AO Live Blog, Day 6—Nadal, Rublev, Brady, Pegula move on; Pliskova out

AO Live Blog, Day 6—Nadal, Rublev, Brady, Pegula move on; Pliskova out

Both Jessica Pegula and Jennifer Brady powered their way into the round of 16 in straight sets, while Pliskova lost a 5-0 second-set lead before being ousted by Karolina Muchova. Later, Rafael Nadal and Fabio Fognini closed out play with routine wins.

The third round of the Australian Open comes to a close Saturday in Melbourne. Beginning Friday evening in the United States, we'll bring you updates on the many matches and happenings Down Under in this running blog.


Nadal and Fognini close out Saturday to set showdown

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Second seed Rafael Nadal and No. 16 seed Fabio Fognini were projected to meet in the round of 16. Both have done their jobs to reach that stage after completing round three's winners late Saturday.

Fognini impressed to dash Alex de Minaur's hopes, 6-4, 6-3, 6-4, after two hours and eight minutes. He broke the No. 21 seed five times by winning 37 percent of De Minaur's first-serve points. Two days earlier, Fognini was forced to fight off a match point in prevailing over countryman Salvatore Caruso.

Not long after Fognini's win, Nadal finished off Cameron Norrie, 7-5, 6-2, 7-5, on Rod Laver Arena. Having gone done a break midway through the first set, Nadal immediately got himself back on serve and never faced break point again to move into week two at the season's first major for the 14th time in his career. 

Nadal leads Fognini 12-4 overall, though in the pair's last major meeting, the Italian stunned Nadal in the third round of the 2015 US Open by rallying from two sets down—the first to upstage Rafa from that position. —Matt Fitzgerald


Barty to meet Rogers in round of 16; Berrettini wins but...

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Finishing within minutes of each other, world No. 1 Ashleigh Barty and American Shelby Rogers moved forward to set a fourth-round clash. 

Having fallen behind 0-2 to start, Barty grabbed hold of her match with No. 29 seed Ekaterina Alexandrova to run away with the first set. The Australian was then forced to dig herself out of a break deficit again, taking the final four games to advance, 6-2, 6-4, after 80 minutes.

Rogers also rallied in fine fashion, winning five consecutive games to open a one-set lead against 21st seed Anett Kontaveit. The 2020 US Open quarterfinalist broke Kontaveit twice in the second set for a 6-4, 6-3 win, and is the fourth U.S. woman through to the round of 16. Four years ago,

Barty topped Rogers, 7-5, 6-1, in the second round at Melbourne Park, and just over a week ago, squeaked past her in a match tie-break en route to her Yarra Valley Classic triumph.

Meanwhile, Matteo Berrettini extended his best run Down Under but at what cost? The No. 9 seed edged No. 19 seed Karen Khachanov, 7-6 (1), 7-6 (5), 7-6 (5), and rallied from 1-4 and 3-5 down in the third set 'breaker. Earlier in the set, Berrettini received treatment in his ab region and saw his serve speed dip, dropping nine k.p.h. on his first serve and six k.p.h. on his second serve compared to the opening two set. Fifth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas is next up for the 2019 US Open semifinalist. —Matt Fitzgerald


After five-setter, Tsitsipas cruises; Rublev rolls, too 

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In his second-round match, 2019 semifinalist Stefanos Tsitsipas was pushed to five sets by wild card Thanasi Kokkinakis. 

With a fresh scouting report on Mikael Ymer, his quarantine practice partner, today was a completely story for the No. 5 seed. Tsitsipas needed just one hour and 34 minutes to blitz past the Swede, 6-4, 6-1, 6-1. The Greek converted seven of 12 break points in reaching the second week, where he awaits Matteo Berrettini or Karen Khachanov. Tsitsipas beat Berrettini in the first round here two years ago and is 2-0 versus the Russian. 

Following a tight opening set, seventh seed Andrey Rublev pulled away from 39-year-old Feliciano Lopez, 7-5, 6-3, 6-2. Rublev hit 33 winners to 23 unforced errors and is into the round of 16 for the second year running. He'll aim to improve upon his further showing here when he takes on No. 24 seed Casper Ruud, a 6-1, 5-7, 6-4, 6-4 winner over Radu Albot. —Matt Fitzgerald


Medvedev taken the distance, and gets first five-set win

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A day after the No. 1 and No. 3 seeds went five sets in the men's draw, the Australian Open's No. 4 seed, Daniil Medvedev, was also pushed to the limit. And like Novak Djokovic and Dominic Thiem, he prevailed.

The Russian comfortably took a two-set lead, not surrendering serve and picking off Krajinovic with a barrage of funky and fast strokes. But with nothing to lose, the Serbian began to put his game—and slowly leveled terms.

Of course, that comeback only gave Krajinovic something to lose. No one would have predicted a 6-0 fifth set, after Krajinovic's impressive comeback, but Medvedev reined in the range on his groundstrokes and was commanding on serve. Of the 49 points in the fifth set, Medvedev won 27, earning a 6-3, 6-3, 4-6, 3-6, 6-0 victory.—Ed McGrogan


Vekic outlasts Kanepi in marathon third rounder 

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After two hours and 36 minutes, Donna Vekic emerged victorious over dark horse Kai Kanepi., 5-7, 7-6 (1), 6-4.

Kanepi is most well-known as a “giant killer”, having dismissed defending champion Sofia Kenin in the second round in Melbourne and memorably taking out a top-seeded Simona Halep in the first round of the 2019 US Open. That year in New York, it was Vekic who ended Kanepi’s run in the second round, in straight sets, on her way to the quarterfinals for her best career Grand Slam performance.

On Friday, Kanepi was one point away from getting revenge when she held a 7-5, 3-0 lead and had a match point at 5-4. Instead, Vekic saved it with a winner, and then took full control of the tiebreak. 

The third set could have gone either way, but it was Vekic who had her nose out in front for 3-1 and held onto her lead. She sealed her place in the fourth round on her second match point at 5-4.

Vekic has now reached the fourth round or better of each each Grand Slam. She’ll take on Jennifer Brady next.—Nina Pantic


Brady breezes into fourth round

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Jennifer Brady overcame a late second-set challenge from qualifier Kaja Juvan to move into the fourth round, 6-1, 6-3. The match was largely routine for the No. 22-seeded Brady, but there was a critical long 17-minute, nine-deuce game at 4-3 in the second set on Brady's serve. The American stayed calm to outlast the 20-year-old qualifier and swiftly closed out the match in the next game.

Brady has been in unstoppable form this fortnight, having not lost a set yet. For the past year, the 25-year-old has been in the best shape of her life, and though she started 2021 with a first-round loss in Abu Dhabi, she bounced back nicely from her two-week full lockdown with a semifinal run at the WTA Grampians Trophy (losing a deciding tiebreaker to Ann Li).

Melbourne suits Brady extremely well, with the courts giving her enough space to dial up her loopy groundstrokes and push players around the court with her heavy forehand and serve. She broke through at the Australian Open in 2017 with a surprise run to the fourth round. Now that kind of deep run is expected:  she’s established herself inside of the Top 30, and reached the semifinals of the US Open in 2020.—Nina Pantic


Jessica Pegula reaches her first round of 16 at a major

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Jessica Pegula began her Melbourne journey last week against Kristina Mladenovic, defeating the Frenchwoman 6-4, 6-1 at the Yarra Valley Classic. She continued her journey on Friday with another win over Mladenovic, 6-2, 6-1, to reach the fourth round at a major for the first time.

Pegula has been on the rise since 2019, when she reached a career-high ranking of No. 55. But she appears to be peaking now, and believing that she belong in the sport's upper tier. She's only lost four games in her last two matches, including a 6-0, 6-1 win over former US Open champion Sam Stosur.

"I think I'm just playing with a lot of confidence, being aggressive, attacking with my forehand," Pegula told Tennis Channel.—Ed McGrogan

We will have more on Pegula's performance later today on TENNIS.com


A 5-0 second-set lead wasn't enough for Karolina Pliskova

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No. 25 seed Karolina Muchova took the battle of the Czech Karolinas to kick off play on empty Rod Laver Arena on Saturday, scoring a second straight win over former world No. 1 and quarantine practice partner Karolina Pliskova, 7-5, 7-5.

Muchova won the most dramatic match of the 2019 Wimbledon Championships when she and Pliskova played to 13-11, one game shy of the newly-instated final set tie-break. The 24-year-old is proving increasingly more dangerous at major tournaments, making the quarterfinals of that event and pushing Victoria Azarenka to three sets at the US Open last summer.

Pliskova had been optimistic about her improving form after her first two matches in Melbourne, but bubbled over with frustration as the first set slipped away from her, with new coach Sascha Bajin looking on.

Galvanized by a point penalty incurred by an off-court racquet smash, Pliskova roared ahead 5-0 in the second—but couldn’t convert a pair of set points and incredibly found herself on the losing end of seven straight games.

Muchova has now made it into the second week at three of the four Grand Slams, and will play either No. 11 seed Belinda Bencic or No. 18 seed Elise Mertens—a semifinalist Down Under in 2018—for a second career major quarterfinal.—David Kane


The Australian Open: Lockdown edition

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No fans are allowed to attend the Australian Open for the next five days, due to Victoria's COVID-19 protocols, giving us scenes like the photo above.