Melbourne: Stefanos Tsitsipas and Iga Swiatek dazzled in bright sunshine to make short work of their third-round opponents on Friday as some normality returned to the Australian Open after scheduling woes, wild weather, upsets and late finishes.
That sense of normality was shattered in the cool of the late evening, however, when American Sebastian Korda stunned former world No 1 Daniil Medvedev 7-6(7) 6-3 7-6(4) for the biggest win of his young career.
The 22-year-old, son of 1998 Australian Open champion Petr, unleashed an all-court assault on the Russian 2021 US Open champion, hammering 50 winners and making regular charges to the net.
Extreme heat and rain
“Probably one of the better matches I’ve played in my career,” said an elated Korda. “Just stuck with the game plan, kept going after it. I think positive mentally throughout it. No matter what happened, kept pushing forward.”
Third seed Tsitsipas, the top surviving seed in the men’s draw, beat Dutchman Tallon Griekspoor 6-2, 7-6(5), 6-3 and then waxed lyrical on the clement conditions after hours of tennis were lost this week to extreme heat and rain.
Injury cloud hanging
“Fair crack of the whip mate, I mean, it was great,” Tsitsipas said, slipping into the local vernacular.
“Kind of kept things clean and I enjoyed the weather today, what a lovely day for tennis it is today, isn’t it? It’s great playing in sunshine like this, this is what Melbourne’s all about.”
Tsitsipas has still not dropped a set in the tournament as he chases his maiden Grand Slam, with his chances boosted by the exits of holder Rafa Nadal and second seed Casper Ruud and an injury cloud hanging over favourite Novak Djokovic.
The departure of Medvedev, the losing finalist for the last two years at Melbourne Park, further opened up the draw.
Women’s favourite Swiatek was even more dominant in her 6-0, 6-1 victory over Cristina Bucsa as she took another step towards adding a first Australian Open title to the French and US Open crowns she won last year.
“A couple of years ago when I was in the fourth round I was really exhausted, and right now I feel this is the right place to be,” the 21-year-old top seed said.
“Hopefully, I’m going to continue to playing solid and hopefully I’m going to play more matches here.”
Bad start to the day
Up next for Swiatek is Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina, who battled past last year’s Melbourne Park runner-up Danielle Collins 6-2 5-7 6-2.
It was a bad start to the day for the American women but in-form Jessica Pegula, the third seed, soon swatted aside Marta Kostyuk 6-0 6-2 and seventh seed Coco Gauff dismissed compatriot Bernarda Pera 6-3 6-2.
Madison Keys looked like continuing her unbeaten start to the season when she took the first set against Victoria Azarenka only for the 2012 and 2013 Australian Open champion to rally for a 1-6 6-2 6-1 upset of the 10th seed.
Azarenka will next play world number 87 Zhu Lin of China, who stunned Greek sixth seed Maria Sakkari 7-6(3) 1-6 6-4 in the final match of the day.
No American man has captured a Grand Slam singles title since Andy Roddick at the 2003 US Open, but the country’s hopes had been raised after eight men made the third round.
Nadal’s unseeded conqueror Mackenzie McDonald was unable to continue his run, however, as he fell 7-6(6) 6-3 6-2 to Japan’s Yoshihito Nishioka.
Frances Tiafoe and his eye-catching outfit also departed 6-3 6-4 3-6 7-6(9) at the hands of Russian Karen Khachanov in a meeting of the losing semi-finalists at last year’s US Open.
Organisers were grateful for the swift early victories after being forced to defend their scheduling following Andy Murray’s five-set victory over Thanasi Kokkinakis, which concluded at just after 4.05amon Friday morning.
Murray described the late finish as a “joke” but tournament director Craig Tiley, who had been battling to get the schedule back on track after the weather disruptions, ruled out immediate changes.
“We’ve got to fit those matches in the 14 days, so you don’t have many options,” he said.
Although none matched the six hours that Murray took to triumph in the wee hours, there were plenty of lengthy men’s matches for the fans to enjoy.
Italian Jannik Sinner came from two sets down to beat Marton Fucsovics 4-6, 4-6, 6-1, 6-2, 6-0, while Czech Jiri Lehecka took five sets to upset British 11th seed Cameron Norrie 6-7, 6-3, 3-6, 6-1, 6-4.
Sixth seed Felix Auger Aliassime also advanced with a 6-1, 3-6, 6-1, 6-4 win over Francisco Cerundolo but his fellow Canadian Denis Shapovalov came up short in a stirring comeback against 10th seed Hubert Hurkacz and bowed out 7-6(3), 6-4, 1-6, 4-6, 6-3.