Japanese fourth seed Naomi Osaka swept past Tamara Zidansek in straight sets to reach the Australian Open third round on Thursday as she targets a second Grand Slam title while Serena Williams blitzed past Eugenie Bouchard 6-2, 6-2 in 70 minutes.
The US Open champion defeated the unseeded Slovenian 6-2, 6-4 to set up an all-Asian clash with Hsieh Su-wei of Taiwan in the next round. The 21-year-old struggled to close out the match after a strong start but always looked in control against the world number 78.
Seven-time Grand Slam champion Venus Williams made a late charge into third round, grinding out a win in her second three-set victory of the tournament. The unseeded 38-year-old American came back strongly to beat Alize Cornet of France 6-3, 4-6, 6-0, setting up a meeting with top seed Simona Halep, was a break down in the decider but fights back to beat 20-year-old Sofia Kenin 6-3, 6-7(5), 6-4.
Osaka broke Zidansek in the first game, only to allow the Slovenian to get back on level terms in the fourth with a string of unforced errors.
It proved a minor wobble, with Osaka restoring her advantage with a lob that left Zidansek flat footed, then claiming another break before serving out the set in 28 minutes.
The second set was tighter as Osaka uncharacteristically struggled on serve, double faulting as Zidansek went up a break.
But she made amends in the next game and saw off two break points from Zidansek before bringing up two match points on serve.
Osaka netted a forehand return on the first one but Zidansek could not handle the power of her second, hitting it into the crowd to hand the Japanese player victory.
Earlier in the day, sixth seed Elina Svitolina and seventh-seeded Karolina Pliskova kept their dreams of a maiden Grand Slam title alive on Thursday ahead of 23-time major winner Serena Williams swinging back into Australian Open action.
Despite being ranked in the top 10, neither has progressed further than the quarter-finals at Melbourne Park.
Self-assured Svitolina dismantled Viktoria Kuzmova of Slovakia 6-4, 6-1 to make the third round, while Pliskova woke up after losing the first set to race past Madison Brengle 4-6, 6-1, 6-0.
American Madison Keys prevailed in humid conditions Thursday to set up a testing third round challenge against Belgium’s Elise Mertens.
Both players are past semi-finalists at Melbourne Park and hungry for more success at the season-opening Grand Slam. “That’s a tough match. We’ve played once before and it was really tough,” 17th seed Keys said after a 6-3, 6-4 second round win over Russia’s Anastasia Potapova.
Ukraine’s Svitolina scored her biggest career win by clinching the WTA Finals in Singapore last October, and is bubbling with confidence.
“It definitely brought me lots of confidence and showed I can play at a really high level,” she said. “So I’m just trying to transfer this to the Grand Slam.”
A quarter-finalist in Melbourne last year, she next plays either Czech Kristyna Pliskova – identical twin sister of Karolina – or Zhang Shuai of China.
Karolina Pliskova’s best Slam effort so far was the US Open in 2016, where she made the final and lost to Angelique Kerber. She has made the quarters in her last two Australian Open appearances and entered this year’s tournament on a high after winning the Brisbane International.
“The match had a bit of everything, some breaks, some good tennis, some bad mistakes from me too,” said the Czech of her win over Brengle.
Other women through included Italy’s Camila Giorgi, who plays Karolina Pliskova next, and China’s impressive 21st seed Wang Qiang, who earned a third-round clash with Latvia’s 13th seed Anastasija Sevastova.
In her first tour match since losing a US Open final mired in controversy, Williams delivered an ominous warning in her 49-minute opening round thrashing of Tatjana Maria.
Next in the firing line is Canadian Eugenie Bouchard. They have met twice on tour before, but not since 2014, with the American winning both times.
Two-time Grand Slam winner Garbine Muguruza emerged triumphant in the latest women’s match ever held at the Australian Open after defeating Briton Johanna Konta in the early hours of Friday morning.
Muguruza and Konta’s match on Margaret Court Arena did not start until 12:30 am Friday morning – a record at the season-opening Grand Slam – and finished with a 6-4, 6-7 (3/7), 7-5 victory for the Spaniard two hours and 42 minutes later at 3:12 am.
The start was delayed when the men’s match between Alexander Zverev and Jeremy Chardy turned into three hour 46 minute epic, ending 7-6 (7/5), 6-4, 5-7, 6-7 (6/8), 6-1 for Germany’s Zverev.
Camila Giorgi (ITA x27) bt Iga Swiatek (POL) 6-2, 6-0
Wang Qiang (CHN x21) bt Aleksandra Krunic (SRB) 6-2, 6-3
Elina Svitolina (UKR x6) bt Viktoria Kuzmova (SVK) 6-4, 6-1
Karolina Pliskova (CZE x7) bt Madison Brengle (USA) 4-6, 6-1, 6-0
Anastasija Sevastova (LAT x13) bt Bianca Andreescu (CAN) 6-3, 3-6, 6-2
Elise Mertens (BEL x12) bt Margarita Gasparyan (RUS) 6-1, 7-5
Hsieh Su-wei (TPE x28) bt Laura Siegemund (GER) 6-3, 6-4
Madison Keys (USA x17) bt Anastasia Potapova (RUS) 6-3, 6-4
Timea Bacsinszky (SUI) bt Natalia Vikhlyantseva (RUS) 6-2, 7-5
Naomi Osaka (JPN x4) bt Tamara Zidansek (SLO) 6-2, 6-4
Zhang Shuai (CHN) bt Kristyna Pliskova (CZE) 6-3, 7-5
Garbine Muguruza (SPN x18) bt Johanna Konta (GBR) 6-4, 6-7 (3/7), 7-5
With inputs from AFP