Tennis: Alcaraz cruises into fourth round of Australian Open; Azarenka rises to Ostapenko challenge

AFP , AP , Saturday 20 Jan 2024

Carlos Alcaraz cruised into the fourth round of the Australian Open when his opponent, Shang Juncheng, retired early in the third set of their third-round encounter on Saturday.

Spain s Carlos Alcaraz hits a return against China s Shang Juncheng during their men s singles match on day seven of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on January 20, 2024. AFP

The No. 2 was leading the 18-year-old 6-1, 6-1, 1-0 when Shang, who had his right thigh heavily strapped from the start, called it a day after just 66 minutes.

“It’s not the way you want to move on,” said the Spaniard, who missed last year’s event through injury himself. “Last year I was watching the matches from my couch, wishing to be in the second week.

“This is my first time in the second week at the Australian Open and it feels special.”

Alcaraz will play Miomir Kecmanovic, the Serbian who saved a match point as he beat last year’s semifinalist Tommy Paul 6-4, 3-6, 2-6, 7-6 (7), 6-0.

American Paul led by two sets to one on Margaret Court Arena and had a match point in the fourth-set tiebreak but Kecmanovic levelled and then ripped through the deciding set for victory.

“Honestly, I have no idea,” Kecmanovic said of his victory. “I guess it was just supposed to be my day today. I had a bit more luck and I played some fantastic tennis at the end. I’m really happy to be in the fourth round again.

No. 9 Hubert Hurkacz saw off No. 21 Ugo Humbert 3-6, 6-1, 7-6 (4), 6-3 to reach the fourth round for the second year in a row. He will play the wild-card entry from France, Arthur Cazaux, who beat 28th-ranked Tallon Griekspoor 6-3, 6-3, 6-1.

Two-time former champion Victoria Azarenka took out 11th-ranked Jelena Ostapenko 6-1, 7-5 to make the last 16 for the seventh time.

“I like a challenge,” the Belarusian said. “I really think you can’t run away, you have to face it. It’s scary, it’s difficult, but it’s something you want to acknowledge and go through.”

Azarenka’s next opponent will be Ukrainian qualifier Dayana Yastremska, who equaled her best Grand Slam performance with a 6-2, 2-6 6-1 win over 27th-ranked Emma Navarro.

Yastremska was coming off first-round exits in her previous seven Grand Slam appearances and hadn’t been to the second week of a major since reaching the round of 16 at Wimbledon in 2019.

“I felt pretty nervous,” said Yastremska, who hit 36 winners. “In the second set I felt a little bit of pain in my neck and thought I might have to crack it but didn’t want to do it myself.

“I told myself just don’t be too focused on your neck in the third set because it really takes my attention away. I just told myself to enjoy.”

She will next play Oceane Dodin, who beat Clara Burel 6-2, 6-4 in a match between two French women.

Sloane Stephens, the 2017 U.S. Open champion and a runner-up at Roland Garros the following year, lost 6-7 (8), 6-1, 6-4 to Anna Kalinskaya in a 2-hour, 45-minute match on Kia Arena.

No. 26 Jasmine Paolini reached the fourth round of a major for the first time with a 7-6 (1), 6-4 win over Anna Blinkova, who had knocked out No. 3 Elena Rybakina in the previous round.

In the opener on Rod Laver Arena, Zheng Qinwen edged fellow Chinese player Wang Yafan 6-4, 2-6, 7-6 (8) in a match tiebreaker to reach the fourth round in Australia for the first time. The 12th-seeded Zheng made it to the U.S. Open quarterfinals last year.

The Zheng-Wang match lasted 2:40. Zheng had a chance to serve for the match at 5-4 in the third but was unable to convert, and needed two match points to clinch it in the tiebreaker.

Wang eventually netted a tough backhand volley to end a 25-shot rally, the longest of the match, and the pair shook hands above the net.

“That was really difficult tiebreaker. We gave our best,” Zheng said, thanking Wang and saying it was an honor to for their match to be on the main court at Melbourne Park. “She never gives up. She always gets the ball back. I felt a lot of pressure in this match.”

Zheng said she was motivated by watching Li Na win the Australian Open title in 2014.

“Of course, I was sitting there in front of TV watching from the beginning to the end,” she said. “That final — I’ve watched that more than 10 times.”


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