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Nadal, Halep roll on as shocking defeats rattle Australian Open

By AFP - Jan 25,2020 - Last updated at Jan 25,2020

Romania’s Simona Halep hits a return against Kazakhstan’s Yulia Putintseva during their women’s singles match at the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on Saturday (AFP photo by William West)

MELBOURNE — World No. 1 Rafael Nadal and Wimbledon champion Simona Halep dodged an exodus of seeded players as the shocks kept rolling at the Australian Open on Saturday.

After Serena Williams and title-holder Naomi Osaka fell by the wayside on Friday, second seed Karolina Pliskova crashed out on a day of carnage in the women’s draw.

Switzerland’s Belinda Bencic, the sixth seed, won only one game against Estonia’s Anett Kontaveit, the World No. 31, as she bombed 6-0, 6-1.

And a resurgent Garbine Muguruza, a two-time Major-winner, thrashed fifth seed Elina Svitolina 6-1, 6-2 as six of the top 10 women’s seeds exited in round three. Tenth seed Madison Keys lost to Maria Sakkari on Friday.

“I was very concentrated and focused on what I wanted to do, it all went fast my way,” said Muguruza, who raced through the first set in just 23 minutes.

Croatian 19th seed Donna Vekic also crumbled to lower-ranked opposition when she lost 7-5, 6-3 to Poland’s Iga Swiatek, who is returning from a stress fracture in her foot.

While the women’s seeds fell, Nadal had few problems against fellow Spaniard Pablo Carreno Busta — despite staying up to watch Roger Federer’s thrilling late-night win over John Millman, which went to a fifth-set tie-breaker.

“I watched it until one o’clock — it was impossible to sleep watching this match,” Nadal said.

But he showed no signs of tiredness, racing through 6-1, 6-2, 6-4 in just 1hr 38mins in what he called his “best match of the tournament so far, without a doubt”.

“I’m improving every day, so super-happy. I did well on my serve and hit good forehands down the line, which is a key shot for me,” he said.


‘Super salty’


Nadal, 33, who can equal Federer’s record 20 Grand Slam titles with victory in Melbourne, will now meet Nick Kyrgios — the outspoken Australian with whom he has a running feud.

Kyrgios, who labelled Nadal “super salty” last year, and mimicked his serving routine during his second-round win, has his biggest test yet against the Russian 16th seed, who won their only meeting in Cincinnati last year.

Germany’s Alexander Zverev dismissed Fernando Verdasco 6-2, 6-2, 6-4 to set up a last-16 clash with Russia’s Andrey Rublev, who remained unbeaten this year with his win over David Goffin.

Halep put away Kazakhstan’s Yulia Putintseva 6-1, 6-4 to reach the last 16, where she will play Belgium’s Elise Mertens, who won in three sets against CiCi Bellis — ending the American’s Grand Slam return from long-term injury.

Halep, the reigning Wimbledon champion, shrugged off the departure of some of the tournament favourites, saying defeats can happen to anyone.

“It’s just a tournament, and I’m sure that for you guys [media] it’s a little bit of shock when the top-10 players are losing, but it’s life and we cannot be 100 per cent every day,” said the Romanian.

Angelique Kerber, the 2016 champion, beat Camila Giorgi 6-2, 6-7 (4/7), 6-3 to set up a meeting with Russia’s 30th seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, who knocked out Pliskova 7-6 (7/4), 7-6 (7/3).

“I was about 40 per cent today of my game,” said Pliskova, who was at a loss to explain her lack of form. “I don’t know. I was just down.”

In other results, Austrian fifth seed Dominic Thiem came through 6-2, 6-4, 6-7 (5/7), 6-4 against Taylor Fritz, and Russia’s Rublev beat Goffin 2-6, 7-6 (7/3), 6-4, 7-6 (7/4).

Stanislas Wawrinka, the 2014 champion, progressed to the last 16 when John Isner retired in the second set, and Gael Monfils beat Ernests Gulbis 7-6 (7/2), 6-4, 6-3.

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