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Aus Open: Djokovic survives; Serena, Osaka advance

Last updated on: February 12, 2021 19:39 IST
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IMAGES from the Australian Open matches played on Friday.

Novak Djokovic

IMAGE: Serbia's Novak Djokovic celebrates after winning his third round match against Taylor Fritz of the US. Photograph: Loren Elliott/Reuters

Top seed Novak Djokovic survived a major injury scare as he battled past American Taylor Fritz 7-6(1), 6-4, 3-6, 4-6, 6-2 to reach the fourth round of the Australian Open on Friday.

Defending champion Djokovic, seeking a ninth title in Melbourne, looked in command when he took the opening two sets but began to suffer with a side injury early in the third set.

 

He needed to leave Rod Laver Arena to have treatment and was grimacing in pain at times as the 23-year-old Fritz took advantage to take the next two sets.

Novak Djokovic

IMAGE: Serbia's Novak Djokovic receives medical attention. Photograph: Kelly Defina/Reuters

The crowd were removed midway through the fourth set as Melbourne's new COVID-19 lockdown came into effect.

But Djokovic, despite still looking in discomfort, did enough to win the deciding set and live to fight another day.

Serena overpowers Potapova to reach fourth round

The USA's Serena Williams plays a forehand return during her third round match against Russia's Anastasia Potapova at the Australian Open on Friday

IMAGE: The USA's Serena Williams plays a forehand return in her third round match against Russia's Anastasia Potapova at the Australian Open. Photograph: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

As news broke that Melbourne would head into a snap lockdown to contain an outbreak of COVID-19, Serena Williams was already on court at the Australian Open playing potentially her last match in front of crowds at the tournament.

It was a distraction neither Williams nor her opponent Anastasia Potapova would have wanted before their third round match at a Grand Slam that has been on high alert since it started on Monday.

Williams completed a 7-6(5), 6-2 win in the sunshine at Rod Laver Arena then gushed about her daughter Olympia learning tennis in the on-court interview, drawing cheers from fans.

“Actually, I didn’t know at all until the match was over. I think it’s good that I didn’t know,” Williams later told reporters.

“It’s rough. It’s going to be a rough few days for I think everyone. But we’ll hopefully get through it.”

Anastasia Potapova reacts during her match against Serena Williams

IMAGE: Anastasia Potapova reacts during her match against Serena Williams. Photograph: Darrian Traynor/Getty Images

The tournament will go on but Williams’s bid for a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam title will proceed without fans in the terraces for at least five days from Saturday.

Barring the home hero and world number one Ash Barty, Williams is arguably the hottest ticket in the women’s draw at Melbourne Park, where she has won seven titles.

“I feel like I’ve always had a great reaction from the Australian crowd, to be honest,” said the American.

“I’ve always felt like Australia has been a place I’ve always loved to play.”

Although it was not her best tennis on Friday, Williams gave the crowd ample suspense as she slumped to a 5-3 deficit in an error-strewn first set.

She survived two set points before getting the match back on serve when Potapova double-faulted.

From there, it was all on Williams’s terms.

If there was any doubt about her motivation to compete at the age of 39, it would have been crushed when, in one thrilling rally, she grinned broadly as she scrambled behind the baseline to retrieve a lob and flicked it over her head.

The shot landed in and bounced up nicely for Potapova but the Russian’s smash thudded into the net.

Halep hot-foots it into last 16 at Melbourne Park

Romania' Simona Halep reacts during her third round match against Russia's Veronika Kudermetova

IMAGE: Romania' Simona Halep reacts during her third round match against Russia's Veronika Kudermetova. Photograph: Darrian Traynor/Getty Images

Second seed Simon Halep eased past Russian Veronika Kudermetova 6-1, 6-3 to reach the fourth round of the Australian Open for the fourth straight year on Friday.

The twice Grand Slam champion feasted on the Russian's serve, breaking her opponent three times in the first set and another three times in the second.

The 29-year-old was broken twice herself but pounded 21 winners past her error-prone opponent and served out reasonably comfortably for the win after an hour and 18 minutes on court.

"It's always tough to play someone who you have never played before," said Halep, a finalist at Melbourne Park in 2018 and semi-finalist last year.

"I improved a lot in my serve, I worked a lot on it in the off-season. I want to improve in every way."

Up next is a last-16 encounter with the winner of Fiona Ferro's later match against Iga Swiatek, the Polish teenager who downed Halep 6-1 6-2 at the same stage of last year's French Open on her way to her maiden Grand Slam title.

"It's a big challenge because she crushed me at the French Open," Halep said.

"I have to do something better. I'm confident, let's see."

Osaka sweeps past Jabeur

Japan's Naomi Osaka plays a backhand during her women's singles third round match against Tunisia's Ons Jabeur.

IMAGE: Japan's Naomi Osaka plays a backhand during her women's singles third round match against Tunisia's Ons Jabeur. Photograph: Daniel Pockett/Getty Images

Naomi Osaka swept into the fourth round of the Australian Open on Friday with a 6-3, 6-2 victory over Ons Jabeur in front of one of the last crowds allowed before Melbourne Park goes into lockdown.

The Japanese third seed pounded down eight aces as she dominated her first career contest against the Tunisian world number 30 to set up a meeting with Spain’s twice Grand Slam champion Garbine Muguruza.

“Thanks for coming out, it’s so great to play in front you,” Osaka said to the crowd on John Cain Arena before asking for, and receiving, a rendition of the local sporting chant “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, Oi! Oi! Oi!”.

Such interactions will be impossible for five days from midnight on Friday after the state government announced a strict lockdown to try and contain an outbreak of COVID-19 in Melbourne.

US Open champion Osaka said she had been wary of Jabeur’s drop shot but dealt comfortably enough with her opponent to extend her winning streak to 17 matches.

Osaka, who won her second Grand Slam title in Melbourne in 2019, was forced to pause in the second set when a butterfly fluttered into her face and she moved it to the side of the court with her racket.

She saved six of seven break points she faced and hit winners off both wings, serving out to love to reach the last 16 at Melbourne Park for the third time after 78 minutes.

Thiem survives fired-up Kyrgios test in five-set thriller

Dominic Thiem

IMAGE: Austria's Dominic Thiem with Australia's Nick Kyrgios after winning their third round match. Photograph: Asanka Brendon Ratnayake/Reuters

Dominic Thiem produced a comeback for the ages to overhaul a fired-up Nick Kyrgios in a five-set classic at the Australian Open and send a baying crowd home in disappointment on the last night before a five-day lockdown in Melbourne.

In the bearpit atmosphere of Kyrgios's favourite John Cain Arena, US Open champion Thiem dragged himself off the canvas in a thrilling 4-6, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 win over the Australian showman to reach the fourth round.

The Austrian third seed was shellshocked for the first two sets, barely able to lay a glove on Kyrgios, who channelled the crowd's energy to produce some electrifying tennis.

But Thiem transformed from timid to terrific as his serve revived, and he lived to set up a battle with Grigor Dimitrov for a quarter-final spot after sealing the match with a majestic backhand down the line.

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Source: REUTERS
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