Ashleigh Barty only dropped five games in booking a place in the third round in Melbourne. (AAP: Lukas Coch)
World number one Ashleigh Barty has shown no signs of buckling under pressure as the home-town favourite, securing a spot in the Australian Open third round with a comprehensive straight-sets win over Slovenia’s Polona Hercog.
- Ashleigh Barty secured three breaks of serve to seal a 6-1, 6-4 victory on Rod Laver Arena
- Barty cannot lose hold of the world number one ranking even if she makes an early exit from the tournament
- Defending champion Naomi Osaka and seventh seed Petra Kvitova also made it through to the third round in straight sets
Barty took just 66 minutes to record a 6-1, 6-4 victory on Rod Laver Arena and she will next play either 29th seed Elena Rybakina, or qualifier Greet Minnen for a place in the fourth round.
Should Barty reach the round of 16 she will begin to face tougher assignments, with American 18th seed Alison Riske — who beat the Australian at Wimbledon last year — looming as a potential opponent.
Barty is hoping to become the first Australian to win the women’s singles title at Melbourne Park in 42 years.
Beyond the fourth round the draw may become even more challenging for Barty, who will not lose her grip on the number one ranking should she make an early exit.
Should she win through, two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova — who beat Barty in the quarter-finals last year — might be on the other side of the net in the last eight.
A semi-final appearance could see Barty pitted against either defending champion Naomi Osaka or seven-time champion Serena Williams.
Conditions on the centre court were not ideal for Barty and Hercog, with gusts of wind having the potential to play havoc with both players.
Despite the wind, Barty still managed to send down five aces and post just the single double fault, while she saved six break points in the second set.
“The wind played a factor, particularly with the new balls,” Barty said in her courtside interview.
“It was about making as many balls I could. Once I got my opportunity I could take it and save the breakpoints in the second set.”
Barty’s performance was more convincing than her first-round win on Monday evening, when she dropped the first set to Lesia Tsurenko before fighting back to win 5-7, 6-1, 6-1.
After she held to love in the opening game of the first set, the Australian immediately put the Hercog serve under pressure to break for a 2-0 lead.
A second break in the sixth game allowed Barty to serve for the first set at 5-1 and she clinically seized the opportunity.
Hercog settled early in the second set and she had Barty’s serve under the pump at 0-30 in the fourth game, only for the top seed to reel off four consecutive points to hold serve at 2-2.
The Slovenian again put up stiff resistance later in the set when she earned several break points, however Barty did not lose her cool and found a way to avoid dropping serve.
At 4-4, Barty broke Hercog for the third time and she successfully served the match in the following game in front of an adoring crowd.
Osaka, Kvitova safely through
Earlier on day three, Osaka kept her title defence on track with a 6-2, 6-4 victory over China’s Zheng Saisai on Margaret Court Arena.
Osaka was broken twice in the second set and vented her frustration at one stage by kicking her racquet across the court, yet was able to capitalise on the brittle serve of her opponent with three breaks of her own.
She booked a berth in the third round where she will meet either American 15-year-old Coco Gauff or Romania’s Sorana Cirstea.
Day three results (women’s draw)
- Naomi Osaka (JPN, 3) def. Saisai Zheng (CHN) 6-2, 6-4
- Petra Kvitova (CZE, 7) def. Paula Badosa (ESP) 7-5, 7-5
- Carla Suarez Navarro (ESP) def. Aryna Sabalenka (BLR, 11) 7-6 (8-6), 7-6 (8-6)
- Julia Georges (GER) def. Petra Martic (CRO, 13) 6-4, 6-3, 7-5
- Sofia Kenin (US, 14) def. Ann Li (US) 6-1, 6-3
- Elise Mertens (BEL, 16) def. Danka Kovinic (MNE) 6-2, 6-0
- Alison Riske (US, 18) def. Lin Zhu (CHN) 6-3, 6-1
- Caroline Wozniacki (DEN) def. Dayana Yastremska (UKR, 23) 7-5, 7-5
The Japanese third seed is seeking to become just the ninth woman to successfully defend the women’s title at the Open and the first since Victoria Azarenka (2012-13).
Osaka beat Kvitova in a tense three-setter in the women’s final 12 months ago and the Czech remains alive in this year’s tournament following a straight-sets win against Paula Badosa.
Kvitova, the seventh seed in Melbourne, struggled early when she went down a break but her experience shone through and she was able to rebound to claim the first set.
The Spaniard Badosa had set points in the second set, but again Kvitova fought her way out of trouble to eventually win 7-5, 7-5.
Barty’s countrywoman Astra Sharma had been forced to wait until today to get on court for her first-round match against Estonian 28th seed Anett Kontaveit as a result of Monday’s rain interruption.
Sharma’s appearance on Court Eight lasted less than an hour, however, with the wildcard winning just two games in a comprehensive 6-0, 6-2 defeat to Kontaveit.