Fourth seed Simona Halep surged into the Australian Open quarter-finals on Monday, setting up a clash with first-time quarter-finalist Anett Kontaveit while former world No 1 Garbine Muguruza reached her first Grand Slam quarters since French Open 2018. Later, 2016 champion Angelique Kerber lost in three gruelling sets as Russia’s Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova reached the quarter-finals for a third time.

Kontaveit is also first Estonian woman to reach the Melbourne last eight as she prevailed over unseeded 18-year-old Iga Swiatek 6-7 (4/7), 7-5, 7-5 in 2 hours 42 minutes.

Two-time Grand Slam champions Halep defeated 16th seed Elise Mertens 6-4, 6-4 while Muguruza knocked out ninth seed Kiki Bertens 6-3, 6-3.

The 30th seed Pavlyuchenkova won through against the German 6-7 (5/7), 7-6 (7/4), 6-2 in 2hrs 37mins to set up a last-eight clash with Muguruza.

The 28-year-old Pavlyuchenkova has now reached the quarter-finals three times in the last four years – but has never got any further in the Grand Slam.

Halep in imperious form

Former world number one Halep, beaten in the 2018 final by Caroline Wozniacki, has not dropped a set in four matches in Melbourne and the Romanian fourth seed looks in ominous form. After top seed Ashleigh Barty, Halep – last year’s Wimbledon champion and a former French Open winner – is the highest remaining seed left in the draw.

Halep drew first blood at a sunny Rod Laver Arena when she broke Mertens at the fourth break-point opportunity and consolidated for a 3-1 lead.

The 24-year-old Mertens, whose best performance at a Grand Slam came in reaching the Australian Open semi-finals in 2018, broke back and then stubbornly held serve for 4-3. But Halep broke again for 5-4 and converted the fourth set point when Mertens put a forehand into the net.

The ninth game of the second set proved pivotal, as Halep finally got the break at the fifth opportunity before serving out the match.

Kontaveit prevails in tough tussle

Poland’s Swiatek, the youngest player left in the draw after Coco Gauff’s exit, grabbed the first set on the tie break but Kontaveit fought back after and raced ahead.

“It was such a battle today so very happy I toughed it out, I’m shaking,” said the 24-year-old Kontaveit, who is enjoying her best run in a Grand Slam and thrashed sixth seed Belinda Bencic 6-0, 6-1 in the previous round.

Swiatek needed a medical timeout and heavy strapping to her left thigh before the start of the second set. But it did not slow her, Swiatek breaking Kontaveit in the first game.

But neither player could consistently hold serve. They exchanged breaks throughout but the more experienced Kontaveit finally held in game 11 for a 6-5 lead, sealing the set when she broke Swiatek once more.

Kontaveit motored into a 5-1 lead in the deciding set and the match looked over.

But Swiatek threatened a late, remarkable comeback, winning four matches in a row for 5-5, before Kontaveit refound her composure to hold serve and then break the Pole for the match.

With AFP Inputs