Simona Halep had to battle hard to survive against local favourite Ajla Tomljanovic on Wednesday night at the Australian Open on Margaret Court Arena, while Naomi Osaka had an easier time sweeping past Caroline Garcia on Rod Laver Arena.
I expected that she’s going to play very hard and very strong. I know that she’s a very tough opponent and I expected it to be a difficult match, but it was more than I thought. I was not that positive when I was talking to myself,” admitted Halep. “Mentally, I think I was a little bit stronger and I wanted to, I had the desire, to win the match, and I didn’t want to give up. Simona Halep
As Halep dodged the bullet of defeat by coming back from a 2-5 final-set deficit to claim a 4-6 6-4 7-5 triumph over Tomljanovic, Osaka rode her 16-match unbeaten streak with an effortless win over Garcia, 6-3 6-3.
In many ways, Osaka’s task held the greater risk as the Frenchwoman has been ranked as high No 4 in the world, but the Japanese swept that threat aside.
“I stayed focused throughout the match and I tried to play within myself,” Osaka, who hit 23 winners, told the RLA crowd. “She’s a tough opponent because you don’t know how she might play.”
The 3-time Grand Slam winner, who is sporting a black printed leotard with a peach pleated skirt, is seeded 3 and building momentum after having not played competitively since winning the US Open before arriving in Australia.
The 2019 AO champion cruised through the opening set to draw first blood, and snuffed out any challenge from 43-ranked Garcia with a break in the 6th game of the second, before finishing it off in style with her 10th ace.
Osaka takes on Ons Jabeur, the No 27 seed from Tunisia, who defeated Anna Karolina Scchmiedlova from Slovakia, 6-3 6-2.
Halep’s path was way more fraught and the Romanian was in real danger of joining the slew of toppled top-ranked players on Day 3, but steely resolve propelled her through the final games as she stared down defeat.
The enthralling battle ebbed and flowed for 2 hours and 34 minutes, and featured 15 breaks of serve, Halep prevailing despite delivering 28 winners, 9 fewer than her opponent’s 37.
“I expected that she’s going to play very hard and very strong,” a smiling Halep said in her on-court interview. “I know that she’s a very tough opponent and I expected it to be a difficult match, but it was more than I thought.
“I was not that positive when I was talking to myself,” admitted Halep. “Mentally, I think I was a little bit stronger and I wanted to, I had the desire, to win the match, and I didn’t want to give up.”
In a match that began in daylight and ended under the bright MCA lights, Tomljanovic was eyeing her first top-10 win since 2019 and 4th of her career.
She served up a pair of double faults to concede a break in the opening game, but cheered on by her beau and men’s 9th seed Matteo Berrettini, quickly matched her opponent’s barrage of powerful groundstrokes, breaking back to level the score at 2-2.
The free-hitting Aussie from Brisbane broke the Romanian again to edge ahead to a 4-2 lead, before dropping her own serve.
Mixing in deftly-placed drop shot winners with un-returnable serves, Tomljanovic saved break point to take a 5-4 lead and captured the set after by breaking Halep in a gruelling game that lasted almost 13 minutes.
With both attacking on return, 4 breaks of serve ensued to begin the second, but they each held once each before Halep clinched and then consolidated a break to take a 5-3 lead.
Halep then held focus to snag the set 6-4 with a clean forehand winner, forcing a decider, with pressure-filled rallies evoking gasps of disbelief from the diminished crowd.
Tomljanovic went 2-0 up in the third before handing back the break with an untimely double fault.
She was broken serving for the match at 5-3 and, after surviving 3 break points, succumbed to a 4th in the 11th game, to give Halep a 6-5 lead.
The two-time Grand Slam champion didn’t need to be asked twice to seize the day, and clinched her 2nd match point with a passing forehand winner.
Halep, a finalist in Melbourne in 2018, next battles Russian 32nd seed Veronika Kudermetova, who came through an all-Russian battle, 5-7 6-2 6-2, against Varvara Gracheva.
“It’s going to be a new challenge, I will watch a little bit of video, like I do every time I face someone I didn’t play before,” Halep said.
“I want just to recover after this match, if I can be 100 per cent in two days, that will be great,” she added, smiling.
Meanwhile, on John Cain Arena, Iga Swiatek of Poland exacted some revenge over Camila Giorgi of Italy, 6-2 6-4, in a rematch of their encounter in the same round at the same site two years ago.
This time round, however, Swiatek is the No 15 seed with her first Grand Slam title under her belt, and she took control of the match, stopping the aggressive play of Giorgi in 80 minutes.
The result continues a superb run of form at the majors for Swiatek, who has now won 18 consecutive sets at Grand Slam level dating back to the start of her life-changing run on the clay courts of Paris.
The 19-year-old struck 17 winners and an equal number of unforced errors on Wednesday, while the go-for-broke style of Giorgi, which has garnered her big upset wins in the past, resulted in 11 winners and 31 unforced errors on the day.
A routine 6-2, 2-0 lead for Swiatek was jarred by a hot streak from Giorgi, as the Italian’s powerful shots found the court more consistently.
The Italian reeled off 3 games in a row and had break points to take a 4-2 lead, but Swiatek exhibited her improved tenacity as she fended her off to hold for 3-3.
Swiatek used her fierce forehand to break Giorgi in the very next game, then cruised home to set up a 3rd-round clash with France’s Fiona Ferro, who upset Elena Rybakina, the No 17 seed from Kazakstan, 6-4 6-4.
Elsewhere, Italy’s Sara Errani advanced to round 3 over an injured Venus Williams, 6-1 6-0.
With Errani leading 5-1, the American former World No 1 stumbled going for a drop-shot, rolling her right ankle while at the net and also injuring her left knee in the process.
In visible pain, Williams needed to be treated on both but came back on court and lost the last game of the opener.
She bravely continued through the second, finding powerful strokes to keep herself in the mix of some close games despite being heavily affected in her movement.
Errani prevented the seven-time Grand Slam champion from converting any more game points, and the Italian eventually attained her second win in her last two meetings with the American superstar.
“I’m not happy to win like that,” World No 134 Errani said. “I’m so sad for her. It isn’t easy playing someone injured.
“I thought she would retire, because she wasn’t running. She was walking badly. I was worrying about her more than thinking about how I should play.
“I was thinking, ‘Who knows? Maybe at a certain point she’ll say enough is enough.’ But instead, she continued right up until the end.”
Next up for Errani will be Hsieh Su-wei, who upset No 8 seed Bianca Andreescu, 6-3 6-2, earlier on Wednesday.