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MELBOURNE, Australia – Novak Djokovic flirted with a rare “triple bagel” and Aryna Sabalenka produced yet another powerful performance as the defending champions swept into the quarterfinals of the Australian Open on Sunday, January 21.
American fourth seed Coco Gauff also rattled through her match in double quick time and while she was only on court for an hour, the US Open champion showed she has all the weapons to win a second Grand Slam title.
Djokovic marked a rare daytime Australian Open appearance with a crushing win over Frenchman Adrian Mannarino as the 10-time champion came close to a ‘triple bagel’ before sealing a 6-0, 6-0, 6-3 win to reach the last eight.
Djokovic, handed an early session slot at Melbourne Park for the first time since 2021, said earlier in the week he had been battling a viral infection and the world No. 1 was coughing and appeared to be breathing heavily at times during the match.
The Serb’s health issues had no impact on his play, however, and with the roof at Rod Laver Arena closed due to rain, he eased to a 32nd straight match win at the tournament and a 58th Grand Slam quarterfinal, equaling the all-time record of Swiss maestro Roger Federer.
“The way I played today, I don’t mind playing in the day to be honest,” said Djokovic, who is chasing a 25th Grand Slam to go past Margaret Court.
“It’s no secret I like to play at 7 pm but it was not too bad today at all.”
Two sets down and still not on the scoreboard, Mannarino finally won a game early in the third to draw level at 1-1, avoiding a rare “triple bagel” – 6-0, 6-0, 6-0 – and smiled as the crowd cheered.
Djokovic soon closed out victory, however, and said it had been one of his best performances.
“Yeah, after the first two sets, one of the best I’ve played in a while,” he said. “I really wanted to lose that game in the third set because the tension was building up in the stadium.
“I just needed to get that one out of the way so I could refocus on what I need to do to close out the match. I played great from the first to the last point.”
Djokovic, who next faces American Taylor Fritz, said slowly gaining momentum through the tournament was not something new to him.
“It’s not the first time I have this particular circumstance where I start off slower and then I build as the tournament goes on,” Djokovic, who won last year’s title with a hamstring tear sustained in the buildup to the event, told reporters.
“Today was the best day in terms of tennis, the way I felt on court. I’m really excited to enter the second week.
“I look forward to the battles because the opponents are higher ranked… There’s no easy matches.”
While Djokovic is seeking an 11th Australian Open title and 25th Grand Slam overall to surpass Margaret Court, Sabalenka is a defending major champion for the first time and the second seed was full of confidence after beating Amanda Anisimova, 6-3, 6-2.
The field lost top seed Iga Swiatek on Saturday and Sabalenka will fancy her chances even more as she bids to become the first woman to retain the Melbourne Park title since fellow Belarusian Victoria Azarenka in 2012-2013.
“I think I feel stronger than last year,” said Sabalenka, who is yet to drop a set and takes on 16-year-old Mirra Andreeva or ninth seed Barbora Krejcikova in the next round.
“So far I feel good. Hopefully I can keep it up.”
Gauff is also new to the Grand Slam winners’ club after her home triumph at the US Open and the American was happy to sail through without having to endure the same kind of “dogfights” she faced at Flushing Meadows.
The 19-year-old outclassed unseeded Pole Magdalena Frech, 6-1, 6-2, in only 63 minutes for her ninth straight victory after she successfully defended her Auckland title this month.
“I don’t feel uncooked at all. I would love for every match to go pretty easy. I know that’s not the case,” Gauff said.
“Yeah, at the US Open, every match I won was like pretty much a dogfight. I don’t know if that’s the ideal way to win a Slam because you have to last seven matches.
“I think I had the physical and mental ability to do that.”
Up next for the American is Ukraine’s Marta Kostyuk, who eased past Russian Maria Timofeeva, 6-2, 6-1.
Fourth seed Jannik Sinner is facing Russian Karen Khachanov with the winner set to play either local hope Alex de Minaur or fifth seed Andrey Rublev, who square off in the evening session. – Rappler.com