Reigning Australian Open champion Naomi Osaka overcame a mid-match fit of pique while Coco Gauff fought back from a set and break down in the third to set up a blockbuster third-round clash on Wednesday.
The third seed from Japan dealt better with the blustery Melbourne conditions to defeat China’s 42nd-ranked Zheng Saisai 6-2, 6-4.
The American teenager, playing just her third Grand Slam, stormed back from a set down to defeat Romania’s Sorana Cirstea 4-6, 6-3, 7-5.
Serena Williams admitted she was not at her best as she fought off a stubborn Tamara Zidansek. The American great, one short of Australian Margaret Court’s all-time record of 24 Grand Slam titles, faces China’s 27th seed Wang Qiang next in Melbourne.
The 38-year-old Williams was never in serious trouble against the 70th-ranked Slovenian Zidansek, winning 6-2, 6-3 at Rod Laver Arena.
World No 1 Ashleigh Barty made light of windy conditions to reach the third round in front of an adoring home crowd. The French Open champion took just 66 minutes to dismantle Slovenia’s Polona Hercog, winning 6-1, 6-4 without dropping any service games at Rod Laver Arena
An emotional Caroline Wozniacki had tears in her eyes as she kept alive her dreams of a triumphant farewell to tennis. The 29-year-old former world number one roared back in both sets to defeat 23rd-seeded Dayana Yastremska of Ukraine 7-5, 7-5.
However, 11th Aryna Sabalenka, who is dealing with the sudden death of her father in the off season, became the biggest seed to fall in the first round. The Belrussian was beaten 7-6(6), 7-6(6) by Carla Suárez Navarro in her rain-delayed first-round match.
In other results, Petra Kvitova, last year’s runner-up, came through 7-5, 7-5 against Paula Badosa of Spain, and China’s Zhang Shuai ousted American Caty McNally 6-2, 6-4.
Below-par Serena fends off Zidansek
The eighth seed was restrained in her celebrations and said: “It was a good match for me, she was a really good fighter, she did not just let me win.”
The 22-year-old Zidansek put up resistance in the second set with Williams twice failing to break when 40-0 up on the Slovenian’s serve.
Williams then struggled through her own service game at 3-2 down, with a brief stoppage while the roof closed because of more rain in Melbourne. Williams finally broke Zidansek’s stubborn resolve in the seventh game, getting the break of serve on the way to victory in one hour 18 minutes.
The American great described herself as “frustrated” by her failure to bury her opponent in those two service games.
“I made so many errors in a row and had to battle through my own internal problems,” said Williams. “I knew I had to play better and couldn’t keep making unforced errors like that, otherwise it was going to be a long evening for me.”
Williams, who has won the Australian Open seven times, thrashed Wang 6-1, 6-0 when they met at the US Open quarter-finals last year. She dropped just three games in her opening win over Russian teenager Anastasia Potapova on Monday in Melbourne.
Osaka loses her cool
There was a flash of temper from the 22-year-old Osaka when Zheng broke early in the second set, throwing her racquet to the floor, then giving it a kick for good measure.
The two-time Grand Slam champion also threw down a ball and tossed the racquet down again as she slumped to her chair, covering her head with her towel.
“I just wanted to fight, I’ve been in this position before on this court (a break down in the second set) and I was thinking that I really don’t want to play a third set this time,” Osaka said.
The Japanese former world number one knows that as the title holder “people want to beat me more”.
“I did not deal well with that after this tournament (last year), I tell you,” she admitted.
The hard-hitting Osaka broke the Chinese in her first service game, only for Zheng to strike back immediately.
But the Chinese struggled with her serve in the Melbourne breeze and conjured up two double faults on the trot to go down 4-2.
Osaka wrapped up a dominant first set in 34 minutes with a stinging forehand.
After the blip of dropping her serve at the start of the second set, Osaka wrestled two breaks back, sealing victory when Zheng again double-faulted.
Wozniacki’s emotional battle
Neil Diamond’s hit “Sweet Caroline” rang around a blustery Margaret Court Arena after the Dane nailed the sixth match point to reach round three in blustery Melbourne.
She plays Ons Jabeur of Tunisia.
“It’s a little bit emotional for me,” said Wozniacki, the 2018 Australian Open winner who announced in December that this would be her final tournament.
“The crowd really got behind me so that was so special. Thank you everyone for coming out today, it really means a lot to me,” she added, fighting back tears.
The 19-year-old Yastremska, beaten by world number one Ashleigh Barty in last week’s final in Adelaide, threatened to put a swift end to Wozniacki’s career.
But having been 5-1 down in the first set, Wozniacki – who suffers with rheumatoid arthritis, which causes fatigue and joint pain – fought back to claim the set in 53 tough minutes.
Now ranked 36th, having ended 2010 and 2011 at number one in the world, Wozniacki was similarly quickly down 3-0 in the second set.
But once again she battled back to make it 4-4, then held her own serve to lead 5-4 and within touching distance of round three.
Yastremska then required a medical timeout for what appeared to be a left thigh problem, and returned to court with heavy strapping.
She saved five match points, but with the crowd firmly behind her, Wozniacki would not be denied.
Sara Sorribes (ESP) bt Veronika Kudermetova (RUS) 2-6, 6-1, 6-1
Anett Kontaveit (EST x28) bt Astra Sharma (AUS) 6-0, 6-2
Iga Swiatek (POL) bt Timea Babos (HUN) 6-3, 6-2
Carla Suarez (ESP) bt Aryna Sabalenka (BLR x11) 7-6 (8/6), 7-6 (8/6)
Elise Mertens (BEL x16) bt Danka Kovinic (MNE) 6-2, 6-0
Heather Watson (GBR) bt Kristyna Pliskova (CZE) 4-6, 6-3, 6-1
Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (RUS x30) bt Nina Stojanovic (SRB) 6-1, 7-5
Taylor Townsend (USA) bt Jessica Pegula (USA) 6-4, 7-6 (7/5)
Ashleigh Barty (AUS x1) bt Polona Hercog (SLO) 6-1, 6-4
Elena Rybakina (KAZ x29) bt Greet Minnen (BEL) 6-3, 6-4
Alison Riske (USA x18) bt Lin Zhu (CHN) 6-3, 6-1
Julia Goerges (GER) bt Petra Martic (CRO x13) 4-6, 6-3, 7-5
Maria Sakkari (GRE x22) bt Nao Hibino (JPN) 7-6 (7/4), 6-4
Ekaterina Alexandrova (RUS x25) bt Barbora Krejcikova (CZE) 6-1, 6-3
Petra Kvitova (CZE x7) bt Paula Badosa (ESP) 7-5, 7-5
Naomi Osaka (JPN x3) bt Saisai Zheng (CHN) 6-2, 6-4
Cori Gauff (USA) bt Sorana Cirstea (ROU) 4-6, 6-3, 7-5
Shuai Zhang (CHN) bt Caty McNally (USA) 6-2, 6-4
Sofia Kenin (USA x14) bt Ann Li (USA) 6-1, 6-3
Ons Jabeur (TUN) bt Caroline Garcia (FRA) 1-6, 6-2, 6-3
Caroline Wozniacki (DEN) bt Dayana Yastremska (UKR x23) 7-5, 7-5
Qiang Wang (CHN x27) bt Fiona Ferro (FRA) 6-1, 6-2
Serena Williams (USA x8) bt Tamara Zidansek (SLO) 6-2, 6-3
Madison Keys (USA x10) bt Arantxa Rus (NED) 7-6 (7/3), 6-2
With AFP Inputs