MELBOURNE – Ukraine’s Elina Svitolina firmed as a strong contender for the Australian Open title with a ruthless 6-3 6-0 demolition of Czech qualifier Denisa Allertova.
The 23-year-old fourth seed, one of four players who could leave Melbourne Park as world number one, took to Rod Laver Arena shortly before midnight and needed only 57 minutes to book her place in the quarter-finals.
Now riding a nine-match winning streak this year after winning the Brisbane International warm-up, Svitolina will next meet Belgian world number 37 Elise Mertens for a place in what would be a maiden grand slam semi-final.
“It was a great match tonight, I’m very pleased,” Svitolina said on court.
“I always take one match a time but winning that tournament in Brisbane gave me a lot of confidence.
“(Elise) is playing good tennis and has had a good start to the year as well, so it’s going to be extremely tough but I’m prepared and hopefully I will play my best.”
Allertova, the first qualifier to reach the fourth round since 2010, had won their only previous meeting in Doha last year and initially matched Svitolina stroke-for-stroke in some lengthy baseline rallies.
They exchanged breaks at the start of the opening set, but Svitolina grabbed another for 3-2 when the Czech went long with a forehand and the Ukrainian backed it up with a couple of aces to hold her next service game.
The world number four had a bit of fortune on set point when her scrambled shot hit the net cord and threw Allertova, who dumped her backhand into the net, but there was no doubting Svitolina deserved her 1-0 lead after 36 minutes.
The second set was a procession. Svitolina thumped a backhand winner to break for 2-0 with a return from the same side smashed into an empty back court ending the contest inside the hour.
“I’m very pleased with the way I’m playing here because it’s not the first time I’m going into the tournament as one of the favourites,” Svitolina added. “It’s more pressure but it also gives you confidence.I’ll just try to do my best and see how it goes.”
Meanwhile, American outsider Tennys Sandgren’s fairytale run at the Australian Open is just what the sport needs to make it less predictable, according to former champion Mats Wilander.
The 97th-ranked Sandgren arrived in Melbourne without a grand slam match win on his CV but the man from Gallatin, Tennessee is now one victory away from the quarter-finals.
“It’s great for Tennys, and tennis,” Europsport commentator Wilander told Reuters ahead of 26-year-old Sandgren’s last-16 clash with Austrian fifth seed Dominic Thiem.
“He came through the hard way playing college tennis and Futures and Challengers. We need these guys to break through because to do what he is doing gives hope for the journeyman.
“It shows you can be 100, 200 in the world and make it through to the second week of a slam. It shows if you keep pushing you can have your day.”
Sandgren has spent most of his career travelling the American circuit, often making overnight road trips.
Before his shock victory over 2014 champion Stan Wawrinka in round two, he admitted he had often stood in bars watching on TV as the likes of Wawrinka, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer slugged it out at the majors.
“I used to watch them and think “jeez these guys are pretty damn good,” Sandgren, who is guaranteed A$240000 ($192000) in prize money, said this week.
Now he is mixing it with the best and Wilander believes it adds a touch of unpredictability to the men’s game.
“It helps illustrate to fans the depth of tennis and maybe tennis could become a bit more like golf,” he said. “The PGA Tour has benefited from the fact that, yeah, they have the stars but there is the whole field that can win any event, that’s why we need guys like Sandgren in tennis.”
Second seed Caroline Wozniacki said she is playing with “nothing to lose” after galloping into the quarter-finals of the Australian Open for the first time in six years on Sunday.
The 27-year-old Dane crunched 25 winners in a 63-minute master-class as she thrashed Slovakia’s Magdalena Rybarikova 6-3 6-0 to move a step closer to a long-awaited first grand slam title.
Wozniacki dropped a mere six points in the second set against the 19th-ranked Rybarikova and said her free-hitting approach was the result of almost losing in the second round.
The former world number one saved two match points against Croatia’s Jane Fett in the second round, recovering from 5-1 down in the decider to reel off six consecutive games.
She has not looked back since.
“I feel good. I think being almost out of the tournament, you have nothing to lose after that,” she told reporters. “You just go out there and you enjoy yourself. I played really well from being down 5-1. “Since then I’ve just kept that going basically.
Such is her confidence that Wozniacki even attempted a between the legs ‘tweener’ in the first set.
“I think you can tell my confidence is pretty good, I was pretty proud of that,” she said of the trick shot that failed to earn her a point but delighted the Rod Laver crowd. “I’ve tried a few in practice and made a couple but usually make a fool out of myself.”
Rybarikova actually gained the first break of serve in the third game but Wozniacki soon settled into her rhythm and broke back immediately before taking control.
She brought up a match point with a flashing backhand winner down the line and pounded another sweetly-struck backhand to finish the contest at the first time of asking.