Halep into Week 2 at Australian Open for 5th straight year

MARK HOFFMAN/MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL/USA TODAY NETWORK
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MELBOURNE, Australia — Two-time Grand Slam champion Simona Halep is into Week 2 at Melbourne Park for the fifth consecutive year.

She’ll be joined in the second week by second-seeded Aryna Sabalenka, who advanced with a 4-6, 6-3, 6-1 win over No. 31 Marketa Vondrousova.

A contender for the No. 1 ranking – Sabalenka can potentially overtake Ash Barty depending on results here – the 23-year-old from Belarus admits her serve is still a work in progress.

The match started ominously, when Sabalenka had two double-faults and was broken in the first game.

But unlike the previous round, when she had nine double-faults in her first two service games and 19 in the match, the semifinalist last year at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open managed to almost halve that glaring statistic.

“I’m really happy right now,” Sabalenka said, laughing, in her on-court TV interview. “Mostly I’m happy I made only 10 double-faults.”

It’s something she’ll be working on ahead of her next match against No. 115-ranked Kaia Kanepi, who has reached the quarterfinals six times at Grand Slam events – but only once since 2013 and never in Australia.

The 14th-seeded Halep advanced with a 6-2, 6-1 victory over Danka Kovinic, a player who is ranked 98th and eliminated U.S. Open champion Emma Raducanu in the previous round.

This was Kovinic’s first appearance in the third round of a major.

Halep, by contrast, can count on plenty of experience in the latter stages of the sport’s biggest events. She won the French Open in 2018 and Wimbledon in 2019 and made it to the final of the 2018 Australian Open before losing to Caroline Wozniacki.

“I feel good, I feel more confident now because last year was a tough year,” Halep said. “So now I just enjoy playing tennis, I’m happy.”

None of the other players remaining the women’s draw has won as many tour-level titles as Halep’s 23.

Halep’s next opponent will be Alize Cornet, who celebrated her 32nd birthday with a 4-6, 6-4, 6-2 victory over No. 29 Tamara Zidansek, a 2021 French Open semifinalist.

Cornet followed up her upset of No. 3 Garbine Muguruza by reaching the fourth round at the Australian Open for the first time since 2009.

In another third-round match ending Saturday afternoon, 27th-seeded Danielle Collins of the U.S. rallied from a set and a break down to beat 19-year-old Clara Tauson 4-6, 6-4, 7-5.

Collins will next meet No. 19 Elise Mertens, who advanced 6-2, 6-2 over Zhang Shuai.

Later on Day 6, U.S. Open champion Daniil Medvedev was aiming to progress in his bid to become the first man in the Open era to win his second Grand Slam title at the major tournament that immediately follows his first such triumph.

Medvedev was the runner-up at Melbourne Park in 2021 and is seeded No. 2 this time.

He might as well as have a No. 1 next to his name, because top-ranked Novak Djokovic never played a point this year after failing in his attempt to get into the tournament despite not being vaccinated against COVID-19.

Medvedev faced 57th-ranked Botic van de Zandschulp on Saturday at Rod Laver Arena.

Alycia Parks reaches 1st WTA quarterfinal in Ostrava

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OSTRAVA, Czech Republic — American qualifier Alycia Parks is having quite the breakthrough tournament in Ostrava.

The 21-year-old Parks earned her first win against a top-10 ranked opponent by beating fourth-seeded Maria Sakkari 5-7, 7-5, 7-5 at the Agel Open on Thursday to reach her first WTA Tour quarterfinal.

The 144th-ranked Parks ousted former No. 1 Karolina Pliskova in the opening round – her first win against a top-20 opponent – and showed off her power by hitting 59 winners against Sakkari, compared to just nine for her opponent.

“I came out here not expecting anything, just playing my game, and it got me through the match,” Parks said.

Parks will next face former French Open champion Barbora Krejcikova, who advanced via walkover when Belinda Bencic withdrew with a left foot injury.

Caty McNally, another American qualifier who is playing doubles with Parks in Ostrava, also reached the last eight by beating wild-card entry Karolina Muchova 6-1, 3-6, 6-1. McNally is also into her first WTA quarterfinal and will face top-ranked Iga Swiatek, who advanced Wednesday.

Djokovic beats Van de Zandschulp to reach Astana quarters

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ASTANA, Kazakhstan — Add Botic van de Zandschulp to the long list of players to have been schooled by Novak Djokovic.

Djokovic eased past Van de Zandschulp 6-3, 6-1 on Thursday in his first career meeting with the 27-year-old Dutchman to reach the quarterfinals of the Astana Open.

Van de Zandschulp earned one break point in each set but couldn’t seriously threaten Djokovic, who is looking for a second straight indoor hardcourt title after winning in Tel Aviv last week.

“(In the) second set I think I started to read his serve better and just started swinging through the court more,” Djokovic said. “Botic is a quality tennis player. When he has time, he can hurt you, so I tried to take away that time from him and I’m very pleased with the way I played, particularly in the second.”

Djokovic will next face Karen Khachanov, who rallied to beat Marin Cilic 2-6, 6-3, 6-3. If the 21-time Grand Slam champion gets past that one, he could come up against fellow former No. 1 Daniil Medvedev. The second-seeded Russian beat Emil Ruusuvuori of Finland 6-3, 6-2 to move one match away from a potential rematch of last year’s U.S. Open final, when Medvedev beat Djokovic to deny his attempt at a calendar-year Grand Slam.

Medvedev will first have to beat Roberto Bautista Agut, who advanced Wednesday.