Australian Open: Djokovic, Sabalenka dodge upsets to go full steam ahead

Djokovic dropped only three games in his march to quarters, while Sabalenka has dropped 11 games in four matches.

Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus celebrates after defeating Amanda Anisimova of the U.S. in their fourth round match at the Australian Open tennis championships at Melbourne Park, Melbourne, Australia, Sunday, Jan. 21, 2024
Second-seeded Aryna Sabalenka is favourite to win the Australian Open [Andy Wong/AP]

In a Grand Slam that has seen several top-ranked players drop out in the first three rounds, defending champions Novak Djokovic and Aryna Sabalenka have dodged upsets to reach the Australian Open quarterfinals without a major blip.

Djokovic was ruthless in a 6-0, 6-0, 6-3 win over Adrian Mannarino on Sunday as he entered his 58th Grand Slam quarterfinal to match Roger Federer’s all-time Grand Slam record.

In a rare daytime appearance on Rod Laver Arena, the 10-time Australian Open champion hit 31 winners and raced to victory in 1 hour and 44 minutes.

Djokovic is into the Australian Open quarterfinals for the 14th time, which is equal second on the all-time list with Rafael Nadal and John Newcombe. The difference is that he has converted most of those quarterfinal runs into titles at Melbourne Park.

He will face Taylor Fritz, who reached the Australian Open quarterfinals for the first time with a 7-6 (3), 5-7, 6-3, 6-3 win over Stefanos Tsitsipas, last year’s runner-up.

Meanwhile, the ruthless women’s world number two, Aryna Sabalenka, warned that she is stronger now than when she won her maiden Grand Slam in Melbourne as her imposing march towards another title gathered steam.

The Belarusian was in total control against unseeded American Amanda Anisimova on Margaret Court Arena, blazing home 6-3, 6-2 in 70 minutes.

Sabalenka has dropped a scant 11 games in her four matches and, with top seed Iga Swiatek out of the tournament, is the clear favourite to win a second Grand Slam.

Should she do so, she will be the first woman to retain the title since compatriot Victoria Azarenka completed the feat in 2013.

“I think I feel stronger than last year. So far I feel good. Hopefully, I just can keep it up,” said the 25-year-old, who has embraced her status as reigning champion in Melbourne.

“I’m getting stronger because I enjoy the atmosphere and I really want to stay here as long as I can, till the very last day.”

Last year’s US Open champion Coco Gauff has kept up with the two singles favourites after racing past unseeded Magdalena Frech 6-1, 6-2 in just 63 minutes on Rod Laver Arena as she zeroes in on a second Grand Slam title.

Gauff said she was enjoying “learning adulthood” after showing poise and determination to storm into her first Australian Open quarterfinal.

The tournament’s top seed among women Iga Swiatek lost 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 to Czech teenager Linda Noskova in the third round on Saturday.

Swiatek’s four Grand Slam titles and 18-match winning streak were no help against the big-hitting teen.

But pedigree and past performance seem to mean little to nothing at Melbourne Park so far this year, setting up a closing week that features a bunch of new players and storylines.

Apart from Swiatek, the other seeded players to depart the Grand Slam are Elena Rybakina (3), Jessica Pegula (5), Ons Jabeur (6) and Marketa Vondrousova (7).

In men’s draw, seeded players such as Ben Shelton (16), Holger Rune (8) and Casper Ruud (11) have also dropped out before the last-eight stage.

Briton Andy Murray was a first-round victim, along with returning former champion Naomi Osaka and Caroline Wozniacki.

Source: News Agencies