‘He does not give up’: Aussie cult hero defeated after gutsy five-set fight with 22nd seed
Local qualifier Dane Sweeny has won plenty of admirers by pushing No.22 seed Francisco Cerundolo to five tough sets in a memorable grand slam debut at the Australian Open.
Showing plenty of the never-say-die traits of his doppelganger Lleyton Hewitt, the world No.257 traded blows for the best part of three and half hours on Sunday before bowing out 3-6 6-3 6-4 2-6-6-2.
Cerundolo dominated the winners’ count 57-20 but the 22-year-old Sweeny’s counter-punching qualities kept him in the contest throughout.
“He does not give up on a single ball,” former great Todd Woodbridge said on Nine after a desperate chasedown, with Sweeny finishing the match with scrapes and bruises aplenty from the occasional stumble at John Cain Arena.
“He is not going to die wondering because he has absolutely chased every single ball down from the very first point.”
However, the Argentine proved too strong in the fifth set, claiming it 6-2 to progress to the second round at Melbourne Park for the second consecutive year.
“Dane’s playing unbelievable… today was really challenging for me,” Cerundolo said after the match.
“I told him that at the net – he’s playing really good. It’s a matter of play, get some wins.
“The tour now is really competitive. Every match is a battle you have to win.”
Sweeny was the second Australian to fall on the first day of the tournament, with countryman and wildcard recipient Adam Walton making an encouraging start on his major debut before being overwhelmed by rising Italian star Matteo Arnaldi.
Playing just his second Tour-level match, the 24-year-old Walton served for the opening set at 6-5 on Sunday but was unable to hold.
World No.41 Arnaldi took command in the tiebreak and then put his foot down to win 7-6 (7-5) 6-2 6-4.
The 22-year-old Arnaldi was a member of the victorious Italian Davis Cup team in 2023, beating Australia’s Alexei Popyrin in the opening match of the final.
He also reached the fourth round of last year’s US Open before losing to Carlos Alcaraz.
Walton cut his teeth on the US college circuit from 2017-22 with the University of Tennessee, winning the 2021 NCAA doubles title.
He and Sweeny are among the 15 Australian men in the singles draw at Melbourne Park this year, the largest local contingent since 1998.
Compatriots Chris O’Connell and Jason Kubler get their campaigns underway later on Sunday.
Australia’s highest-ranked player, No.10 seed Alex de Minaur, has been handed a difficult first-round clash with 2016 Wimbledon finalist Milos Raonic on Monday night on Rod Laver Arena.
The big-serving Canadian has endured a wretched two-year run with injury but still shapes as a dangerous floater.