Elina Svitolina, the fourth seed, swatted aside the Czech qualifier Denisa Allertova in the late match on Rod Laver Arena on Sunday and secured her slot in the quarter-finals of the Australian Open.
It was a comprehensive straight-sets encounter during which Svitolina had her serve broken once but was largely untroubled on her way to her 6-3 6-0 win in just under an hour.
It was a great match tonight, I‘m very pleased Elina Svitolina
The Ukrainian, whose previous best performance at Melbourne Park was a third-round appearance, next will meet Belgium’s Elise Mertens in the quarters.
Svitolina, the Ukrainian World No 4, is widely touted as a Grand Slam champion in waiting and a favourite at this Australian Open.
The 23-year-old, who has beaten three qualifiers to reach the last eight, dropped only one set in the process.
“Thank you guys for staying so late,” she told the Rod Laver Arena faithful at five minutes before 1am on Monday morning.
“I’m pleased with my performance here. It’s not the first time I’m playing as one of the favourites – at Roland Garros I was one because I won Rome. It’s more pressure, but it also gives you that extra confidence.
“But everyone at this stage is ready to play – everyone deserves to be in the next round. I’ll just try to do my best and see how it goes.”
Svitolina’s victory rounded out a cosmopolitan fourth round that featured players from 14 nations, with only the Czech Republic represented by multiple players.
That the Czech trio should include Karolina Pliskova and Barbora Strycova, who are set to face off for a place in the quarter-finals on Monday, was hardly a surprise; and that Allertova, a qualifier who had never previously won back-to-back matches at a major, should be the third was more of a surprise.
After the carnage in a quarter of the draw that saw 7 of the 8 seeds fail to reach the third round, it followed that Svitolina should face a third qualifier for a place in her first Australian Open quarter-final.
The 23-year-old fourth seed, one of four players who could leave Melbourne Park as World No 1, took to Rod Laver Arena shortly before midnight and needed only 57 minutes to book her place in the quarter-finals.
The temperature had dipped to 21 degrees, but the air was still humid as the black-booted Svitolina snatched a break in the opening game, only to give it straight back.
From then, however, the contest was firmly on Svitolina’s racket.
Allertova is a fine player on the front foot, but she couldn’t do enough to unsettle the effervescent Czech, who gave up just two more games over the course of the contest.
“It was a great match tonight, I‘m very pleased,” Svitolina said on court.
It wasn’t always pretty and the World No 4 wiped out her 17 winners with 18 unforced errors, and will hope to up her first-serve conversion rate from Sunday’s 55 per cent in the quarters.
Svitolina was ruthless in the runaway second set, conceding only 8 points in the first 5 games.
Allertova managing to avoid the ignominy of a bagel and even when she held game point at 40-0 in the last, Svitolina went on a five-point roll and closed it out with a backhand winner down the line.
The real tests now begin for Svitolina, as Hobart champion Mertens may have started the tournament without a seeding, but her run to the quarters guarantees her a new career-high ranking in the mid-20s next Monday.
With victories over Gavrilova in front of a fervent Rod Laver Arena night crowd, and Alize Cornet as the on-court temperature crept past 40 degrees, the Belgian heads into her first Grand Slam quarter-final battle-hardened and unbeaten though nine matches in 2018.
“I know that she had a good start to the year,” said Svitolina, looking to take her own unbeaten run to 10 matches after winning the Brisbane International title in the run-to the tournament.
“She’s playing good tennis, so it’s going to be extremely tough. But I’m prepared, and it will be a good match. I hope I’m going to show my best.”