MELBOURNE - Fifth seed Andrey Rublev surged into the last 16 of the Australian Open on Saturday and thanked opponent Dan Evans for giving him extra energy by donating a banana mid-match.
The Russian crushed the Briton 6-4, 6-2, 6-3 on Margaret Court Arena to make the tournament fourth round for a third time.
He will face Danish ninth seed Holger Rune, who beat Ugo Humbert 6-4, 6-2, 7-6 (7-5) for a place in the quarter-finals.
The 19-year-old Dane suffered a horrid-looking fall at the John Cain Arena when his ankle rolled as he ran for a shot. Rune said he was in pain but the doctor had given him the all-clear to continue after a lengthy medical time-out.
“I’m feeling better than I expected. My ankle is good, my wrist is hurting a bit. Of course, it was painful but I tried to focus on something else,” he told the crowd.
Despite being world No. 6 Rublev, who has won 13 ATP titles, has never been further than the last eight at any Grand Slam.
He moved a step closer by defeating his friend and 25th seed Evans, who threw a banana to him at a changeover when he ran out.
“I didn’t ask him, I asked the ball boy, but Danny asked for bananas earlier and he had two so he just said, ‘Take it’, and I caught it,” he said.
“He helped me with some energy, for sure. I have extra for sure because I eat banana.”
Rublev, who was defeated twice in warm-up events ahead of the tournament, said he was growing in confidence as the Grand Slam progressed.
“Every match I’m playing better and better and I’m really happy because at the beginning of the season I lost to a couple of players,” he said.
“I lost a bit of confidence, but since the first match (in Melbourne) I’ve been playing really good tennis.”
In women’s action, Czech 30th seed Karolina Pliskova advanced with ease, trouncing Russian Varvara Gracheva 6-4, 6-2.
“Last couple years were tough, especially missing it last year,” she told reporters, in reference to her absence from last year’s tournament after breaking her arm in a freak gym accident.
“I think the conditions here, they can be quite good for me.”
China’s Zhang Shuai, the 23rd seed, also made the fourth round, beating American Katie Volynets 6-3, 6-2.
Swiss 12th seed Belinda Bencic got past tricky Italian Camila Giorgi 6-2, 7-5 while Croatian Donna Vekic beat Nuria Parrizas Diaz of Spain 6-2, 6-2.
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.
“It’s working really well. I’m changing some things, (going) out of my comfort zone,” the Swiss said on court.
“But I’m really happy with the start of the season.” AFP, REUTERS