Jessica Pegula powered into the Australian Open last 16 Friday and then warned her confidence is so high she feels like she’s won even before stepping on court.

The American third seed demolished Ukrainian Marta Kostyuk 6-0, 6-2 to set up a clash with 2021 French Open champion Barbora Krejcikova.

Pegula has been climbing the world rankings steadily for the past couple of years and needed just 65 minutes to canter past Kostyuk.

She has reached the quarter-finals on her last two visits to Melbourne Park and can make it a hat-trick if she beats 20th seed Krejcikova on Sunday.

Confidence is sky-high.

“I definitely feel like now I can walk out there and I’m winning before I step out on the court,” the 28-year-old told reporters.

“It’s a weird feeling to have that because before, you know, I didn’t feel like that.

“I’ve always wondered what that felt like. Now I feel like the last few Grand Slams, more than that really, you get so much more comfortable,” added Pegula who has dropped just 11 games in six sets at this year’s Australian Open.

‘I’m in control’

Pegula led the US to the United Cup title in Sydney two weeks ago, crushing world number one Iga Swiatek 6-2, 6-2 and leaving the Pole in tears on the way to their triumph.

“I feel like I’m in control the whole time. Again, you’re in charge of the moment. The moment’s not really getting to you,” she said, revelling in a new-found ability to intimidate her opponents.

“Sometimes I do feel, now that I’m on the other side, I can feel the girls kind of panicking a bit, maybe not playing to their full potential because maybe it’s a little overwhelming.

“They feel like they have to do more against me. It’s a different feeling, for sure.”

Pegula and Kostyuk had only met on one previous occasion, in Cincinnati last year, with the Ukrainian taking the first set before the American outlasted her 6-7 (5/7), 6-1, 6-2 in 2hr 7min.

There was no chance of a repeat on Friday, Pegula ruthlessly racing to a triple break on her way to taking a first set “bagel”.

Kostyuk did finally trouble the scorers at the start of the second, but it proved to be the only game she won on her own serve as Pegula cruised to victory.

“I’ve watched her quite a bit. She’s had a great last couple of years,” said Pegula of Krejcikova, who beat the 39th-ranked Anhelina Kalinina 6-2, 6-3 in 1hr 26min on Rod Laver Arena.

Krejcikova, like Pegula, is yet to drop a set and fired a warning back to her opponent.

“I think with every single match I’m getting better and better,” said the Czech.

“My serve was working really well today, I played really good returns and from the baseline. I played also a very solid game. Today was a really, really great match for me.”

Gauff wins all-American clash to reach last 16

Meanwhile, Coco Gauff’s bid to become the youngest Australian Open champion since 1997 gathered pace Friday with a straight-sets victory over fellow American Bernarda Pera.

The 18-year-old won 6-3, 6-2 on Rod Laver Arena to set up a last-16 clash against the 2017 French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko.

A maiden Grand Slam title for seventh seed Gauff would make her the youngest Melbourne champion since a 16-year-old Martina Hingis 26 years ago.

Gauff headed into the first major of the year on a high after winning her third WTA title at the Auckland Classic earlier this month.

She admitted she “got lucky” in her tight second-round victory over Emma Raducanu in a battle of tennis prodigies.

But Gauff let her racquet do the talking in her first meeting with power-hitter Pera, relentlessly soaking up some late pressure from the world number 41 when serving for the match at 5-2.

“She was hitting the ball really hard,” said Gauff, who this week became the first woman to register 100 tour-level wins before her 19th birthday since Caroline Wozniacki in 2009.

“So I was trying to hang in there and take the ground when I could.

“Last season she had a really long match streak so I knew she would be a tough player to beat, so I’m glad to be through to the second week.”

Gauff is one of two teenagers left in the women’s draw. The other is 17-year-old Linda Fruhvirtova, who plays Marketa Vondrousova in an all-Czech third-round clash on Saturday.

Gauff admitted that playing a former Grand Slam champion in Ostapenko for a place in the quarter-finals would present a different challenge, and she would not have it all her own way.

“I think for me, I played her before,” said Gauff who beat the Latvian 6-3, 1-6, 6-2 in their only previous meeting, the 2019 Linz final in Austria for the youngster’s first WTA Tour title.

That match was also on a hard court, but indoors.

“I think it’s just you need to be offensive when you can. Obviously there’s going to be shots that she hits that are just going to be too good. You have to be accepting that.”

It is the first time 17th seed Ostapenko has reached the last 16 at Melbourne Park.

“She’s a great player and she’s still very young, but she’s already very experienced,” said Ostapenko of Gauff.

“I honestly will go out there and just enjoy the match because it’s great to be already in the fourth round.”

Swiatek crushes qualifier to set up Rybakina clash

World number one Iga Swiatek fired an Australian Open warning to her rivals with a crushing 6-0, 6-1 win over Spanish qualifier Cristina Bucsa in just 55 minutes on Friday.

The French and US Open champion will now face a showdown with Wimbledon title-holder Elena Rybakina for a place in the quarter-finals.

Swiatek sprinted to victory and only missed out on a “double bagel” – 6-0, 6-0 – when Bucsa, ranked 100, finally held her serve at 5-0 in the second set.

The title favourite from Poland had said after a tough first-round examination that she needed to find some extra “intensity”.

She has certainly done it, cruising into the last 16 with the loss of only six games in her second- and third-round matches.

The 21-year-old is on course to win the Australian Open for the first time and with it the third leg of a career Grand Slam of all four majors.

“I knew she can be solid so I didn’t really want to let her come back” said Swiatek, who made her Australian Open debut in 2019.

“I’m glad that I was really disciplined and just focusing on my tactics.

“And yeah, I felt like I’m moving into flow. So that was nice,” added Swiatek, a year after recording her best result at Melbourne Park, losing to Danielle Collins in the semi-finals.

The three-time major winner – she also triumphed at Roland Garros in 2020 – will meet Moscow-born Kazakh Rybakina after she beat last year’s runner-up Collins 6-2, 5-7, 6-2.

After exiting Wimbledon in the third round to end her 37-match win streak, Swiatek ignored the tournament on TV and did not see Rybakina win.

“Honestly, I didn’t really watch Wimbledon after I lost. I had holidays, so it wasn’t smart for me to watch tennis,” Swiatek told reporters.

“With her serve, she can do a lot.”

The 22nd seed Rybakina said Swiatek, who seems to be getting better as the tournament progresses, would be a very difficult prospect.

“For sure she’s very strong physically and mentally,” Rybakina told reporters after spending 2hr 5min in knocking out the American 13th seed Collins.

“I think that if I’m going to play my game, aggressive, I’m going to have to be solid from the beginning till the end.

“I will have to take all my chances. I think Iga is a great player.”

Zhu stuns sixth seed Sakkari

Sixth seed Maria Sakkari became another major casualty at the Australian Open on Friday when she was shocked 7-6 (7/3), 1-6, 6-4 by an emotional world number 87 Zhu Lin of China.

Zhu, whose 29th birthday will be on women’s singles final day next Saturday, is into the last 16 and a date with former champion Victoria Azarenka.

Zhu had lost all seven of her previous encounters against top-10 players.

But you wouldn’t have known it in a late-night encounter on Margaret Court Arena which went past midnight and, fittingly, into Chinese New Year’s eve.

Underdog Zhu celebrated the Year of the Rabbit by taking the first set on a tiebreak.

Though she dropped the second as Sakkari finally woke up, Zhu regrouped to secure the biggest win of her Grand Slam career and then burst into floods of tears.

“Is this real? Am I in a dream?” she sobbed.

“Thank you, my team, and thank you for pushing me every day,” she said, looking to her player’s box.

“It’s just I have to believe in myself that I have the ability to be able to play at this high level and I need to work hard every day.

“And, yeah, who knows what’s going to happen? You never know.”

The Chinese player had never got beyond the second round previously at Melbourne Park – or any other Slam – but now finds herself facing the 2012 and 2013 champion Azarenka for a place in the quarter-finals.

The Belarusian 24th seed earlier knocked out American 10th seed Madison Keys 1-6, 6-2, 6-1 to reach the fourth round for the second year in succession.