BELARUS’ Aryna Sabalenka in action during the match against Carla Suarez Navarro of Spain on Wednesday.—Reuters
BELARUS’ Aryna Sabalenka in action during the match against Carla Suarez Navarro of Spain on Wednesday.—Reuters

MELBOURNE: Fifteen-year-old prodigy Coco Gauff set up an Australian Open blockbuster with defending champion Naomi Osaka on Wednesday, as a pumped-up Serena Williams took another step towards a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam title.

On a day when men’s seeds tumbled, Serbia’s Novak Djokovic strode into the third round to be joined by Roger Federer, who dismissed Filip Krajinovic 6-1, 6-4, 6-1.

American teenager Gauff, showing a tenacity which is becoming her trademark, clawed her way back from a set down to beat the experienced Sorana Cirstea 4-6, 6-3, 7-5.

Gauff, who screamed and pumped her fists as she completed her victory, said her “will to win” had got her through the tough second-round match at a windswept Melbourne Park.

“My parents always told me you can always come back — no matter what the score is,” said Gauff, who beat seven-time Grand Slam champion Venus Williams in round one.

Gauff also beat Venus on her Grand Slam debut last year at Wimbledon, and in another quirk, she faced Osaka in the US Open third round, going down meekly in straight sets.

Japan’s Osaka, 22, beat China’s Zheng Saisai 6-2, 6-4 but briefly lost her cool mid-match, hurling and kicking her racquet when she gave up a break in the second set.

“I was thinking that I really don’t want to play a third set this time,” explained Osaka, who is defending a Grand Slam title for the second time.

Former world number one Caroline Wozniacki, playing her final tournament before retiring, came from behind in both sets for a 7-5, 7-5 win over Dayana Yastremska of Ukraine.

Serena shouted at the top of her voice during a testing second set against 70th-ranked Tamara Zidansek, before seeing off break points to win 6-2, 6-3.

“She was a really good fighter — she did not just let me win,” said Serena, who can equal Margaret Court’s all-time mark of 24 Grand Slams if she lifts the trophy.

Earlier, Australia’s world number one Ashleigh Barty raced through 6-1, 6-4 against Polona Hercog, buoying hopes of a first home winner since 1978.

“It was very different end to end, I think the wind was a massive factor particularly with the new ball,” she said.

Djokovic also weathered the breeze — which followed heavy rain on Monday, and smog from bushfires last week — to beat Japanese wildcard Tatsuma Ito 6-1, 6-4, 6-2 in 95 minutes.

Federer was barely detained by Krajinovic, the world number 41, as he moved smoothly through in 92 minutes in the night match on Rod Laver Arena.

In other results, Petra Kvitova, last year’s runner-up, came through 7-5, 7-5 against Paula Badosa of Spain, and China’s Zhang Shuai ousted American Caty McNally 6-2, 6-4.

Former US Open champion Marin Cilic won a five-setter against French seed Benoit Paire, and one-time semi-finalist Milos Raonic beat Chile’s Christian Garin in straights.

Tennys Sandgren, engulfed in controversy over his political views and right-wing links during his run to the 2018 quarter-finals, took the biggest scalp so far when he ousted eighth seed Matteo Berrettini in five sets.

Sandgren’s fellow American Tommy Paul also pulled off a five-set upset when he beat Bulgarian 18th seed Grigor Dimitrov 6-4, 7-6 (8-6), 3-6, 6-7 (3-7), 7-6 (10-3).

And Australia’s John Millman further trimmed the number of high-ranked players when he ended the campaign of Polish 31st seed Hubert Hurkacz.

But Greek sixth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas was handed a slice of fortune when Philipp Kohlschreiber withdrew injured.

Among eight first-round matches held over from Tuesday, after rain wiped out half of Monday’s schedule, Spain’s Carla Suarez Navarro, also retiring this year, upset Belarusian 11th seed Aryna Sabalenka in straight sets.

Wednesday’s results (prefix number denotes seeding):

Men’s singles:

Second round: Tennys Sandgren (US) bt 8-Matteo Berrettini (Italy) 7-6 (9-7), 6-4, 4-6, 2-6, 7-5; Sam Querrey (US) bt Ricardas Berankis (Lithuania) 7-6 (7-2), 4-6, 6-4, 6-4; 22-Guido Pella (Argentina) bt Gregoire Barrere (France) 6-1, 6-4, 3-6, 6-3; Marton Fucsovics (Hungary) bt Jannik Sinner (Italy) 6-4, 6-4, 6-3 Tommy Paul (US) bt 18-Grigor Dimitrov (Bulgaria) 6-4, 7-6 (8-6), 3-6, 6-7 (3-7), 7-6 (10-3); John Millman (Australia) bt 31-Hubert Hurkacz (Poland) 6-4, 7-5, 6-3; 6-Stefanos Tsitsipas (Greece) bt Philipp Kohlschreiber (Germany) — walkover; 32-Milos Raonic (Canada) bt Cristian Garin (Chile) 6-3, 6-4, 6-2; Marin Cilic (Croatia) bt 21-Benoit Paire (FRA x21) 6-2, 6-7 (6-8), 3-6, 6-1, 7-6 (10-3); 14-Diego Schwartzman (Argentina) bt Alejandro Davidovich (ESP) 6-1, 6-4, 6-2; 24-Dusan Lajovic (Serbia) bt Marc Polmans (Australia) 6-2, 6-4, 6-3; Yoshihito Nishioka (Japan) bt 30-Daniel Evans (Great Britain) 6-4, 6-3, 6-4; 2-Novak Djokovic (Serbia) bt Tatsuma Ito (Japan) 6-1, 6-4, 6-2; 3-Roger Federer (Switzerland) bt Filip Krajinovic (Croatia) 6-1, 6-4, 6-1; 12-Fabio Fognini (Italy) bt Jordan Thompson (Australia) 7-6 (7-4), 6-1, 3-6, 4-6, 7-6 (10-4); 9-Roberto Bautista Agut (Spain) bt Michael Mmoh (US) 5-7, 6-2, 6-4, 6-1.

Women’s singles:

Second round: 1-Ashleigh Barty (Australia) bt Polona Hercog (Slovenia) 6-1, 6-4; 29-Elena Rybakina (Kazakhstan) bt Greet Minnen (Belgium) 6-3, 6-4; 18-Alison Riske (US) bt Lin Zhu (China) 6-3, 6-1; Julia Goerges (Germany) bt 13-Petra Martic (Croatia) 4-6, 6-3, 7-5; 22-Maria Sakkari (Greece) bt Nao Hibino (Japan) 7-6 (7-4), 6-4; 25-Ekaterina Alexandrova (Russia) bt Barbora Krejcikova (Czech Republic) 6-1, 6-3; 7-Petra Kvitova (Czech Republic) bt Paula Badosa (Spain) 7-5, 7-5; 3-Naomi Osaka (Japan) bt Saisai Zheng (China) 6-2, 6-4; Cori Gauff (US) bt Sorana Cirstea (Romania) 4-6, 6-3, 7-5; Shuai Zhang (China) bt Caty McNally (US) 6-2, 6-4; 14-Sofia Kenin (US) bt Ann Li (US) 6-1, 6-3; Ons Jabeur (Tunisia) bt Caroline Garcia (France) 1-6, 6-2, 6-3; Caroline Wozniacki (Denmark) bt 23-Dayana Yastremska (Ukraine) 7-5, 7-5; 27-Qiang Wang (China) bt Fiona Ferro (France) 6-1, 6-2; 8-Serena Williams (US) bt Tamara Zidansek (Slovenia) 6-2, 6-3; 10-Madison Keys (US) bt Arantxa Rus (Netherlands) 7-6 (7-3), 6-2.

First round: Sara Sorribes Tormo (Spain) bt Veronika Kudermetova (Russia) 2-6, 6-1, 6-1; 28- Anett Kontaveit (Estonia) bt Astra Sharma (Australia) 6-0, 6-2; Iga Swiatek (Poland) bt Timea Babos (Hungary) 6-3, 6-2 Carla Suarez (Spain) bt 11- Aryna Sabalenka (Belarus) 7-6 (8-6), 7-6 (8-6); 16-Elise Mertens (Belgium) bt Danka Kovinic (Montenegro) 6-2, 6-0; Heather Watson (Great Britain) bt Kristyna Pliskova (Czech Republic) 4-6, 6-3, 6-1; 30-Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (Russia) bt Nina Stojanovic (Serbia) 6-1, 7-5; Taylor Townsend (US) bt Jessica Pegula (US) 6-4, 7-6 (7-5).

Published in Dawn, January 23rd, 2020