Melbourne | Wozniacki storms into quarters to face Suarez Navarro
Caroline Wozniacki continued her quest for a first Grand Slam title at the Australian Open on Sunday, cashing in on her second chance to reach the quarter-finals here for the first time since 2012 with a 6-3 6-0 win over Magdalena Rybarikova.
After her close call in the second round when she had to save two match points and come back from 5-1 down in the third set to stay alive, the World No 2-said she was ‘playing with the house money’ and had nothing to lose.
I think you can tell my confidence is pretty good at the moment Caroline Wozniacki
She has won both matches since in straight sets and will next play Carla Suarez Navarro, who came back herself from a set down to beat Anett Kontaveit, 4-6 6-4 8-6.
Wozniacki was ruthless, kicking into top gear to storm past her Slovakian opponent in three minutes over the hour at Melbourne Park.
On an overcast and muggy day on Road Laver Arena, she turned on the style to take another step towards a maiden Grand Slam title.
In fact, the assured Dane annihilated the 19th-seed in her most impressive performance to date.
“She really mixes up the pace, I just tried to calm down, get my returns in and wait for the opportunities to attack,” she said after crushing the Slovak, who made the semi-finals at Wimbledon last year.
“I think you can tell my confidence is pretty good at the moment.”
Wozniacki overcame a slightly shaky start and had her serve broken just once, but she demonstrated what an improved player she has become.
She has worked on both her serve and her forehand to add a more attacking dimension to a game that always boasted a fine backhand teamed up with consistent doggedness.
“I thought I was serving well today and I was waiting for the right opportunity to go in and go for my shots,” she said. “I was really happy with the way I was playing today.’’
The Dane won 14 of 15 net points, while logging just 9 unforced errors against 25 winners, 8 of them, notably, off her once unthreatening forehand side.
There was even a ‘tweener’, and although she didn’t win the point, Wozniacki went for it, a measure of her growing confidence.
“I think being almost out of the tournament, you have nothing to lose after that,’’ Wozniacki said after the dominant win.
“You just go out there and you enjoy yourself, and I played really well from being 5-1 down [against Fett], and since then I have just kept that going, basically.’’
Opportunity is knocking for her, loudly, with her next opponent the unseeded Suarez Navarro, and the World No 4 Elina Svitolina looming beyond as the bigger threat in Wozniacki’s half of the draw.
Suarez Navarro, the diminutive Spaniard, dug herself out of a deep hole, hitting back from a set and two breaks of serve down to win 4-6 6-4 8-6 on a muggy Rod Laver Arena, shattering the hopes of 32nd seeded Kontaviet.
The Estonian had been bubbling with confidence after despatching French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko in the third round, but her nerves got the better of her.
The Spaniard, who has made the quarter-finals in Melbourne twice before, most recently in 2016, credited her fightback with a conscious decision to be more aggressive.
“I was thinking that I was playing good, but not too aggressive. I want to play like this, but sometimes you cannot,” said Suarez Navarro, one of the few who still use a one-handed backhand.
“My team all the time they say me, play aggressive, play aggressive. That’s I think what I did.”
Looking ahead to Wozniacki, she added: “I know how she plays. I know how tough she is. It will be a really interesting match.”
Suarez Navarro is the only single-hander to reach the last 16 here this year and is the only member of the world’s top 40 not to strike a double-fisted backhand.
Not since Francesca Schiavone won the 2010 French Open with her single-handed backhand has the stroke brought Grand Slam success for a woman, although before that Justine Henin used it to devastating effect to win four French Opens in five years between 2003 and 2007.
Amelie Mauresmo was the last woman to win the Australian Open with a one-handed backhand, in 2006 when it also fired her to glory on the Wimbledon grass courts.
Roger Federer’s 19 grand slam titles are living proof that single-handed backhands can still reign in the men’s side with his fellow Swiss Stan Wawrinka winning three slams with his, but the odds are stacked against Suarez Navarro, although the purists may hope she can stick around a little longer as the way she executes her topspin stroke is a thing of beauty.
Suarez Navarro hit only two clean winners with it on Sunday but it was the foundation on which she built victory.
“Maybe we can open a little bit more the court with the angle. Maybe we slice a little bit better,” the 29-year-old, who was inspired by Henin’s backhand, told reporters.
“But tennis is going to more power, faster, and when you hit the ball with one hand, is not the same as if you hit with two. I think it’s because of this. Years ago all the players play with one-handed. Now we are losing this backhand.”
Kontaveit was bidding to reach the last eight of a Grand Slam for the first time and the 22-year-old had victory in her grasp when she took the first set and led 4-1.
Unseeded Suarez Navarro was given heart when Kontaveit double-faulted to hand one break of serve back and the Spaniard stormed back, winning six games in a row.
The deciding set was a real battle and Kontaveit again looked like closing it out when she broke at 4-4 but she faltered and was broken as she served for the match.
Suarez Navarro enjoyed an outrageous slice of luck when Kontaveit served to stay in the match at 6-7, striking a forehand that hit the net tape twice before wobbling over to give her a second match point.
She missed that one but on her third opportunity Kontaveit smacked a forehand long to send Suarez Navarro into the quarter-finals at Melbourne Park for the third time.
The last women’s match on Day 7 was between the fourth-seeded Elina Svitolina from the Ukraine and the Czech Republic’s Denisa Allerton, a qualifier, scheduled last in the evening on Rod Laver Arena, the winner of which took on the unseeded Elise Mertens.
The Belgian broke new ground, continuing her impressive maiden run in Melbourne by defeating Croatia’s Petra Martic in straight sets, 7-6(5) 7-5, at Margaret Court Arena on Sunday to move through to her first major quarter-final.
“It’s amazing to be here, I have no words to describe this feeling,” Mertens said. “I believe that I can do it now, I worked really hard to get here and this is really a bonus.”
While the world No 37 showed exactly why she has been one of the biggest movers on the WTA tour in the last 12 months, she did slightly stutter at intervals during the match, especially when closing out each set.
“I was quite nervous, I wanted to win so badly, but I’m really glad I could do it in two sets,” the 22-year-old admitted.
The Belgian came out firing on all cylinders to take the first four games of the match before Martic was able to make any inroads at all.
An initial break of the Mertens serve was enough to put some doubts in her mind and the more experienced Martic, 27, was then able to quickly erase the lead and level proceedings, with her own serve proving the primary weapon.
Regardless, Mertens managed to stand firm and eventually brought up a set point before Martic forced a tiebreak.
Riding high on the baseline and dictating play with her penetrating groundstrokes, the Belgian continued to look the stronger and so it proved, as she created some space in the tiebreak and held on to clinch it.
Mertens continued to apply the pressure in the second and earned herself an early service break before Martic requested the trainer and eventually left the court for treatment.
The Belgian upped the ante and surged for the line, snapping up a single chance granted by an errant Martic forehand.
Opening the 10th game with a double fault, facing multiple break points and then missing her first opportunity to close out the match, Mertens fell just short of victory, unable to shake off the remaining nerves and allowing the Croatian back into contention.
Unperturbed, the young Belgian took up battle-lines again and managed to create a second opportunity for herself and, this time, she was not to be thwarted, holding her serve to love.
Coming off a successful title defence in Hobart, Mertens now increases her match-winning streak to nine and will be hoping to stretch it further against the winner of Svitolina and Allertova.