintaining a top-100 ranking, and Lopez has done this, too, for most of his career. (He’s currently ranked No. 65.)
Lopez even managed to keep his streak alive here in Melbourne despite the hard decisions about traveling not long after his wife gave birth to their first child, Dario, a little over a month ago.
“I didn’t know if I was going to be able to come here,” he said after his first-round win. “I was until the last minute thinking about what should I do, if I come or if I finally stay home.”
The trip was arguably worth it — particularly after his improbable, come-from-behind win against Sonego. It may just be the most memorable five-set match of his career, he said.
“To win a match in a Slam for me now is very special. If I do it the way I did today, even more,” he said. “So, to be in the third round now, it’s something very special for me. That’s why I’m very happy today.”
Mackenzie McDonald is back in the third round of a Grand Slam tournament for the first time since a torn hamstring tendon left him unable to walk for weeks.
The American eliminated No. 22-seeded Borna Coric 6-4, 6-2, 4-6, 6-4 at the Australian Open on Thursday.
“Honestly, it means a lot. I’m not going to downplay it too much,” said McDonald, who won NCAA singles and doubles tennis titles for UCLA in 2016. “For me to come back after what I went through … it feels good to get a big statement win like that.”
McDonald is ranked 192nd after missing more than six months because of the leg surgery he needed after injuring himself during a doubles match at the 2019 French Open.
“My body was really fragile with the injury,” he said. “I had to be super careful. I wasn’t allowed to do anything. I was basically quarantined before quarantine was even a thing. I had to stay on my couch. I didn’t leave my place. I couldn’t walk to the bathroom, barely, for weeks.”
Now McDonald will try to equal his best Grand Slam result by getting to the fourth round, which he did at Wimbledon three years ago.
He faces 91st-ranked Lloyd Harris of South Africa on Saturday.
“I have to say the biggest thing was knowing that I’ve been at that level before. So I knew what it would take,” McDonald said. “I knew I could get back.”
NEXT SWEDISH HOPE
Like it or not, Mikael Ymer has to live with the weight of expectations. After all, he hails from a former tennis power that produced the likes of Bjorn Borg, Stefan Edberg and Mats Wilander.
Mikael and his older brother, Elias — the sons of Ethiopian immigrants — are the next generation of players hoping to put Swedish tennis back on the map.
Mikael, in particular, is starting to make strides, too. He beat rising Spanish star Carlos Alcaraz 2-6, 6-4, 6-4, 7-6 (5) at the Australian Open to reach the third round of a major for the first time.
Mikael, the 2015 Wimbledon boys’ runner-up, understands the comparisons to the Swedish greats, but he’s trying to forge his own path.
“Even if I play for my country and I love my country, I never felt like I owe my country something or I have to fill in a certain spot in any kind of way,” he said. “I will do what I can do. If I manage on the way to lift up Swedish tennis, that’s great.”
Borg, Edberg and Wilander combined to win 24 Grand Slam titles from 1974-1992. Since then, only Thomas Johansson has won a slam title, at the 2002 Australian Open.
If Mikael Ymer wants to take a step further in Melbourne, he’ll have to get past a very familiar foe: fifth-seeded Stefanos Tsitsipas. The two were practice partners during their two-week quarantine upon arriving in Australia.
“It was the cards that were dealt to us, and out of the tour players, this is one of the best you can get,” he said. “I would say I couldn’t ask for much of a better preparation, sparring-wise, leading up to the tournament.”
NEW TITLE: MOM
Former No. 1 and 2018 Australian Open champion Caroline Wozniacki is getting ready to add “Mom” to her list of titles.
The 30-year-old from Denmark announced on Twitter that she is pregnant, writing: “Can’t wait to meet our baby girl in June!”
Wozniacki also posted a picture that included sonogram photos, baby shoes and a stuffed animal.
She retired from professional tennis after a third-round loss last year at Melbourne Park.
Wozniacki married former NBA player David Lee in 2019.
AP Tennis Writer Howard Fendrich in Washington contributed to this report.
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