Three Top-10 seeds – Karolina Pliskova, Elina Svitolina and Belinda Bencic – crashed out early on Saturday as the shocks kept rolling in the Australian Open third round. However, fourth seed Simona Halep stayed on course, with a strong win to reach the second week.
A day after Serena Williams and defending champion Naomi Osaka both exited, Russia’s Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova beat second seed Pliskova 7-6 (7/4), 7-6 (7/3) for her first victory over the Czech second seed.
The result means that two of the top three seeds are now out of the women’s draw, after third-ranked Osaka fell to 15-year-old American Coco Gauff on Friday. Top seed Ashleigh Barty is still standing while fourth seed Halep, who beat Yulia Putintseva 6-1 6-4, is the highest seed left in this half.
Spain’s Garbine Muguruza, a former world No 1 and a two-time Grand Slam chamion herself, then crushed fifth seed Svitolina 6-1, 6-2 while sixth seed Belinda Bencic was thrashed 6-0, 6-1 in just 49 minutes in a breathtaking upset by Estonia’s Anett Kontaveit.
The 22-year-old Bencic was whitewashed in 20 minutes in the first set at Margaret Court Arena as a double bagel loomed. She stopped the rot in game four of the second set, holding her serve to win her first game of the match, but it was to be only a temporary reprieve from Kontaveit’s onslaught.
The 28th seed Kontaveit faces unseeded Iga Swiatek of Poland, who is returning from a stress fracture in her foot, in the last 16 in Melbourne. The teen knocked out Croatian 19th seed Donna Vekic who became the latest crumbled to lower-ranked opposition when she lost 7-5, 6-3.
Halep however reached the last 16 without any trouble and will play Belgium’s Elise Mertens, who won in three sets against CiCi Bellis – ending the American’s Grand Slam return from long-term injury.
She shrugged off the departure of some of the tournament favourites, saying defeats can happen to anyone.
“It’s just a tournament, and I’m sure that for you guys (media) it’s a little bit of shock when the top-10 players are losing, but it’s life and we cannot be 100 percent every day,” she said.
Pliskova loses early at another Major
Pliskova won this month’s WTA Brisbane title, beating Osaka on the way, but she was always under pressure against 30th seed Pavlyuchenkova in hot conditions on the Melbourne centre court.
They exchanged breaks in each set but Pavlyuchenkova had the edge in both tie-breakers, taking the win after 2hrs 25mins when Pliskova netted a forehand.
“I love this game and that’s what drives me, I appreciate more what I have now,” Pavlyuchenkova said. “I am hungry and motivated so hopefully can achieve more.
“I love the heat, even though everyone says you’re from Russia and love cold weather, I don’t, I hate it!”
The Russian will play former champion Angelique Kerber in the last 16 as she attempts to reach the last eight for a third time.
Three-time Grand Slam winner Kerber survived a scare from 102-ranked Italian Camila Giorgi to eventually win 6-2, 6-7 (4/7), 6-3.
The 32-year-old Kerber won her maiden Grand Slam at the Australian Open in 2016 and claimed the US Open title later the same year. She triumphed at Wimbledon in 2018.
“It was a really tough battle, I started really well but she came back really strong,” said Kerber.
“It’s still a long way to go, I need to keep fighting.
“I’m enjoying playing here and being here,” she told the crowd at Margaret Court Arena.
Kiki Bertens (NED x9) bt Zarina Diyas (KAZ) 6-2, 7-6 (7/3)
Anett Kontaveit (EST x28) bt Belinda Bencic (SUI x6) 6-0, 6-1
Iga Swiatek (POL) bt Donna Vekic (CRO x19) 7-5, 6-3
Elise Mertens (BEL x16) bt Catherine Bellis (USA) 6-1, 6-7 (5/7), 6-0
Simona Halep (ROU x4) bt Yulia Putintseva (KAZ) 6-1, 6-4
Garbine Muguruza (ESP) bt Elina Svitolina (UKR x5) 6-1, 6-2
Angelique Kerber (GER x17) bt Camila Giorgi (ITA) 6-2, 6-7 (4/7), 6-3
Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (RUS x30) bt Karolina Pliskova (CZE x2) 7-6 (7/4), 7-6 (7/3)