Admittedly, drawing South African world No. 32 Lloyd Harris in the opening round of the men’s singles at the Australian Open wasn’t quite what Sydney-born wildcard Aleks Vukic was hoping for as he plotted a maiden Grand Slam main draw win.
Nonetheless, the right-hander believes he’s well-placed to stage an upset; in fact, the right-hander believes that several of the more unheralded members of the local contingent at Melbourne Park have what it takes to stage a few surprises on their way to the second week of this year’s event.
Vukic enters Monday’s with Harris off the back of a strong run in the second of this year’s Adelaide International; downing Khazak world No. 35 Alexander Bublik in its opening round before following that up with a win over former world No. 21 Steve Johnson, who had previously beaten Vukic in the first iteration of the Adelaide International just the week prior.
Alas, the 25-year-old’s Adelaide run would then cease at the hands of countryman Thanasi Kokkinakis in the quarterfinals who, despite losing the opening set to Vukic, would rally back to win 5-7(5), 6-3, 6-2.
Kokkinakis went on to defeat Marin Cilic in the semis and then Arthur Rinderknech in the final to claim his first ATP title, something Vukic said he was thrilled to see.
“It’s one of those (matches) where if we would have looked at it (pre-Adelaide International) and said we’re meeting each other in the quarterfinals and one of us gets a semifinal spot — I think we both would take it,” Vukic told ESPN from Adelaide.
“We’ve also played enough tournaments — and it does happen a lot — where you do play your mates. At the end of the day, we’re all professionals so we know how to deal with it.
“We have four or five very good Aussies just outside the top 100 and I feel like it is a very big year for us. We all have very strong top 100 potential – Thanasi is playing great tennis and I’m hitting some top performances leading into the Aussie Open.
“It’s so exciting because you also have the likes of Chris O’Connell, who also got the other wildcard is playing great and Alex Bolt always plays well in the Aussie summer.
“I’m expecting some of us to actually make a decently deep run. And I wouldn’t be surprised honestly seeing some of us in the second week. And it’s so exciting to see just because of all the Aussies, it’s such a good time for the sport and it’s always so exciting.
“I can’t believe it starts [Monday] because it’s going to be great.”
His first-round opponent, Harris, was a quarterfinalist at last year’s US Open — a tournament that Vukic was unable to attempt to qualify for due to a bout of COVID — and would undoubtedly represent the biggest scalp that Vukic had ever claimed in his career should he spring a surprise in their first-round match-up – a result that would also represent his first-ever Grand Slam win in his third attempt.
But coming off a win over Bublik in Adelaide — his first-ever triumph over a top 40 opponent — and a 2021 that saw him compete at the Australian Open for the first time and, after an extended time on the road, rise to a career-high ranking of 156, Vukic is feeling bullish about his own form.
Of course, with a potential meeting with world No.3 Alexander Zverev waiting in the third round, he’ll likely need all the confidence he can get should his hopes for the second week have any faint hope of coming to fruition.
“You always think that you can handle the big dogs,” Vukic said. “I think [Bublik was around] 30 in the world. Playing with them, it’s just nice getting the results to back up those thoughts and it just gives you that little extra belief.
“I’ve always believed that the level is not too different, between the guys in the top 200 and guys in the top 100. Having these results gives me that extra belief. It’s very helpful to get confidence right before this show and open up for sure.
“It’s gonna be very different this year [compared to 2021] because I start Monday, Tuesday next week.
“Last year I remember they put everything in Melbourne so I was already in Melbourne. The week before I played a tournament, I feel I lost the second round to Jannik Sinner, who’s 11 in the world right now, and I think I played him maybe Tuesday so I had a whole week just kind of spending time in Melbourne for my first Grand Slam so everything’s kind of building up and you’re in the thick of things.
“This year will be very different because I’ll be coming in late and I’ll be coming in from a good tournament. It will be very different to switch into that mode but it will be very easy just because it is a Grand Slam but I think it’ll also be a lot easier to deal with just because it’ll be more like another match. I’ll be kind of in the rhythm of things so it’ll be easier to adjust.
“It’s always a good problem when you go deep into a tournament and perhaps start the next one soon.”
Australian men in action on Day 1:
Aleksander Vukic (AUS) vs. Lloyd Harris , 11am, Court 3
Feliciano Lopez vs. John Millman (AUS), not before 7pm, John Cain Arena
Yannik Hanfmann [Q] vs. Thanasi Kokkinakis (AUS) [WC], not before 5pm, Court 3
James Duckworth (AUS) vs. Adrian Mannarino, second on Court 7