Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 February 2020

Australian Open: Simona Halep advances to fourth round as Belinda Bencic suffers embarrassing exit

Halep, 28, who reached the Melbourne Park final in 2018, broke Putintseva's serve three times in the first set and twice in the second

Romania's Simona Halep hits a return against Kazakhstan's Yulia Putintseva during their women's singles match at the Australian Open. AFP
Romania's Simona Halep hits a return against Kazakhstan's Yulia Putintseva during their women's singles match at the Australian Open. AFP

Simona Halep proved too strong for Yulia Putintseva in their first career meeting as the Romanian fourth seed sailed through to the fourth round of the Australian Open with a 6-1, 6-4 win over the Kazakh.

Halep, 28, who reached the Melbourne Park final in 2018, broke Putintseva's serve three times in the first set and twice in the second.

Putintseva, ranked 38th in the world, broke the former world No 1 once in each set and surprised her opponent with some well-disguised drop shots, though her last attempt hit the net to end the match.

Halep - a two-time Grand Slam champion - will next meet the winner of the third-round match between Belgian No 16 seed Elise Mertens and American Catherine Bellis.

There was an earlier upset when sixth seed Belinda Bencic was thrashed 6-0, 6-1 in just 49 minutes in a breathtaking upset by Estonia's Anett Kontaveit.

The 28th seed Kontaveit faces Croatia's Donna Vekic or unseeded Iga Swiatek of Poland in the last 16 in Melbourne after handing the Swiss a harsh lesson.

Bencic, 22, was whitewashed in 20 minutes in the first set at Margaret Court Arena as a double bagel loomed.

She stopped the rot in game four of the second set, holding her serve to win her first game of the match, but it was to be only a temporary reprieve from Kontaveit's onslaught.

epa08161331 Angelique Kerber of Germany in action against Camila Giorgi of Italy during their third round match at the Australian Open tennis tournament at Melbourne Park in Melbourne, Australia, 25 January 2020. EPA/SCOTT BARBOUR AUSTRALIA AND NEW ZEALAND OUT EDITORIAL USE ONLY
Angelique Kerber beat Italian Camila Giorgi 6-2, 6-7, 6-3 on Saturday. EPA

Kerber stays on course

A string of upsets has left the Australian Open women's draw without several of the pre-tournament favourites but while that may have eased Angelique Kerber's path to a potential second Melbourne crown the German is taking nothing for granted.

Kerber beat Italian Camila Giorgi 6-2, 6-7, 6-3 on Saturday to move on to the fourth round, where she will meet Russia's Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, who sent second seed Karolina Pliskova spinning out of the tournament.

Three-time Grand Slam champion Kerber, who won the Melbourne Park title in 2016, said she was only keeping an eye on who her next opponent was.

"I'm not looking too far ahead, to be honest. I'm just focusing on my matches, on my opponents, and on me," Kerber told reporters.

"You never know. You have to be ready for every single round. You have always surprises during Grand Slams."

Kerber, seeded 17th, survived a grinding encounter against 102nd-ranked Giorgi to make the fourth round for the fifth straight year.

She was barely troubled in the first set as the erratic Giorgi served up eight double faults and 20 unforced errors.

However, Giorgi cut out the misfires and dialled in her groundstrokes in the second set, striking a forehand winner in the tie-break to level the match.

The third set was a closely fought affair as the pair traded breaks midway but the Italian was unable to keep up with Kerber, who secured a second break to go up 5-3 before serving out the victory.

"I'm happy to be in the second week ... I'm trying to staying focused, trying to keep going and playing from round to round better tennis," said Kerber.

"And it's good to [win] a match like today which was really close."

Updated: January 25, 2020 10:01 AM

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