Dominant Djokovic rolls on, Americans savour banner day at Australian Open
MELBOURNE, Jan 23 (Reuters) - Novak Djokovic's bid for a 10th Australian Open crown shifted up a gear on Monday as he raced into the quarter-finals with a centre court masterclass and left his hamstring troubles behind.
A year after being deported from the country on the eve of the Grand Slam, Djokovic sent the last Australian packing with a 6-2 6-1 6-2 demolition of Alex de Minaur at a floodlit Rod Laver Arena. read more
The Serbian great set up a quarter-final against Russian fifth seed Andrey Rublev and was thrilled to report the hamstring strain on his left leg was no longer bothering him.
"I cannot say I'm sorry that you haven't watched a longer match," Djokovic joked to the crowd.
"I really wanted to win in straight sets.
"Tonight it wasn't obvious that I was dealing with an injury, I didn't feel anything today, so today was great."
With young gun Ben Shelton winning a five-set battle against compatriot J.J. Wolf, and Sebastian Korda advancing on Sunday, Tommy Paul ensured three American men will contest the quarter-finals for the first time since 2000.
The unseeded Paul beat 24th seeded Spaniard Roberto Bautista Agut 6-2 4-6 6-2 7-5 in the evening at Margaret Court Arena to book a matchup with 20-year-old Shelton, whose dream run continued with a 6-7(5) 6-2 6-7(4) 7-6(4) 6-2 win over Wolf.
"Any time you play Bautista it's going to be a war," said a beaming Paul after reaching his first Grand Slam quarter-final.
"I'm really happy playing an American in the quarters, there's going to be an American in the semis."
While Djokovic hurtled through, it was the exception on a day of grinding contests for the men, none more so than Rublev's tense five-set win over Danish wunderkind Holger Rune. read more
After coming back from 5-2 down in the fifth set at Rod Laver Arena, the Russian redhead claimed the cliffhanger 6-3 3-6 6-3 4-6 7-6 (11-9) courtesy of a lucky net cord on match point.
"(Tennis is) not a rollercoaster, it's like they put a gun to your head," Rublev joked after his final return of serve clipped the net and popped over, leaving Rune no chance.
"I think a rollercoaster is a lot easier, man."
It was smoother sailing on the women's side as Aryna Sabalenka eased into the quarter-finals for the first time but fourth seed Caroline Garcia was bundled out and 17-year-old Linda Fruhvirtova's dream run ended.
World number 45 Magda Linette ensured Poland would be represented in the last eight by stunning Garcia 7-6(3) 6-4, while Croatian Donna Vekic, ranked 64th in the world, held her nerve to down Fruhvirtova 6-2 1-6 6-3.
Vekic will next play Sabalenka and Linette will take on Czech former world number one Karolina Pliskova, who breezed past China's Zhang Shuai 6-0 6-4 on Kia Arena.
Garcia, who reached the U.S. Open semi-finals and won the WTA Finals last year, led 3-0 in the first set against Linette before it all went downhill.
Linette fought back and Garcia's unforced error count soared, leaving the normally placid Frenchwoman unleashing a stream of expletives to earn a code violation.
"I don't know what happened. I'm speechless really, I don’t know what to say," said a breathless Linette after booking her maiden Slam quarter-final.
With top seed Iga Swiatek eliminated on Sunday, Garcia's exit leaves Sabalenka and American Jessica Pegula as the only top 10 seeds in the quarter-finals.
Sabalenka looks to have as good a chance as anyone of winning the Daphne Akhurst Trophy if she can conquer the demons that sometimes take hold when her power game misfires.
On Monday, the 24-year-old Belarusian got her head straight after going down an early break to blast Swiss Belinda Bencic off the court 7-5 6-2.
Having apparently fixed what was once the most inconsistent serve in the women's game, Sabalenka has started the season with eight straight wins and has yet to lose a set.
"I want to believe that the way I'm working right now, the way I'm on the court right now, this is the new beginning," she said.
Vekic looked to be coasting to victory over Fruhvirtova but the Czech has been confounding her olders and betters throughout her fairytale campaign.
The teenager showed maturity beyond her years to even up the contest, sending Vekic scurrying for a bathroom break to regroup.
It worked, and although Fruhvirtova challenged her serve, 26-year-old Vekic prevailed to secure her first Australian Open quarter-final in 11 attempts.
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