MELBOURNE, Australia — Aryna Sabalenka matched her best Grand Slam showing by advancing to a possible fourth-round showdown against Serena Williams at the Australian Open.
Play was underway when government officials announced that fans will be banned from attending the tournament for five days beginning Saturday because of a COVID-19 outbreak at a hotel. The Grand Slam tournament had been the first in a year to allow sizeable crowds.
The No. 7-seeded Sabalenka had already beat American Ann Li 6-3, 6-1 in front of a small morning crowd in Rod Laver Arena.
Sabalenka is the only woman among the top 16 seeds who has yet to reach a major quarterfinal. Her best effort previously came when she earned a fourth-round berth at the 2018 U.S. Open.
“I really want to play well in the Grand Slams, go as far as I can,” Sabalenka said. “I’m trying to come out in the big stadiums and show my best.”
The Belarusian did that by overpowering Li from the start, winning her first two service games at love and then breaking at love. Sabalenka held every serve and pounded 15 forehand winners.
Sabalenka, 22, has won 23 of her past 26 matches. She could next face Williams, who was scheduled to continue her quest for a 24th major title by facing Anastasia Potapova in the third round.
“I’ll prepare myself as good as I can,” Sabalenka said.
Later matches on the men’s side included eight-time Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic against American Taylor Fritz.
In other third-round play, No. 14-seeded Garbine Muguruza defeated Zarina Diyas 6-1, 6-1. No. 19 Marketa Vondrousova beat Sorana Cirstea 6-2, 6-4.
ASTANA, Kazakhstan — Carlos Alcaraz’s first match as the No. 1-ranked player ended with a straight-set loss to David Goffin at the Astana Open.
The 19-year-old Spaniard lost 7-5, 6-3 in his first tour match since winning the U.S. Open and capturing the No. 1 ranking.
“David was playing really, really well. To come back to competition is never easy,” Alcaraz said. “It’s really tough for me, for my confidence.”
Alcaraz came from 5-2 down to level the first set at 5-5, only to be broken again by his Belgian opponent.
“When you play against the World No. 1 on a big stage, big crowd, the fire inside gives you so much power to play your best tennis because you don’t have any choice,” Goffin said. “You have to fight and give your best and that was the case today.”
Second-seeded Daniil Medvedev and No. 3-seeded Stefanos Tsitsipas both avoided similar upsets. Medvedev beat Albert Ramos-Vinolas of Spain 6-3, 6-1 and Tsitsipas ousted Kazakhstan’s Mikhail Kukushkin 6-3. 6-4.
OSTRAVA, Czech Republic — Fifth-seeded Daria Kasatkina defeated 2021 U.S. Open champion Emma Raducanu 7-5, 6-4 to advance to the second round of the Agel Open.
Kasatkina was playing her first match since losing in the first round of the U.S. Open and will next face Ekaterina Alexandrova.
Sixth-seeded Belinda Bencic of Switzerland rallied to eliminate former top-five player Eugenie Bouchard of Canada 6-7 (7), 6-1, while Aliaksandra Sasnovich upset eighth-seeded Jelena Ostapenko 6-2, 6-2.
American qualifiers Alycia Parks and Catherine McNally both advanced. Parks upset Czech Karolina Pliskova 6-0, 7-6 (3) and McNally eased past Anna Blinkova 6-1, 6-2 at the indoor hardcourt event in the Czech eastern city of Ostrava.