PHOTOS from day four of the Wimbledon championships at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club in London on Friday
Mother knows best as Azarenka dashes Watson's dreams
The bad news for new mum Victoria Azarenka at Wimbledon on Friday was that she dropped a set against British hope Heather Watson for the first time in five meetings.
There was further frustration for the Belarussian as Watson bagged 11 games during a thrilling third round Centre Court encounter - the same number Azarenka had surrendered in total during their four previous showdowns.
Yet, those stats and an astonishing moment of judgement by Watson in the third set could not deny Azarenka victory as she reached the last 16 with a heart-stopping 3-6, 6-1, 6-4 win over the British wildcard.
"I really stepped up in the key moments," said Azarenka, who is playing in only her second tournament after the birth of her son Leo in December.
Fellow two-times Grand Slam champion Mary Pierce put it more forcefully: "Azarenka showed today why she is a former world number one - when it counts she takes it up to another level.
"Mark of a champion."
When Azarenka broke for 4-3 in the deciding set, following an 11-minute game which featured six deuces and five game points for her opponent, Watson's slumped body language seemed to suggest it was game over and her spirit was broken.
Yet at 30-30 in the next game, Watson suddenly stopped the action mid point, drawing gasps from the 15,000-strong crowd as she held her left arm aloft to challenge Hawkeye on the landing spot of an Azarenka groundstroke around the dusty, threadbare baseline.
With both players looking nervously at the giant screen on court, the hollering cheers that greeted Hawkeye's verdict left no doubt which way the call had gone - and that too by a whisker.
A backhand long from Azarenka on the next point lifted the crowd off their seats as they erupted in celebration.
But the euphoria evaporated within minutes as 102nd ranked Watson, who had come within two points of beating Serena Williams at the same stage in 2015, chased down a lob only to wallop the ball into the net, handing Azarenka yet another break point.
As she bent over her racket in frustration, Watson must have realised she was running out of lives.
A time violation was the last thing she needed - but it was what she got as she tried to gather her wits.
When she did finally launch into her serve, the muted applause that greeted the end of the point confirmed that Azarenka stood only a game away from making the second week of the grasscourt major for the fifth time.
Watson earned two further chances to throw Azarenka off course as she streaked 15-40 ahead in the 10th game but each time she miscued the service return, hitting long and wide.
It was all over two points later as Watson's backhand error left Azarenka whooping in delight after two hours and six minutes.
Determined Halep keeps seedings on track
Second seed Simona Halep brought the Wimbledon women's draw to order on Friday after recent upsets with a 6-4, 7-6(7) win over China's Peng Shuai.
The 25-year-old Romanian, who could capture the No 1 spot if she reaches the semi-finals at Wimbledon, wore down her 31-year-old opponent with heavy groundstrokes from the baseline, clipping the lines with her penetrating forehands.
Looking to assuage the disappointment of losing the French Open final last month to Jelena Ostapenko from a set and 3-0 up, Halep did not have an easy ride on a sweltering Court Two.
Peng, ranked 37 and no slouch on grass after winning the doubles title here in 2013, broke back to force the tiebreak when Halep looked to be cruising home in the second set. The pair slugged it out until Halep served an ace for a second match point and Peng sent a ball long to concede the match.
Third seed Karolina Pliskova and 12th seed Kristina Mladenovic lost on Thursday, opening up the women's competition, that was already missing seven times champion Serena Williams.
Halep meets former world number one Victoria Azarenka in the last 16.
Nishikori beaten by 'Mr Consistent' Bautista Agut
Spain's 'Mr Consistent' Roberto Bautista Agut reached the fourth round of a Grand Slam for the seventh time in his last nine attempts with a shock victory over Japanese ninth seed Kei Nishikori on Friday.
The 29-year-old proved too solid for a listless Nishikori, winning 6-4, 7-6(3), 3-6, 6-3 on Court Three.
"I could not get into my rhythm," Nishikori told a large gathering of Japanese reporters.
"It was really hard for me to be aggressive today. In the third set I began to move him around a bit but it didn't last long enough unfortunately. I totally lost my rhythm out there."
It has been a mediocre year for Nishikori who is struggling to build on the promise he showed when he reached the 2014 US Open final, losing to Marin Cilic.
After reaching the final in two of his first three tournaments of 2017 he has not made one since and has been suffering with niggling injuries.
On Friday he paid the price for failing to take his break point chances in the first set, especially at 4-4 when Bautista Agut saved one with a crisp forehand winner.
The Spaniard broke in the next game to take the opening set.
It was a similar story in the second set with Nishikori unable to convert any of the five break point chances that came his way before succumbing in a tiebreak in which Bautista Agut reeled off the last four points.
Nishikori, who has never flourished on grass and is yet to go past the fourth round at Wimbledon, did briefly gain the upper hand as he took the third set.
When he broke at the start of the fourth with a running forehand pass, to the delight of his fans, it seemed the match could swing his way but it proved a false dawn.
Eighteenth seed Bautista Agut belted a forehand winner to break back for and delivered another hammer blow to move 5-3 ahead before sealing victory as Nishikori skewed a backhand out.
Konta the last British woman standing after beating Sakkari
Johanna Konta kept the flag flying for British women at Wimbledon on Friday, reaching the last 16 with a comfortable 6-4 6-1 victory over Greece's Maria Sakkari.
The sixth seed announced her aggressive intentions from the first game when she twice drew her opponent into the net before passing her with crisp cross-court winners to break serve. Roared on by a packed Court One crowd, she grew stronger and stronger as the match progressed, dominating the baseline duel.
A nervous-looking Sakkari, aged 21 and ranked 101 in the world, compounded her plight with a string of unforced errors, spraying the ball long and wide on decisive points.
Konta is the last British woman left in the singles draw after Heather Watson lost to Victoria Azarenka on Centre Court earlier. The 26-year-old, who will next play France's Caroline Garcia, is one of the favourites to lift the title.
Cilic reaches fourth round without dropping a set
Seventh seed Marin Cilic swept into the fourth round at Wimbledon with a 6-4, 7-6(3), 6-4 win over American Steve Johnson on Friday to end an imperious opening week with a third consecutive straight sets victory.
The big-serving Croat took his aces tally to 63 for the tournament as he ended Johnson's Wimbledon run and underlined his own status as one of the main challengers to the established favourites.
Cilic, the 2014 US Open champion, is one of only two people, alongside Stanislas Wawrinka, to have won a grand slam in the last seven years outside of the game's dominant quartet of Roger Federer, Rafa Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray.
Having reached the final at Queen's in the traditional Wimbledon warmup, his grasscourt game is in good shape and he eased past Johnson with minimum fuss.
The Croat took the first set when he broke in the 10th game and claimed the second in a tiebreak
After both players struggled to hold serve at the start of the third, Cilic took control before wrapping up the contest when the American dumped a forehand return into the net.
Next up for Cilic is Roberto Bautista Agut.