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Defending champ Kerber advances to 4th round vs Vandeweghe

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) Angelique Kerber had a straight-sets win for the first time in her first Australian Open title defense, starting her 6-0, 6-4 third-round victory with an eight-game streak against Kristyna Pliskova on Friday.

Top-ranked Kerber beat the other Pliskova twin, Karolina, in the final of the last U.S. Open to capture her second career Grand Slam title. Her first was here at Melbourne Park 12 months ago.

Kerber marked her 29th birthday on Wednesday with a second-round win over fellow German Carina Witthoeft, but said she didn’t celebrate much between matches and hoped to do more at the end of the tournament.

She’ll next play 35th-ranked CoCo Vandeweghe, who reached the fourth round in Australia for the first time with a -4, 3-6, 7-5 win over 2014 semifinalist Eugenie Bouchard.

“It will be tough,” Kerber said. “I’m ready. I’m feeling good. I’m loving to play on this court.”

Eighth-seeded Svetlana Kuznetsova was broken in the second and third sets when serving for the match before finally beating former No. 1-ranked Jelena Jankovic 6-4, 5-7, 9-7 in a 3-hour, 36-minute match.

Two-time major champion Kuznetsova will next play No. 24 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, who beat No. 11 Elina Svitolina 7-5, 4-6, 6-3.

Vandeweghe recovered from an early break in the third set in a tense win over Bouchard, who was ranked as high as No. 5 in 2014 when she reached the semifinals in Australia and France and the final at Wimbledon.

Vandeweghe converted her only break-point chance to take the first set but Bouchard leveled the match with two breaks in a dominant second set.

The 22-year-old Canadian broke to open the third set and appeared to be in control until Vandeweghe changed her approach.

“She started playing better and I got a little passive in my game plan and executing it – I was able to turn it around thankfully,” Vandeweghe said.

After holding in the key eighth game of the third set, when she saved four break points in a game that went to deuce eight times, Vandeweghe had the benefit of serving first with no tiebreakers in the deciding set.

She easily held for a 6-5 lead and then, after Bouchard had a game point, went on a roll to close with a big backhand winner on her first match point.

Vandeweghe has reached the quarterfinals and the fourth round in the last two years at Wimbledon, but her run to the third round in Australia in 2016 was her best at any major not played on grass.

“It’s just another opponent on the way to achieving my goal,” Vandeweghe said of her win. “Anyway I could get it done – I just wanted to get the result. Achieved my goal.”

Vandeweghe’s new doubles partner, Martina Hingis, cheered her on throughout the match. Afterward, the American joked that Hingis might scold her for playing “too long to be fresh for the doubles.”

Bouchard has been gradually improving her ranking in recent months. She hasn’t gone past the third round of a Grand Slam tournament since slipping and falling in the locker room during the 2015 U.S. Open

Nadal into 3rd round; Wozniacki saves 2 MPs to advance

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) Rafael Nadal had to wait while Caroline Wozniacki saved two match points and worked her way back into the Australian Open in the preceding match on Rod Laver Arena.

Nadal, the 2017 runner-up, wasted no time in reaching the third round, dropping only one service game – while serving for the match – and making just 10 unforced errors in a 6-3, 6-4, 7-6 (4) win over Leonardo Mayer on Wednesday.

“It’s an important victory for me, I mean, he’s a tough opponent. Leonardo is a player with big potential,” said Nadal, who won the French and U.S. Opens last year but had his preparation for Australia delayed because of an injured right knee. “After a while without being on the competition … second victory in a row, that’s very important.”

There was more drama earlier on the center court and Margaret Court Arena, when second-seeded Wozniacki and 2008 runner-up Jo-Wilfried Tsonga had to come back from big deficits.

Wozniacki was 5-1 down and facing two match points in third set against No. 119-ranked Jana Fett before deciding she had no choice but to attack.

“That was crazy,” Wozniacki said after winning the last six games in a memorable 3-6, 6-2, 7-5 victory. “I don’t know how I got back into the match. I was like, `This is my last chance.

“At 5-1, 40-15, I felt like I was one foot out of the tournament. She served a great serve down the T – it was just slightly out. I was kind of lucky.”

Wozniacki won the next nine points, and 24 of the 31 points played from when she first faced match point. She clinched a 75-minute third set on her first match point when Fett netted a backhand.

The former No. 1-ranked Wozniacki will next play No. 30 Kiki Bertens, who beat Nicole Gibbs 7-6 (3), 6-0.

Tsonga rallied from 5-2 in the fifth to overcome Denis Shapovalov 3-6, 6-3, 1-6, 7-6 (4), 7-5 in a 3-hour, 37-minute match that contained one of his nonchalant between-the-legs shots on an important point. And 38-year-old Ivo Karlovic overcame Yuichi Sugita 7-6 (3), 6-7 (3), 7-5, 4-6, 12-10.

Marta Kostyuk came from the other angle, the 15-year-old qualifier followed up her first-round win over 25th-seeded Peng Shuai with a 6-3, 7-5 victory over wild-card entry Olivia Rogowska.

The Australian Open junior champion last year, who entered the season-opening major ranked No. 521, Kostyuk became the youngest player since Martina Hingis in 1996 to win main draw matches at the season-opening major.

Things will get harder for her now, against fellow Ukrainian and No. 4-seeded Elina Svitolina, who had a 4-6, 6-2, 6-1 win over Katerina Siniakova.

Another Ukrainian, Kateryna Bondarenko, beat No. 15-seeded Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 6-2, 6-3 and will next play No. 19 Magdalena Rybarikova.

Belinda Bencic had a letdown two days after upsetting Venus Williams, losing 6-1, 6-3 to Thai qualifier Luksika Kumkhum.

Bencic, who combined with Roger Federer to win the Hopman Cup for Switzerland earlier this month, saved three match points on her serve before netting a backhand to give No. 124th-ranked Kumkhum a spot in the third round for the first time.

“I tried to reset and focus on the next match,” Bencic said. “I think it was also a very tough second round, for me the toughest I could get.”

French Open winner Jelena Ostapenko struggled at times before beating Duan Yingying 6-3, 3-6, 6-4.

Among the seeded men advancing were No. 6 Marin Cilic, who beat Joao Sousa 6-1, 7-5, 6-2, and No. 10 Pablo Carreno Busta, who was leading 6-2, 3-0 when Gilles Simon retired from their second-round match with a thigh injury.

No. 23 Gilles Muller outlasted Malek Jaziri in five sets, Kyle Edmund had a straight-sets win over Denis Istomin – who beat then defending-champion Novak Djokovic in the second round here last year – and No. 28 Damir Dzumhur beat John Millman.

Ryan Harrison beat No. 31 Pablo Cuevas 6-4, 7-6 (5), 6-4.

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More AP coverage: http://www.apnews.com/tag/AustralianOpen

Major moment: McDonald takes 3rd-ranked Dimitrov to 5 sets

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) Mackenzie McDonald knew he was ready to turn pro after his junior year at UCLA. He had just won the NCAA singles and doubles titles and believed he was ready to take the next step.

After his surprise showing at this year’s Australian Open, he certainly made the right decision.

The 22-year-old McDonald emerged from qualifying to give a scare to No. 3-ranked Grigor Dimitrov in the second round of the Australian Open on Wednesday night, taking the Bulgarian to the distance at Rod Laver Arena before eventually falling 4-6, 6-2, 6-4, 0-6, 8-6 in nearly 3+ hours.

“I was soaking it all in,” McDonald said. “It was a long match and I enjoyed every single moment of it.”

McDonald, who entered the tournament ranked No. 186, failed to get through qualifying at the majors three times last year, but his luck changed at this year’s Australian Open where he defeated French journeyman Stephane Robert in three sets in the last qualifying round to claim a spot in the main draw.

McDonald then beat fellow qualifier Elias Ymer of Sweden in the first round – his first win anywhere at the elite tour level. It was the boost he needed after struggling on the lower-tier pro circuits following his decision to leave college in 2016.

“Especially when you’re starting out, you have doubts,” he said after his first-round match. “You feel like some times are really rough, especially like when you lose early at a Future or Challenger (tournament). . You just have to stay really level-headed with this sport.”

Going into the second-round match against Dimitrov, McDonald was the heavy underdog. The highest-ranked opponent he had ever faced was No. 69 Rajeev Ram in Newport in 2016.

But instead of being overawed by the situation, McDonald broke ATP Finals champion Dimitrov’s serve to capture the first set and then hung in when the more experienced Bulgarian stormed back to claim the next two.

McDonald appeared to be thoroughly enjoying himself as he took the fourth set 6-0 and extended the match deep into the fifth, pumping his fists after winners and repeatedly waving his arms over his head to rally the crowd to his side.

“I know how close I was to winning,” McDonald said afterward. “But he’s a good player. He’s been out here a while. I’d overall say there’s so many more positives than negatives.”

Fellow American Sam Querrey knows McDonald well, having spent time with him in California, and he’s not surprised by his rapid improvement in the last couple years.

“Even when he was in college, he was a freshman, a couple times I’d give him a ride home after practice and he’d ask me questions the entire car ride home, like, `What do you do on your forehand here?,’ `What’s the travel like?”‘ Querrey said. “He was just like always super inquisitive, so I’m glad to see it’s paying off.”

McDonald has also practiced with Dimitrov, and spent time hitting with Roger Federer. His success also shows there’s a path for tennis players who decide to go to university instead of turning pro in their teenage years.

“I went to college and I didn’t really have as many opportunities to play as many ATPs as some of these other guys,” he said. “Once you go (pro), you have to give it your all. That’s what I feel I’ve been doing since I stepped foot out of UCLA.”