Tennis: Muguruza labours into Aussie Open 3rd round

Garbine Muguruza in action against Kirsten Flipkens during their second round match on day four of the Australian Open.
Garbine Muguruza in action against Kirsten Flipkens during their second round match on day four of the Australian Open.PHOTO: EPA

(AFP) - Spanish star Garbine Muguruza laboured past Kirsten Flipkens and into the Australian Open third round on Thursday as she keeps her eye on a maiden Grand Slam title.

The world No. 3, the biggest breakout star of 2015, faced a tough first-set challenge from the dogged Belgian veteran before winning 6-4, 6-2 in 79 minutes on Rod Laver Arena.

"I'm extremely happy because Kirsten is a very difficult opponent who has a unique game," said Muguruza.

"Every match is very tough and I am just happy to be here."

Despite some wobbles, the confident third seed's victory sets her up with a third-round clash against Czech Barbora Strycova.

If she gets through that, a potential mouth-watering fourth-round match awaits against in-form two-time champion Victoria Azarenka, who swept past Danka Kovinic 6-1, 6-2.

Flipkens has been playing the Australian Open since 2007 and has only once gone beyond the second round, in 2013, but she sensed a chance against a player making uncharacteristic errors.

Enjoying her highest career seeding at a Grand Slam, Muguruza has been tipped as a future world No. 1 but she made a meal of Flipkens.

The spectacles-wearing Belgian, ranked 80 in the world and without a coach, comfortably held her first service game, as did Muguruza.

It went with serve to 2-2 with little between them before a decisive fifth game when the Spaniard finally forced the break she was after, converting her fourth break point with a net volley.

But she was finding Flipkens a tough nut to crack with the experienced Belgian immediately getting back to level-pegging, thanks to a sloppy forehand from her opponent.

An out-of-sorts Muguruza, who made the fourth round last year when ranked just 24, was firing down too many errors from the baseline, but she rallied to break Flipkens once again.

She started mixing up her game with net play and even drop shots to hold serve, but again errors crept in and she was shaking her head at the changeover after Flipkens made it 4-5.

The set was finally hers after a tough 49 minutes, but only after she threw away five set points.

The highly marketable Barcelona-based 22-year-old went up a level in the second set and she began ironing out her issues as the Belgian's game fell away.

She raced to a 3-0 lead and broke again for 4-1 as she clicked into gear, before wrapping it up without further problems.

Muguruza, who split with long-time coach Alejo Mancisidor last year, is now working with Azarenka's former mentor Sam Sumyk, who guided the Belarusian to successive Australian Open titles in 2012 and 2013.

After claiming her first WTA title at Hobart in 2014, last year was a watershed for Muguruza as she reached the Wimbledon and Wuhan finals, won in Beijing and also made the semis at the WTA Finals.