What to Watch on Thursday at the Australian Open

Andy Murray of Britain waves to the crowd following his first round win over Alexander Zverev of Germany at the Australian Open tennis championships in Melbourne, Australia, Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2016.(AP Photo/Andrew Brownbill)
AP

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) A veteran Spanish lefthander and a 25-year-old Chinese qualifier who nearly quit tennis last year are back in action Thursday at the Australian Open, hoping to prove that their upset wins over two of the top players in the first round were no flukes.

Fernando Verdasco beat fifth-seeded Rafael Nadal for only the third time in 17 matches to send the 14-time Grand Slam singles champion packing. The win advanced the 32-year-old Verdasco to a second-round match against Dudi Sela of Israel.

Zhang Shuai beat No. 2-ranked Simona Halep, last year's U.S. Open semifinalist, on Tuesday for her first win in 15 Grand Slam singles matches. It was also her fourth win at Melbourne Park in the past week – she won three matches in qualifying to get into the main draw.

Zhang, who plays Alize Cornet of France, broke into tears after her win. Last year when poor results saw her ranking plummet, ''I was feeling so bad, I almost retired.''

Here are some other things to watch on Thursday:

MURRAY'S AUSSIE STREAK: Statistically speaking, Sam Groth shouldn't stand a chance against Andy Murray when the pair meet in the last day match on Rod Laver Arena. The Scotsman has won all of his 17 matches against Australians in tour-level singles matches (although Nick Kyrgios beat Murray at the Hopman Cup team event). Murray's wife, Kim, is expecting their first child in February, and Murray has said he'd return to London immediately if she went into labor early, prompting a tongue-in-cheek comment from Groth. ''I'll try to come up with a game plan and give it my best shot .. (but) be nice if his wife went into labor overnight, I might be just cheering for that one.''

CONTENDERS: With second-seeded Halep's loss to Zhang, two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka and Garbine Muguruza are two of the biggest threats on the bottom half of the women's draw. The third-seeded Muguruza, who lost the Wimbledon final to Serena Williams last year, plays Kirsten Flipkens of Belgium, while Azarenka, who won the Brisbane International two weeks ago, takes on Danka Kovinic of Montenegro. Azarernka beat Alison Van Uytvanck 6-0, 6-0 in the first round, and, as the score suggests, she was just about perfect. ''I was patient when I needed. I was aggressive when I needed, when I needed to change pace or, get that extra shot in, I did that,'' Azarenka said.

HEWITT KEEPS GOING: Lleyton Hewitt's Australian Open retirement party continues when he plays eighth-seeded David Ferrer, a considerably tougher opposition than Hewitt's first-round rival, fellow Australian James Duckworth. It will be the fourth career meeting between the pair, and all have been at Grand Slam tournaments. Ferrer beat Hewitt at the 2012 U.S. Open and at the 2008 French Open after Hewitt defeated Ferrer at Wimbledon in 2006. ''He's like a brick wall out there,'' Hewitt, who will retire after this tournament, his 20th Australian Open, said of Ferrer. ''He moves great … a pretty aggressive baseliner. He's a tough customer for nearly anyone.'' They'll play the first night match on Rod Laver Arena, and the expected 15,000-capacity crowd will likely give Hewitt a rousing send-off if it ends up being his final match in Australia.

AND ELSEWHERE: Former No. 1 and 2008 French Open champion Ana Ivanovic plays qualifier Anastasja Sevastova of Latvia in the first match on Rod Laver Arena… Stan Wawrinka, the 2014 Australian Open winner and French Open champion of last year, plays Czech veteran and qualifier Radek Stepanek. Stepanek, 37, became the oldest man to win a match at the Australian Open since 1978 when he won his first-rounder … Canadian Milos Raonic, who beat Roger Federer in the Brisbane International final two weeks ago, has a tough second-rounder against Tommy Robredo, who's made it to the fourth round the past two years at Melbourne Park. Raonic, playing in his sixth Australian Open, had his tournament-best performance last year when he advanced to the quarterfinals, losing to eventual champion Novak Djokovic in straight sets.