MELBOURNE (Reuters) - The last of Australia’s men’s singles players was dumped out of the country’s home Grand Slam in the early hours of Sunday morning in a tournament that has unearthed new local talent and exposed the deep divisions tearing through the ranks.
Australia’s Alexei Popyrin was the last man standing, losing 7-6(3) 6-3 6-7(10) 4-6 6-3 to France’s Lucas Pouille in their third round match.
Fellow wildcard Alex Bolt lost to fourth seed Alexander Zverev in straight sets late on Saturday, while the country’s top ranked men’s player, Alex de Minaur, lost his third round match a day earlier to Rafa Nadal.
“I think Australian tennis is on the up,” said Bolt, whose ranking will rise from his current position of 155 after the tournament ends.
“All these quality guys in the top 100 now. I think it’s great for us, pushing a lot of us other guys outside the top 100 to strive for more.”
No Australian male has lifted their home Grand Slam trophy since the 1970s despite the country boasting several major singles champions including Lleyton Hewitt, Pat Cash and Pat Rafter.
Ashleigh Barty, seeded 15, is the last Australian in the singles draw. She will play Maria Sharapova in the fourth round.
Some of the names of the emerging Australian men’s players are new to local spectators who have for several years been waiting for Nick Kyrgios and Bernard Tomic to develop into title threats.
Both players lost their first round matches and have been criticized for not fulfilling their potential.
The tension runs deep.
Tomic triggered a fresh war of words with dual Grand Slam champion Hewitt after losing at Melbourne Park.
At his post-match media conference, Tomic called for Hewitt to be replaced as Davis Cup captain and accused him of favoritism in the awarding of wildcards to the Australian men’s players in the draw.
Hewitt later said he had banned Tomic from playing in the Australian team after receiving physical and verbal threats, an allegation Tomic denies.
Australian players have been repeatedly asked about the issue when attending post-match interviews, and all have opted to avoid getting drawn any deeper into the fight between their peer and Davis Cup captain.
“To be honest, I’ve just been focusing on what I’ve been doing,” Bolt said. “It’s sort of been a whirlwind. I haven’t been able to focus on (anything) else.”
Reporting by Jonathan Barrett; Editing by Ken Ferris