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Seeds uprooted in women’s draw

Rafael Nadal can equal Roger Federer’s record 20 Grand Slam titles with victory in Melbourne

By Agencies in Melbourne

  • Published 26.01.20, 2:03 AM
  • Updated 26.01.20, 2:03 AM
Simona Halep during her third round match against Yulia Putintseva in Melbourne on Saturday
Simona Halep during her third round match against Yulia Putintseva in Melbourne on Saturday (AP)

World No.1 Rafael Nadal and Wimbledon champion Simona Halep dodged an exodus of seeded players as the shocks kept rolling at the Australian Open on Saturday.

After Serena Williams and title-holder Naomi Osaka fell by the wayside on Friday, second seed Karolina Pliskova crashed out on a day of carnage in the women’s draw.

Switzerland’s Belinda Bencic, the sixth seed, won only one game against Estonia’s Anett Kontaveit, the world No. 31, as she bombed 6-0, 6-1.

And a resurgent Garbine Muguruza, a two-time Major-winner, thrashed fifth seed Elina Svitolina 6-1, 6-2 as six of the top 10 women’s seeds exited in round three. Tenth seed Madison Keys lost to Maria Sakkari on Friday.

“I was very concentrated and focused on what I wanted to do, it all went fast my way,” said Muguruza, who raced through the first set in just 23 minutes.

Croatian 19th seed Donna Vekic also crumbled to lower-ranked opposition when she lost 7-5, 6-3 to Poland’s Iga Swiatek, who is returning from a stress fracture in her foot.

While the women’s seeds fell, Nadal had few problems against fellow Spaniard Pablo Carreno Busta — despite staying up to watch Roger Federer’s thrilling late-night win over John Millman, which went to a fifth-set tie-breaker.

“I watched it until one o’clock — it was impossible to sleep watching this match,” Nadal said.

But he showed no signs of tiredness, racing through 6-1, 6-2, 6-4 in just 1hr 38mins in what he called his “best match of the tournament so far, without a doubt”.

“I’m improving every day, so super-happy.

“I did well on my serve and hit good forehands down the line, which is a key shot for me,” he said.

Nadal, 33, who can equal Federer’s record 20 Grand Slam titles with victory in Melbourne, will now meet bitter rival Nick Kyrgios.

Germany’s Alexander Zverev dismissed Fernando Verdasco 6-2, 6-2, 6-4 to set up a last-16 clash with Russia’s Andrey Rublev, who remained unbeaten this year with his win over David Goffin.

Halep put away Kazakhstan’s Yulia Putintseva 6-1, 6-4 to reach the last 16, where she will play Belgium’s Elise Mertens, who won in three sets against CiCi Bellis — ending the American’s Grand Slam return from long-term injury.

Halep, the reigning Wimbledon champion, shrugged off the departure of some of the tournament favourites, saying defeats can happen to anyone. “It’s just a tournament, and I’m sure that for you guys (media) it’s a little bit of shock when the top-10 players are losing, but it’s life and we cannot be 100 percent every day,” said the Romanian.

Angelique Kerber, the 2016 champion, beat Camila Giorgi 6-2, 6-7 (4/7), 6-3 to set up a meeting with Russia’s 30th seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, who knocked out Pliskova 7-6 (7/4), 7-6 (7/3).

“I was about 40 percent today of my game,” said Pliskova, who was at a loss to explain her lack of form. “I don’t know. I was just down.” In other results, Austrian fifth seed Dominic Thiem came through 6-2, 6-4, 6-7 (5/7), 6-4 against Taylor Fritz, and Russia’s Rublev beat Goffin 2-6, 7-6 (7/3), 6-4, 7-6 (7/4).

Stanislas Wawrinka, the 2014 champion, progressed to the last 16 when John Isner retired in the second set.

‘Made up’ story

Great entertainer Gael Monfils charged into the fourth round of the Australian Open on Saturday before rounding on the media for a “made up” story about him injuring his hand while playing video games.

The 10th seed ousted Ernests Gulbis 7-6 (2), 6-4, 6-3 on Melbourne Arena showing no signs of a hand injury French media reports last weekend had said resulted from him hitting the bedboard in frustration while on his PlayStation.

“I say this in a funny way but it’s a disgrace to be honest with you because I’m fine,” the 33-year-old told reporters.

“I’m in second week, playing great tennis. I never said I was hurt. Playing PlayStation, this? Come on? And it’s easy, because I think I’m a good name to make up a good story like that. Now you know.”

Bopanna advances

India’s Rohan Bopanna and his Ukrainian partner Nadiia Kichenok moved into the mixed doubles second round. The Indo-Ukrainian pair beat Lyudmyla Kichenok of Ukraiune and Austin Krajicek from USA 7-5, 4-6, 10-6 in one hour and 15 minutes.

They will next take on American Nicole Melichar and Brazilian Bruno Soares.

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