French journeyman Constant Lestienne wrote a small footnote in the history of men’s tennis on Monday when he won the first ATP Tour match in New Zealand for three years in the opening round of the Auckland Open. Now an Australian Open warm-up, the Auckland Open had been played every year since 1956 until New Zealand’s lockdown in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancellation of the 2021 and 2022 editions.
Brushing off a hip issue that needed treatment in the first set, Lestienne wasted little time in dismissing Argentine Pedro Cachin 6-3 6-1 to take a place in the second round. World number three Casper Ruud, the top seed, received a bye through the first round, as did local favourite Cam Norrie, the British world number 14, who was raised in New Zealand.
Norwegian Ruud could move to the top of the world rankings over the next three weeks in the absence of Carlos Alcaraz, who pulled out of the year’s first Grand Slam with a leg injury. The other men’s warm-up option for Melbourne Park this week is at the Adelaide International 2, where local Thanasi Kokkinakis will open his maiden ATP title defence against fellow Australian wildcard Alexei Popyrin later on Monday.
The winner of that clash will face Russian top seed Andrey Rublev, the world number eight, in the second round on Wednesday.
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