Sat, 21 Jan 2023 05:08 PM IST
Home favourite Alex De Minaur stepped out of Nick Kyrgios's shadow and stormed into the last 16 of the Australian Open on Saturday as fifth seed Aryna Sabalenka continued to bulldoze her way through the women's draw.
Czech fans at Melbourne Park savoured double delight as 17-year-old Linda Fruhvirtova burst into the spotlight by joining former world number one Karolina Pliskova in the fourth round.
Kyrgios's absence due to injury robbed the tournament of one of its biggest drawcards but Australian number two De Minaur ensured home fans will have someone to cheer in the second week as he steamrolled Frenchman Benjamin Bonzi 7-6(0) 6-2 6-1 in front of a heaving centre court crowd.
"To see a packed Rod Laver Arena was pretty special, you know, all having my back," the 22nd seed, who next faces either Novak Djokovic or Grigor Dimitrov, told reporters.
"It's one of those moments where you've just got to pinch yourself and stay in the moment."
Sabalenka gave no quarter to former doubles partner Elise Mertens on Margaret Court Arena, beating the Belgian 26th seed 6-2 6-3 to continue her barnstorming start to the season.
The win set up an intriguing duel between the two players who won the season-opening tournaments in Adelaide, with 12th seed Belinda Bencic also through after beating Camila Giorgi 6-2 7-5 at Rod Laver Arena.
Sabalenka's emotions have often got the better of her but the big-hitting Belarusian said being "boring" was working for her.
"I need to be a little bit boring on court. I mean, it's still about a lot of positive emotions for me, but I'm trying to stay away from negative and just fight for every point."
Men's fifth seed Andrey Rublev earlier avoided a third round banana skin in the form of Dan Evans, sweeping aside the 25th seed 6-4 6-2 6-3 with 60 winners on a glorious afternoon.
A quarter-finalist two years ago, Rublev had unleashed on the chair umpire in his previous match after being warned for an audible obscenity.
But it was all smooth sailing against Evans, who threw Rublev a banana during a change of ends at Margaret Court Arena when the Russian came up empty in his search for a snack.
"I didn't ask him (for one), I asked the ball-boy," said Rublev, who will meet Danish young gun Holger Rune for a place in the quarter-finals.
"He helped me with some energy, for sure."
Pliskova, renowned for being a former world number one without a Grand Slam title, beat Russian Varvara Gracheva 6-4 6-2 in the early match at Rod Laver Arena to book a fourth round spot against China's Zhang Shuai.
Twice major finalist Pliskova missed last year's tournament after breaking her arm in a freak gym accident but victory over 23rd seed Zhang would continue the tall Czech's resurgence following her quarter-final run at Flushing Meadows.
Fruhvirtova, the youngest woman left in the singles, showed the next generation of Czech tennis is in rude health as she rallied from a break down in the decider to beat compatriot Marketa Vondrousova 7-5 2-6 6-3.
She will meet Croatian Donna Vekic, a 6-2 6-2 winner over Spain's Nuria Parrizas Diaz.
Swiss Olympic champion Bencic has now racked up nine straight wins, including the Adelaide International '2' title, in a near-perfect start to the season, a few months after linking up with Emma Raducanu's former coach Dmitry Tursunov.
The United States will have at least three men in the last 16, and potentially more to come, with J.J. Wolf and Tommy Paul beating fellow Americans Michael Mmoh and Jenson Brooksby respectively, a day after Sebastian Korda knocked out twice finalist Daniil Medvedev.
Men's ninth seed Rune, one of the game's most exciting young talents, had a nasty fall against Ugo Humbert at John Cain Arena but after a lengthy medical time-out, the 19-year-old completed an impressive 6-4 6-2 7-6(5) win over the Frenchman.
"I'm feeling better than I expected. My ankle is good, my wrist is hurting a bit," he said.
"Of course, it was painful but I tried to focus on something else."