On a day that saw the defending champion dethroned and a pretender dispatched, Danielle Collins, from the USA, continued her run at the Australian Open with an emphatic win over the 19th seed, Caroline Garcia, 6-3 6-2, to earn herself a crack at Angelique Kerber, champion in 2016 and a finalist last year.
"I was ready to take care of business and was feeling very confident with my shots, and ready to go after it, and I did that from the very first point and really stuck to the game plan that my coaches gave me. It was pretty much smooth sailing the entire way through." Danielle Collins
Maria Sharapova’s three-set win over Caroline Wozniacki set Melbourne buzzing, especially as she now faces local favourite Ash Barty in the fourth round, while another American, Amanda Anisimova, who is only 17 years old, sensationally took out the dark horse, Aryna Sabalenka, rather easily in fact, but will face a sterner test from the in-form Petra Kvitova.
Collins came to Melbourne with no expectations on her maiden visit, a 25-year newcomer to the tour who gained quite the reputation as a gutsy player during her college days at the University of Virginia, and can be daring and determined on court.
In her opener, she took out Julia Goerges, the German 14th seed, 2-6 7-6(5) 6-4, and followed it up with a further win over compatriot Sachia Vickery, 6-3 7-5.
She continued to excel in her breakthrough Grand Slam on Friday, upsetting Frenchwoman Garcia in straight sets in the third round.
“I just went out there full beans,” Collins told the press, after her win.
“I was ready to take care of business and was feeling very confident with my shots, and ready to go after it, and I did that from the very first point and really stuck to the game plan that my coaches gave me. It was pretty much smooth sailing the entire way through.”
The World No 35 had never won a Grand Slam main draw match coming into Melbourne, and now finds herself into the second week of a major after beating her second Top 20 seed of the week.
“There was a point in that first match where [Goerges] was two points away,” Collins stated.
“Many people probably counted me out. But I just kept my head straight and was really happy to get the win that day, and played really well, and she played really well.
“That was an incredibly tough match. But I think it gave me a lot of confidence going into the next rounds.”
In the first career meeting between Collins and Garcia, Collins claimed a late break of service in the opening set, then never looked back as she sailed to victory after only 63 minutes of play.
The American struck a stunning 26 winners, twice the amount of Garcia’s, and only hit 11 unforced errors throughout the tilt.
To reach the quarter-finals, Collins will have to get past former World No 1, Kerber, who is in fine form.
“I’ve worked really hard for this my whole life,” Collins said, when discussing her first-ever Grand Slam fourth-round showing.
“It’s not just something that came overnight, or something that was handed to me. I’ve really put the work in, and it’s been a long journey.
“I went to college, I did it a different way than most people, and I’m really proud of that.
“I can go on the court with the confidence knowing that I’ve worked for this, and I deserve to be on this stage, and I can play against any of the best players in the world and put on a great show.”
Well into the opening frame, it appeared that the match would turn into a protracted affair, as the combatants reached 4-3 without either player coming close to being broken, but that all turned around in the next game, when Collins crushed a winner plum on the baseline to bring up the first break point of the match.
Garcia saved that chance with a sturdy forehand, but Collins quickly clinched a second break point, which was converted with a self-inflicted wound as Garcia double faulted.
Holding the 5-3 lead, Collins slammed a plethora of powerful forehands to close out the opener and put herself one set away from the upset.
The American did in fact garner the set without facing a break point, as she won a staggering 20 of 24 points on her serve.
The feisty Collins refused to let up in the second set, using her signature bruising backhand to convert a break point in the first game, and then claiming a 3-0, double-break lead with an outstanding forehand passing shot.
Garcia tripped up the Collins momentum in the following game, picking off a volley on break point to notch her first service break of the day and end the unseeded player’s six-game run, but Collins was undeterred, breaking the Frenchwoman at love in the very next game to lead 4-1 and reclaim her heavy advantage.
At 5-1, former World No 4 Garcia finally held serve in the second set, taking the game emphatically with a string of forehand and service bombs.
Collins, faced with serving for the match at 5-2, fell behind 0-30, but her mental toughness steered her back, and she won four straight points, the final two with brilliant backhand winners, to wrap up another big victory.
Next up for Collins is birthday girl Angelique Kerber, who thrashed Australian wildcard Kimberly Birrell, 6-1 6-0, to reach the fourth round of the Australian Open on Friday and complete a late-night horror show for the locals at Rod Laver Arena, the following Rafa Nadal’s straight sets demolition of Australian number one Alex De Minaur..
From the outset at Melbourne Park, the 240th-ranked Birrell had nowhere to hide in front of a packed Rod Laver Arena crowd.
Roaring through the first set in 27 minutes, Kerber’s procession was held up briefly as Birrell saved three match points, but the former World No 1 made no mistake on the fourth, rushing forward to hammer a forehand winner down the line to set up a clash against American Danielle Collins after just 58 minutes of play.
“It’s going to be another tough match, but I’m really looking forward to going one match at a time, to really enjoy my stay here in Australia,” Kerber said.
“For me, whenever I step on these courts, I want to play my best tennis,” added the World No 2, before paying tribute to her opponent.
“I knew I had to reach that level tonight from the first ball until the last. I wish her all the best, because for sure we will be hearing a lot about her in the future.
“If she is playing like this, working hard, I’m sure she will be a top 100 player very soon.”
World No 240 Birrell struck a piercing backhand winner down the line to fire a warning signal to Kerber in the early exchanges, but the German was well up to the task.
Kerber’s relentless lockdown defence was placing Birrell under persistent pressure, and after a highly-competitive 13 minutes, the German surged 3-0 into the ascendancy.
The Queenslander kept striking some impressive shots, but couldn’t quite match the dynamic artillery of the second seed.
Kerber managed to whip a stunning backhand cross court pass whilst chasing down a Birrell approach, which was the highlight in closing out a clinical opener.
The scoreboard was slightly harsh to Birrell, who was playing in just her second main draw at Melbourne Park.
The 20-year-old fended off three break points until Kerber’s searing shots rapidly assembled a 3-0 lead.
A grinding rally culminated in Kerber scooping a backhand lob over the Aussie youngster, with the World No 2 accelerating towards the fourth round.
A brace of double faults and a blistering Birrell forehand winner down the line dissolved three match points, but Kerber soon wrapped up her emphatic birthday win.
“I always enjoy my birthday here, I think it is the 12th time in a row,” added Kerber, as court-side interviewer Jim Courier prompted the crowd to sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to the German.
“I’m getting older now, but I’ll never forget all my birthdays here.
“I love coming back, and I’m feeling so good here.”
Meanwhile, Sloane Stephens made her passage through to the Australian Open fourth round for the first time since 2014, breaking the resistance of Petra Martic 7-6(6) 7-6(5) at Margaret Court Arena on Friday.
In a quality two-hour battle of punishing rallies, No 5 seed came from a break down in both sets and was thwarted serving for the match at 6-5 in the second, before finishing with a forehand pass.
A single point separated them in the end, 81 to 80, and the American racket-clapped her beaten opponent as she walked off court.
“It was such a good match,” said the 25-year-old Stephens. “This is why we play tennis, to have competition like this.”
Commentator Mark Petchey was a bit more effusive, calling it ‘an absolute masterpiece of a match’.
The smooth all-courter is finding her range and building ominous form at Melbourne Park where she has yet to drop a set against No 31 seeded Martic, Timea Babos and Taylor Townsend.
Stephens started slowly against the taller Croat, dropping her opening game and going down 2-0.
Martic, seeded in a major for the first time, is a fine mover and gritty competitor, willing to break up baseline barrages with drop shots and surprise net forays, but the American, forever probing weakness, was able to exploit her opponent’s forehand, with its laboured wind-up.
Stephens levelled at 4-all, aided by two Martic forehand misses, and another forehand error on set-point, after the Croat had led 2-0, handed Stephens the tiebreak 8-6.
A disappointed Martic was issued a warning for racquet abuse and, again, it was the Croat who gained the early break, Stephens flubbing three points to go down 3-1 and remonstrating with herself, but she evened up in the very next game with a backhand pass winner, and a war cry.
Martic, who made the fourth round here in 2018 against Elise Mertens, would be denied an early 28th birthday present for tomorrow as Stephens, instead celebrated, notching her 200th career win.
“It’s nothing compared to Roger [Federer] – he has like 12,000 wins, but I’m happy to win it here in Australia,” Stephens said.
“Thanks for the support,” she told the crowd. “You guys were loud and intense.”
Next up for is unseeded Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, who powered past Aliaksandra Sasnovich for the loss of three games.
The American and the Russian had a fiery exchange in Beijing last October, which went Stephens’ way.