Tennis: Djokovic passes Tiafoe test, Serena sublime at Australian Open but Andreescu and Kvitova out

Novak Djokovic was made to sweat at the Australian Open on Feb 10, 2021.
Novak Djokovic was made to sweat at the Australian Open on Feb 10, 2021.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

MELBOURNE (AFP) - Eight-time champion Novak Djokovic was made to sweat at the Australian Open on Wednesday (Feb 10), as Serena Williams made serene progress in her bid for a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam singles title.

As Major winners Stan Wawrinka, Bianca Andreescu and Petra Kvitova were second-round casualties, Djokovic dropped his first set of the event before grinding past America's Frances Tiafoe 6-3, 6-7 (3-7), 7-6 (7-2), 6-3.

"I was fortunate to get through the third set today, it was anybody's game," said the defending champion, after his win in hot conditions on Rod Laver Arena.

The top seed looked in control after taking the first set, but lightning-quick Tiafoe, who reached the quarter-finals two years ago, refused to go quietly.

The American bounced back to take a close second set but imploded as tensions rose in the fourth, receiving a code violation for an audible obscenity as Djokovic took charge.

The Serb is targeting a record-extending ninth title and his 18th Grand Slam trophy overall as he snaps at the heels of Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, who top the all-time list with 20 each.

He avoided the fate of 2014 winner Wawrinka, who blew three match points in the fifth-set tiebreaker in his four-hour epic with Hungary's Marton Fucsovics, who won 7-5, 6-1, 4-6, 2-6, 7-6 (11-9).

"I had some chance to finish the match, I didn't finish," said the 35-year-old Swiss, a three-time Grand Slam winner.

"I hesitated a little bit when I had the match point and I lost it."

Earlier, the 39-year-old Williams continued her quest to equal Margaret Court's all-time mark of 24 tennis Grand Slams with a 6-3, 6-0 romp past 99th-ranked Serbian Nina Stojanovic in just 69 minutes on Rod Laver Arena.

Williams hit 27 winners in her 101st Australian Open match while again sporting her unique, one-legged catsuit inspired by track legend "Flo-Jo".

"I'm here to have fun and it's great to be playing in front of a crowd," said the American great.

With Australia virtually virus-free, the tournament is welcoming the biggest Grand Slam crowds since the pandemic, although attendances are well down on previous years.

In the evening session, Japanese sensation Naomi Osaka thwarted Caroline Garcia with an effortless straight-sets victory, as she stormed into the third round, where she will face 27th seed Ons Jabeur of Tunisia.

The third seed, faced a tricky contest against the Frenchwoman, who was ranked a career-high of fourth in late 2018 but never gave her a sniff in the 6-2, 6-3 victory in 61 minutes.

“I stayed focused throughout the match and I tried to play within myself,” Osaka, who hit 23 winners, told the crowd at Rod Laver Arena. “She’s a tough opponent because you don’t know how she might play.”

The three-time Grand Slam winner is riding a 16-match unbeaten streak – including the US Open final – dating back 12 months, and is building momentum having not played before arriving in Australia since her triumph in New York.

Osaka is eyeing redemption after her title defence last year ended with a shock loss to American teenager Coco Gauff in the third round.

'Crowd helped me fight'

Williams' older sister Venus, 40, however, was a major casualty when she painfully rolled her ankle in the first set against Sara Errani before hobbling through a 6-1, 6-0 defeat.

And Andreescu, the 2019 US Open champion who missed the entire 2020 season with a knee injury, saw her comeback come to an abrupt end, losing 6-3, 6-2 to Chinese Taipei's Hsieh Su-wei.

"You need to find a way to get through and the crowd helped me fight," said Hsieh, after beating the Canadian, who was coming off a draining three-setter against Mihaela Buzarnescu.

Elsewhere Kvitova, the former Wimbledon champion and Melbourne runner-up in 2019, committed 44 unforced errors in her 6-4, 1-6, 6-1 defeat by Romania's Sorana Cirstea as the big names tumbled on day three.

However, reigning US Open champion Dominic Thiem, runner-up to Djokovic last year, was all smiles as he beat Germany's Dominik Kopfer 6-4, 6-0, 6-2.

"It was great, to be honest," the Austrian said of his performance on Margaret Court Arena.

"I really love this court and have pretty good stats on it, so super happy to be back."

Eighth seed Diego Schwartzmann of Argentina also hurried into the last 32, brushing aside Frenchman Alexandre Muller 6-2, 6-0, 6-3 in 1hr 32min on Show Court 2.

Sixth seed Alexander Zverev ground past Maxime Cressy but he made heavy weather of ousting the qualifier.

The German, a semi-finalist last year who is gunning for a maiden Grand Slam title, struggled to snap the American’s resistance in a tight first set.

He finally made a breakthrough in the 11th game to seal the set and went onto win 7-5, 6-4, 6-3 in 2hr 4min.

“He’s an extremely difficult player, he’s still young and he’s moving up the rankings quickly,” Zverev said of the 172nd-ranked Cressy. “He’s dangerous for anybody.

“I just had to be patient and wait for my chances and in the end I won and that’s the most important thing for me.”

It was the second match in a row where Zverev has been less than clinical, after he was taken to four sets by 73rd-ranked Marcos Giron in the first round.

His reward is a tricky clash against France’s Adrian Mannarino, the 32nd seed who swept past Serb Miomir Kecmanovic 6-1, 6-2, 6-4.

Volatile Australian Nick Kyrgios, meanwhile smashed a racquet, delivered underarm serves, ranted at the umpire and saved two match points on his way into the third round.

The 25-year-old drew a raucous, socially distanced crowd to his favoured John Cain Arena and kept them highly entertained, with the atmosphere electric in a gripping clash with Frenchman Ugo Humbert.

He eventually came through 5-7, 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (7-2), 6-4 after 3hr 25min against the 29th seed to set up a blockbuster clash with third seed Thiem.

“Honestly, I don’t know how I did that. I don’t even know what to say, I’m lost for words. That is one of the craziest matches I’ve ever played,” he said on court afterwards.

Women's second seed Simona Halep was rattled by big-hitting Alja Tomljanovic, another Australian, but won five games in a row to survive a major scare and reach the third round.

The two-time Grand Slam winner was pushed to the brink  in a see-saw clash before finally prevailing 6-4, 4-6, 7-5 in 2hr 34min.

Halep, who lost just three games to Australian wild card Lizette Cabrera in the first round, rallied from 5-2 down in the third set.

“I was expecting a difficult match but it was more than I thought,” she said. “I thought in the end I was mentally stronger, had the desire and didn’t give up.”

The 29-year-old is seeking a maiden triumph at Melbourne Park having fallen short to Caroline Wozniacki in the 2018 decider.

She was left stunned last year after a straight-sets loss to Garbine Muguruza in the semi-finals.

Halep, whose seven-year streak in the top 10 is the longest active run among women, plays 32nd seed Veronika Kudermetova of Russia in the next round.