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Spain's Carlos Alcaraz returns against Australia's Aleksander Vukic during their men's singles second round tennis match on the third day of the 2024 Wimbledon Championships at The All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club in Wimbledon, southwest London, on S Image Credit: AFP

London: Carlos Alcaraz raced into the Wimbledon third round on Wednesday as Japanese superstar Naomi Osaka was demolished on her return to Centre Court after a five-year absence.

Alcaraz defeated Australia’s world No 69 Aleksandar Vukic 7-6 (7/5), 6-2, 6-2 on the back of 42 winners.

The third-seeded Spaniard’s only moments of concern came in the first set when he let slip a 5-2 lead and found himself 5-6 down with Vukic serving for the opener.

However, the three-time major winner steadied the ship to race away to victory against a player who got the better of him in qualifying at the 2020 French Open.

Alcaraz next faces fellow crowd-pleaser Frances Tiafoe, the American player he defeated in five sets in the semi-finals of the 2022 US Open on his way to his first Grand Slam triumph.

“I’m going for him,” said Alcaraz, who is bidding to become just the sixth man after Rod Laver, Bjorn Borg, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic to win the French Open and Wimbledon titles back to back.

“I’m ready to play a really high level of tennis and hopefully take him.”

Tiafoe made the third round by seeing off Borna Coric in straight sets.

Four-time major winner Osaka, playing on Centre Court for the first time since 2019, went down 6-4, 6-1 to America’s Emma Navarro in just 59 minutes.

The 26-year-old former world No 1 is now ranked at 113 having only returned to the tour in January after giving birth to daughter Shai last year.

“I’m a little disappointed because I wanted to do really well. I feel like I put a lot of time into it. There’s always next year,” said Osaka.

‘Love and hate’

Eccentric Fabio Fognini of Italy needed a clutch of match points to knock out eighth-seeded Casper Ruud 6-4, 7-5, 6-7 (1/7), 6-3.

The 37-year-old Fognini, sporting bleach-blond hair, twice served for the match from 5-2 up in the third set before sealing victory over the three-time Grand Slam runner-up in the fourth set.

“It just shows why I love and hate this sport,” said Fognini.

Daniil Medvedev, the 2021 US Open champion, came back from dropping the first set and facing two set points in the second to see off Alexandre Muller of France 6-7 (3/7), 7-6 (7/4), 6-4, 7-5.

Tomas Machac, who had been scheduled to face Andy Murray before the two-time champion withdrew, came back from 0-5 down in the final set to beat lucky loser David Goffin in a tie-break.

World No 2 and US Open champion Coco Gauff cruised into the third round with a 6-2, 6-1 win over Romanian qualifier Anca Todoni.

“I’m happy with the way I played, could have been cleaner on some points,” said Gauff, who broke her 19-year-old opponent five times.

The American, who made her career breakthrough at Wimbledon as a 15-year-old qualifier in 2019, goes on to face British qualifier Sonay Kartal, the world No 298.

All-Italian fight

World No 1 Jannik Sinner, who reached the semi-finals last year, is in evening action against Italian compatriot and former runner-up Matteo Berrettini.

Italian men’s tennis has rarely been stronger, with the country boasting five players in the top 50 while the nation swept to Davis Cup glory last season.

Ten Italian men started the singles tournament this year at Wimbledon.

Sinner was the first Italian man to capture a Grand Slam title with his victory at the Australian Open in January and was also the first from his country to become world number one.

“I feel like in Italy we have so many tournaments, starting with juniors, then the Futures and Challengers,” said 22-year-old Sinner.

“We have big, big ATP tournaments there. We have good facilities and great coaches.”

Berrettini can boast his own breakthrough Italian moment when he was the first to make a Wimbledon men’s final in 2021.

It could be a memorable day for Chinese tennis with teenager Shang Juncheng taking on 10th-seeded Grigor Dimitrov and 32nd seed Zhang Zhizhen facing Germany’s Jan-Lennard Struff.

Until Monday, no Chinese man had won a match at Wimbledon in the Open era.