A crowded court 7 at Melbourne Park became the battleground for two 23-year-olds who have taken very different routes to arrive at Australian Open 2013.
In the end, it was simply “time on tour” that overcame the US college experience, as Portugal’s more experienced Joao Sousa took care of the ex-collegiate Australian hopeful, John-Patrick Smith (pictured above), 6-4 6-1 6-4.
Despite their similar age, Sousa – ranked world No.100 – is a relatively seasoned campaigner, having joined the tour in 2005. Smith attended the University of Tennessee, where he was a four-time All-American and made it to the college No.1 ranking in both singles and doubles.
Smith turned pro only last year and is currently ranked outside the world’s top 200.
This was also the second time this summer that Sousa has handed a defeat to the lefty local, having stopped Smith’s run in the third round of qualifying in Sydney earlier this month in three tight sets.
The going was a little bit easier today for the Portuguese. After a close first set which Sousa took 6-4 – after missing an opportunity to serve it out at 5-3 but breaking the Australian in the very next game – he began to outplay his opponent, ably moving him from side to side and pouncing on every short ball he received.
Despite the vocal support of onlookers, the wear and tear eventually began to show on Smith, and the second set quickly got out of his reach. He would rue several missed opportunities as Sousa surged ahead to take it 6-1.
The third opened up in similar fashion, but despite Sousa breaking early and reaching 3-0, the Australian wildcard refused to be done with, raising his intensity for a final dig, much to the delight of the crowd.
It wasn’t enough, and Sousa’s solid game refused to yield as an increasingly error-prone Smith was unable to make any headway. He had a single chance to level at 4-4, but never closed the gap, going down still fighting for every ball, 6-4.
Sousa now faces third seed Andy Murray in the second round, after the Brit easily accounted for Dutchman Robin Haase.
The pair has never met.
“Probably (Murray) is confident, but we will see,” Sousa said after his match today. “I don’t know if he has any [weaknesses], but I will try to find out on court.”