Marketa Vondrousova pulled off the biggest shock of the Australian Open to date, late on Thursday night, with a 6-1 5-7 6-1 upset win over World No 2 Ons Jabeur, while Belinda Bencic and Karolina Pliskova both prevailed.
I had a difficult time breathing. Not sure what's happening. Marketa played a good match and deserved to win. I will do my best to come back stronger. Ons Jabeur
“It was very tough,” Vondrousova said. “Also, it was very late, so I think we were both very tired.
“I’m just very happy that I stayed focused and stayed in the match.”
The 23-year-old Czech was beset by wrist issues and sidelined for 6 months just after reaching her first major final in Paris, and then for another 6 months last year as she recovered from surgery.
She hit the ground running at the end of 2022, defeating Danielle Collins in Billie Jean King Cup action and, despite her No 86 ranking, was always going to be a significant unseeded threat in the Australian Open draw.
“I’m just very happy to be through,” Vondrousova admitted. ‘It’s always tough to come back after such a long time.
“I just started again in November and I felt really good. I had great practices, I worked on my fitness a lot.
“I’m very happy to already be back at this level, to play these types of matches.”
On Rod Laver Arena, the unseeded Czech, who reached the final of the French Open in 2019, rattled through the opening set in just 24 minutes, with only 4 unforced errors to her name, but Jabeur rebounded in the second, going up 4-1 before Vondrousova, the World No 86, pegged her back to 5-5, but the Tunisian managed to keep her nose in front to level the match.
“She just got better in the second set, played some amazing points,” said Vondrousova. “I just tried to stay focused and play my game.”
Vondrousova tightened up her game and ran everything down in the decider as Jabeur repeatedly found the net with her groundstrokes when facing break points.
The Czech, though, was unable to serve the match out at 5-0, but she did seal it on her 2nd match point in the subsequent game as another Jabeur forehand sailed long.
“I had a difficult time breathing,” Jabeur said in an unusual written statement to the media. “Not sure what’s happening.
“Marketa played a good match and deserved to win. I will do my best to come back stronger.”
The result was Vondrousova’s 4th win over a No 2-ranked opponent, having beaten Simona Halep at Indian Wells and in Rome 2019, and Naomi Osaka at the Tokyo Olympic Games in 2021, while it was also her first completed win over Jabeur in 5 meetings.
Next, Vondrousova will next face her 17-year-old compatriot Linda Fruhvirtova, the youngest player left in the draw.
“She’s a great player already, a young star,” Vondrousova said. “We’ll see, we’ve never played. I just can’t wait to play again.
“She’s a great hitter. I think she’s playing amazing for her age also, so it’s going to be tough match.
“I think she has nothing to lose. I just want to get some sleep, and we’ll see how it goes.”
Fruhvirtova continues to impress with her 2nd-round win over Kimberly Birrell, an Australian wild-card and the youngest player remaining in the women’s singles, Fruhvirtova reached the round of 32 with a 6-3 6-2 over her on Thursday night.
In just her second main draw appearance in a Grand Slam main draw, Fruhvirtova’s path now gets considerably more challenging when the World No 82 faces her compatriot next.
Fruhvirtova, the older sister of 15-year-old Brenda, who was the youngest player in the draw as a qualifier and lost in 1st-round action, saved 5 of 6 break points against Birrell, and struck 15 winners against her 20 unforced errors.
She is now one of two teenagers to have progressed into the 3rd-round, alongside 18-year-old American Coco Gauff.
Meanwhile, Swiss Belinda Bencic, the No 12 seed, moved into the 3rd-round of the Australian Open by beating American Claire Liu, 7-6(3) 6-3, at Melbourne Park on Thursday.
Bencic’s quest to become only the second Swiss woman to win the Australian Open remains on track Thursday, but it was by no means plain sailing as she found herself 2-5 and then 2 set points down against the World No 62 in the opening set before eventually finding her way through.
“Today outdoors, it was different,” said Bencic. “I think it’s always different if it’s flying, the ball, or if it’s not flying, if it’s evening, if it’s cold, if it’s hot. It’s really difficult to adjust.”
The 25-year-old came to Melbourne Park on the back of lifting her 7th career title in Adelaide, a win that has propelled her back into the world’s Top 10, but she was erratic and edgy in the blustery conditions out on Margaret Court Arena.
Nevertheless, Bencic saved both the set points, the second by way of a nervy Liu double-fault.
Coaching is being allowed at the Australia Open and Dimitry Tursunov urged Bencic from the players’ box to stay patient as she clawed her way back, and took the set in a tiebreak after 72 minutes.
She broke the 22-year-old Liu twice in the second, but failed to consolidate her advantage each time, and when a 3rd chance came, Bencic made sure to hold her own, eventually taking the match after an hour and 51 minutes to extend her 2023 win-loss record to 6-1.
“I’m super happy with today’s win because I thought it was a very difficult match,” she said after the scrappy battle that was punctuated by 9 breaks of serve and 21 unforced errors to her opponent’s 41. “I thought my opponent played very well.
“Anyone in the second round of a Grand Slam can play good tennis, so it’s not easy to always go ‘she’s the higher ranked, she has to win’.
“It’s always a new fight, you have to start from zero when you go to court. Next round starts from zero again.”
The Tokyo 2020 Olympic champion, who posted her best Australian Open run back in 2016 when she made the 4th-round, is adamant she has to adopt a tunnel-vision approach.
“I had to really fight as my opponent was playing very well, and wasn’t making it easy for me, but I’m happy I stayed tough and I have another win,” he 25-year-old said. “It’s really difficult for me to say, ‘Okay, just because now I won Adelaide, I won a few matches in a row, now suddenly I have to win the Australian Open
“It’s nice for everybody to say around, ‘She’s the favourite or she can be one of the favourites or she has a chance’.
“It’s still every match is different. I experienced a lot of times I was feeling very good all the tournament, and suddenly comes the match and I don’t know how to play tennis any more.
“I have to really focus on just what I have to do and just block out the noise outside.”
Bencic moves on to play Italy’s Camila Giorgi on Saturday for a place in the last 16, after the Italian saw off Anna Karolina Schmiedlova, the qualifier from Slovenia, 6-4 6-3.
Another seed, Karolina Pliskova, also saw her way safely through after the 20th-seeded Czech defeated Yulia Putinseva from Kazakstan, 6-0 7-5, in an hour 17 minutes on 1573 Arena.
Pliskova managed to break the serve 6 times, and was 70% effective on her first delivery, committing just 2 double-faults, and winning 60% of the points on her serve.
As for the Kazakh, she managed to break the serve twice, and although she won 79% off her first delivery, she only managed to win 44% of points in her service games overall.
Next, Pliskova will play Varvara Gracheva from Switzerland, who dispatched Italian Lucrezia Stefanini, 6-3 6-1, earlier in the day.