Australian Open: Serena, Osaka sizzle in Melbourne heat as Halep survives scare

By Sports Desk February 10, 2021

Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka sizzled in the scorching Melbourne heat on day three of the Australian Open. 

Williams, aiming once more for a record-equalling 24th singles grand slam, made serene progress from round two on what was the hottest day of the tournament so far. 

It was a similar story for Osaka, who is aiming to become a two-time champion at Melbourne Park, but Simona Halep had to dig deep while Bianca Andreescu and Petra Kvitova were early casualties on Wednesday.


PLAIN SAILING FOR SERENA AND OSAKA

Williams' perfect start to the season extended to 5-0 as she swatted aside Nina Stojanovic 6-3 6-0 to set up a round-three meeting with Anastasia Potapova – the same opponent she overcame in Melbourne in the first round a year ago. 

The seven-time Australian Open champion is looking forward to renewing acquaintances with the Russian. 

"It's always a fun, interesting match [against Potapova]. I'm gonna go home, get ready and just do the best," she said.  

"We're all out here to have fun and I'm happy to be out here, and just to be playing in front of crowd again is really cool. So every day is just fun." 

Osaka, the current US Open champion and the winner in Melbourne two years ago, hammered former world number four Caroline Garcia 6-2 6-3 on Rod Laver Arena in the evening session. 

The Japanese star is set to face her friend Ons Jabeur for the first time in an official match in round three. 

"She's really funny," Osaka said of her next opponent. "I don't know if you guys watch any of her interviews. I think she is really funny and nice.  

"I think the match I am going to play against her will be really difficult, but I'm looking forward to it." 


HALEP SURVIVES TOMLJANOVIC TEST

In contrast to Williams and Osaka's comfortable wins, second seed Halep was taken to the brink by home favourite Ajla Tomljanovic, who won the first set and was serving for the match in the third. 

However, 2018 finalist Halep broke back when trailing 5-4 in the decider and battled through with a 4-6 6-4 7-5 victory in a match that saw a combined 94 unforced errors (57 for Tomljanovic, 37 for Halep). 

"I was expecting that she would play very hard and very strong. I expected it to be a difficult match, but it was more than I thought. But I'm really happy that I can smile now," Halep said.  

"I was not that positive when I was talking to myself. I didn't talk about the score, I was just blaming myself, that I'm not strong enough to win against her. But in the end mentally I was maybe a bit stronger than her, and I didn't want to give up." 

Last year's losing finalist Garbine Muguruza (14) was too good for Ludmilla Samsonova in a 6-3 6-1 win, while French Open champion Iga Swiatek (15) dispatched Camila Giorgi 6-2 6-4. 

Aryna Sabalenka (7), Marketa Vondrousova (19) and Veronika Kudermetova (32) all made it through, but fellow seed Elena Rybakina (17) was beaten in straight sets by Fiona Ferro.


EARLY EXITS FOR ANDREESCU AND KVITOVA

Andreescu became the latest scalp for veteran Hsieh Su-Wei, who earned a commanding 6-3 6-2 victory and is now 4-3 against top-10 players in the slams since 2017. 

Eighth seed Andreescu won the US Open in 2019 but missed the entirety of last year with a knee injury, while her preparation here was disrupted by spending 14 days in quarantine after her coach tested positive for coronavirus. 

"After my first round, I thought I would feel more exhausted, but I felt amazing. Also, today the weather was a bit tricky. Being in the heart of quarantine I could have had those extra two weeks of like being in the heat and getting used to sweating and all of that," she said. 

Next up for Hsieh is Sara Errani, who defeated Venus Williams 6-1 6-0. The veteran American rolled her ankle towards the end of the first set and, despite needing two medical timeouts, valiantly saw out the match. 

Kvitova was a runner-up to Osaka in 2019 and appeared on course to recovery after dominating the second set against Sorana Cirstea. 

But amid sweltering conditions, the Czech ninth seed went on to lose the decider. 

"It was quite a rollercoaster, for sure," she said. "Unfortunately I couldn't take the chances to win the first set.  

"I think that was really the key of the match. She really had a great day today; she played a good game. I didn't really bring the best tennis today. It's really hurting."

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