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'Tough to watch': Aussie through to Aus Open main draw after opponent retires in 'heartbreaking scenes'

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12th January, 2024
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Australian cult hero Dane Sweeny has made it to the main draw of a grand slam for the first time – but in the cruellest way possible.

Just about down and out trailing Belgian Zizou Bergs 7-5, 4-2, 0-40 in their qualifying match, with the winner to secure entry to the Australian Open, Bergs began to cramp badly, allowing Sweeny to hold serve.

Watch every Australian Open match ad-free, live & on demand with centre court in 4K Ultra-HD on the home of Grand Slam tennis, Stan Sport.

Calling for the physio, the 24-year old went from dominant to barely able to move, Sweeny breaking to love for 4-4 within four shots as the Belgian double-faulted and made no effort to reach any of the Australian’s three other returns.

“Dane Sweeny just can’t believe his luck – you can’t take joy in seeing this happen to an opponent, but he cannot believe his luck right now,” commentator Jim Fitzgerald said.

While able to bravely hold serve for 5-5, Bergs continued to cramp, receiving further physical treatment – but not permitted a medical timeout – before again being broken by Sweeny to lose the set 7-5.

On a hot afternoon at Melbourne Park, Bergs was only able to leave the court to change his sodden clothes, with Sweeny quick to ensure officials gave him no favourable treatment.

“Now’s the time to not be slow with the clock – because before you took so long,” Sweeny told the chair umpire with Bergs off the court.

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“I just don’t like it when people, because they’re tired, the refs have sympathy for them. Tennis is fitness.”

“Fair enough from Dane Sweeny there,” Fitzgerald said.

“This is a competitive arena – he’d be feeling for the opposition, but he doesn’t have a choice but to compete.”

Bergs would return to start the deciding set, but with his cramps forcing regular foot faults to add to the Belgian’s agony, his distress was beginning to tell.

“It’s tough to watch,” Fitzgerald said.

“It’s heartbreaking – because you see players, they’re desperate to get into these main draws of grand slams,” his co-commentator added.

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“He was ever so close – this is the cruellest of cruel blows for Zizou Bergs, it seems.”

Soldiering on as Sweeny broke for a 2-0 lead in the deciding set, Bergs finally threw the towel in when the Australian moved to 40-0 on his serve.

Speaking after the match, Sweeny expressed his sympathy for his stricken opponent.

“I just feel so sorry for Zizou – these are the tournaments we all dream of playing,” he said.

“To end the match like that… I guess I’m just extremely lucky for that to happen to me. But yeah, it was extremely brutal. The sun was very hot today.

“I was so tight to close that second set out – he was really battling physically – but it was really good and resilient from me today.

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“It feels a bit surreal; to do it in any way is amazing, but to do it like that, I wasn’t expecting that at all. He was looking pretty fresh there.

“I’m just soaking it all in now, and I can’t wait for main draw.”

The win will ensure Sweeny, who has become a cult hero at Melbourne Park after three qualifying final wins, will make his main draw debut, having been eliminated at the qualifying stage for each of the last three Australian Opens.

Joining him in clearing the final qualifying hurdle is Omar Jasika, who recovered from a set down to defeat Abedallah Shelbayh.

The win sees him return to grand slam tennis for the first time since 2017, with a positive test for cocaine in December of that year seeing him cop a two-year ban from the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority (ASADA).

It was a less lucky day for Australia’s women’s qualifiers, with Maya Joint, Destanee Aiava and Priscilla Hon all losing to end their main draw dreams.

Aiava led 3-0 in the deciding set before opponent Renata Zarazua took a medical timeout, before returning and winning six of the last seven games to become the first Mexican woman since 2000 to reach the main draw at Melbourne Park.

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United Cup doubles hero Storm Hunter was the only Aussie to qualify on the women’s side, fighting back from a set down to beat Dominika Salkova.

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