Iga Swiatek and another 4 Grand Slam champions made there way into the Australian Open Round of 16 on Friday at Melbourne, some taking more time than others.
I'm glad I was really disciplined and focused on my tactics, I felt, like, I'm a little bit in the flow. I always wanted to be that kind of player who is consistent, so I'm really happy that I'm kind of achieving that goal. Right now I feel like it's the right place to be. Hopefully I'm going to continue playing solid. Iga Świątek
Swiatek needed just 55 minutes to dismiss Spanish qualifier Cristina Bucsa, while her next opponent, Elena Rybakina went the distance against last year’s runner-up Danielle Collins, needing 2 hours and 5 minutes to advance.
The World No 1 from Poland was at her efficient best and came close to notching the 6th double-bagel win of her professional career, but at 6-0, 5-0, Bucsa managed to get herself onto the scoreboard.
Swiatek conceded just 19 points during her resounding 6-0 6-1 victory on Margaret Court Arena against an opponent who had saved a match point in the 2nd-round and went on to beat former US Open champion Bianca Andreescu.
On this occasion, though, the 25-year old spent much of her first encounter against a Top 10 player overwhelmed by the Pole’s solid shot-making.
“I’m glad I was really disciplined and focused on my tactics, I felt, like, I’m a little bit in the flow,” said Swiatek, a three-time major winner. “I always wanted to be that kind of player who is consistent, so I’m really happy that I’m kind of achieving that goal.”
The top seed is in impeccable form, winning 52 points to Bucsa’s 19 in the match.
Swiatek, who has reached the Round of 16 or better at her last four outings in Melbourne Park, recalls being ‘really exhausted’ by this stage in years past.
“Right now I feel like it’s the right place to be,” she said. “Hopefully I’m going to continue playing solid.”
The 2022 French and US Open winner’s next task is Rybakina, the reigning Wimbledon champion and 22nd-seed, who held off Collins, 6-2 5-7 6-2, in their 3rd-round meeting on Kia Arena.
It will be the first meeting between reigning Grand Slam champions since Ash Barty defeated Barbora Krejcikova in the 2021 Cincinnati quarter-finals.
Rybakina had also defeated Collins in their opening match of this season at the Adelaide International 1, and her win over the 13th-seeded American could, technically, be called an upset, except that the Russian-born Kazakh did not receive any points for her run at Wimbledon and, should, in fact be ranked at the very least in the Top 2o.
Rybakina struck 33 winners, including 8 aces, to power herself to victory, and take a 2-1 lead in their head-to-head, while she also had a matching 33 unforced errors, but Collins’s 22 winners were outpaced by 34 miscues.
The Kazakh cruised through the opening set, but Collins held firm and garnered her first break point of the day at 6-5 in the second, which doubled as set point, and the American converted that chance to level the match.
Rybakina quickly turned things around in the third set, though, polishing off some key rallies with deft volleys to race to a 4-0 lead, and closed it out by storming to a love hold in the final game.
While her win over Collins marked the first time she had been stretched to three sets this week, the 22nd seed said it was perhaps her best performance of 2023.
“[In] this match, [I] was really solid from the beginning till the end,” said the 23-year-old. “[My serve] is my weapon, it helped me a lot in the important moments.”
Rybakina won 82 per cent of first serve points and conceded just one break.
Having started the tournament out on Court 13 before getting a well-earned bump to Margaret Court Arena, Rybakina has continued her march toward Rod Laver Arena and is feeling a less aggrieved.
Meanwhile, earlier in the day out on Rod Laver Arena, 20th seed Barbora Krejcikova posted a straightforward, 6-2 6-3, win over Ukrainian No 1, Anhelina Kalinina.
“It’s just a great, great feeling that I can show my best tennis on such a court,” said the Czech. “One day I would be very happy to play on these arenas from the first round on.
“I really love it in Australia… in general it’s a very special place for me,” added the 2021 Roland Garros champion, who reached the women’s singles quarter-finals at AO 2022 before clinching the women’s doubles crown.
“Going for my shots, trying to stay aggressive, working on trying to play good returns, good serves, start the rallies really well, and I was able to do that. I think with every single match, I’m getting better and better.”
The World No 23 has lost just 14 games in 6 sets and, having suffered injury setbacks last year, looks to be back the type of form that she displayed in Paris.
Her next opponent, Jessica Pegula, is also on form, powering past another Ukrainian, Marta Kostyuk, 6-0 6-2, on Friday.
“Happy to be through to the fourth round and just excited for the next match,” she said, grinning after her win. “I saw that Marta was in my section…I thought she would beat Amanda [Anisimova] because Amanda hasn’t been playing.
“I was, like, that will be interesting if she gets through. I think she’s really dangerous, I think she should be ranked a lot higher than she is, I think she’s super talented.”
The American has reached the quarter-finals on her last two visits to Melbourne Park, and can make it a hat-trick if she beats Krejcikova on Sunday.
The 3rd seed needed just 65 minutes to canter past the erratic 20-year old Kostyuk, who committed 39 unforced errors to the consistent Pegula’s 9.
“I thought I didn’t give away a lot of free points,” Pegula said. “I was playing aggressive when I had to, but also playing smart. So that worked really well.
“I wasn’t serving great today, but I thought I served smart enough to get myself through some tough games,” she added, having saved 8 break points and dropping her serve just once.
Pegula ruthlessly raced to a triple break on her way to taking a first set ‘bagel’ and although Kostyuk did make it onto the scoreboard at the start of the second, it proved to be the only game she won on her own serve as Pegula cruised to victory.
The World No 3, who has dropped just 11 games on her way to the last 16, faces a tougher prospect next in Krejcikova.
“I’ve watched her quite a bit. She’s had a great last couple of years,” said Pegula of the Czech, who also breezed past a Ukrainian in an hour and 26 minutes.
“I think with every single match I’m getting better and better,” warned Krejcikova. “My serve was working really well today, I played really good returns and from the baseline.
“I played also a very solid game. Today was a really, really great match for me.”
Elsewhere, Coco Gauff surged past an error-prone Bernarda Pera, 6-2 6-2, in an hour and 34 minutes, in all-American clash to reach Last 16.
Gauff has now won 10 of her last 11 meetings with fellow Americans, and is on a 6-match winning streak against left-handers, plus she has won all 8 of her matches she has played in 2023.
The 2022 French Open finalist was mostly untroubled by her unseeded opponent, who made too many unforced errors to make the match on Margaret Court Arena truly competitive.
“It was a really tough match,” The 18-year-old said afterwards. “She hit the ball really hard.
“I was just trying to hang in there. Last season she had a long match [winning] streak, so I knew she’d be a tough player to beat. But I’m happy to be through to the second week.”
Pera hit 21 unforced errors in a first set in which Gauff got the break she needed in the 4th game, converting her 3rd break point when a loose forehand from Pera saw the 6-minute game come to an end.
Gauff pressured hard for a double break, and also squandered 3 set points at 5-2 up, but she did take the opening set on her serve at the first time of asking when Pera sliced into the net.
Another forehand error from Pera in the 3rd game of the second saw Gauff take a 2-1 lead and, although had to save a break point before consolidating and getting the double break in a lengthy 5th game when Pera swung her forehand wide.
An uncharacteristic double-fault from Gauff ensured Pera got a break back, but Gauff immediately restored her break advantage after Pera sent her backhand into the net.
Gauff eventually closed out the match on her serve on her 4th match point when Pera fired long.
The 18-year old, who has not dropped a set this year, will play Jelena Ostapenko in the 4th round on Sunday after the Latvian dispatched Kateryna Baindl, another Ukrainian, 6-3 6-0 in 66 minutes.
Out on 1573 Arena, the No 17 seed and 2017 Roland-Garros champion pounded 37 winners to Baindl’s 6, but landed just 54 per cent of her first serves in, a statistic the Latvian will aim to improve on Sunday.
Two-time AO champ Victoria Azarenka from Belarus, seeded 24, upset American Madison Keys, the No 10 seed, 1-6 6-2 6-0, and awaits the winner of the late night match between Maria Sakkari, the 6th seed from Greece, and China’s Zhu Lin.