Reigning champions Naomi Osaka and Novak Djokovic won in straight sets in windy conditions on Wednesday to continue their title defence campaigns at the Australian Open, as did seven-time Melbourne champion Serena Williams and women’s top seed Ash Barty.
Osaka showed signs of frustration as she struggled with consistency in her 6-2, 6-4 win over China’s Saisai Zheng.
Djokovic had smoother sailing as he defeated Japan’s Tatsuma Ito 6-1, 6-4, 6-2, as did local hope Barty in her 6-1, 6-4 rout of Slovenia’s Polona Hercog.
Williams meanwhile defeated 22-year-old Tamara Zidansek 6-2, 6-3 in a match less straightforward than the scoreline would suggest at Rod Laver Arena.
In other action, the 2018 champion Caroline Wozniacki roared back from 5-1 down in the first set and 3-0 down in the second to defeat 23rd seed Dayana Yastremska 7-5, 7-5 in her farewell tournament.
Melbourne Arena saw a different dramatic comeback, as teen sensation Coco Gauff fought her way from a set down to a third round match up with Osaka four months after meeting her at the US Open – making headlines for a touching post-match moment.
Two seeds in the men’s draw, number eight Matteo Berrettini and number 18 Grigor Dimitrov, also appeared set for an impressive rebound from two sets down but both failed to close the deal against low-ranked Americans.
Bulgaria’s Dimitrov ultimately lost to Tommy Paul 6-4, 7-6 (8-6), 3-6, 6-7 (3-7), 7-6 (10-3) in the longest Melbourne match so far with four hours and 19 minutes of play.
Italy’s Berrettini, a 2019 US Open semi-finalist like the Bulgarian, went out against world number 100 Tennys Sandgren 7-6 (9-7), 6-4, 4-6, 2-6, 7-5.
Women’s eleventh seed Aryna Sabalenka on Wednesday became the highest seed to fall in the first round of the Open, losing to veteran Carla Suarez Navarro 7-6 (8-6), 7-6 (8-6) in a game rescheduled from Tuesday – a knock-on of Monday’s bad weather.
Osaka had a few stumbles on her way to the third round, failing to consolidate an early break in the first before breaking the Chinese twice more and taking the first set with a ripper forehand down the line at the end of a 14-shot rally.
Early in the second set she kicked her racquet in frustration after dropping serve on 1-1 with another unforced error as Zheng continued playing an extremely defensive match.
After another moment of frustration as she handed the Chinese a 4-2 advantage, Osaka turned things around, winning the remaining four games to close the game out in 80 minutes.
“I mean, my racquet just magically flew out of my hand,” Osaka said smiling to journalists after the match, “I couldn’t control it. Sorry, Yonex. I think that’s how I dealt with my frustration.”
Over at Rod Laver Arena, Barty took just over an hour to dismiss Hercog, continuing on the strong backhand of her opening outing against Ukraine’s Lesia Tsurenko, when she won 5-7, 6-1, 6-1.
“It was important for me to get a good start, and I was able to do that,” Barty said.
Later on the main stage Williams struggled with her consistency in the match against Zidansek with 28 unforced errors to 25 winners.
In the second set the young Slovenian got close to a break on 3-2, but Williams managed to hold before putting her foot on the gas and winning four straight games to close the match.
Williams is bidding to win a record-tying 24th grand slam singles title in Melbourne, where she lifted her last grand slam trophy in 2017 whilst eight weeks pregnant with daughter Alexis Olympia.
At Margaret Court Arena another illustrious career, that of Danish star Wozniacki, looked set to end with an early exit from the Melbourne slam, but the former world number one had other plans.
The power of Yastremska, seeded 23rd, appeared to be too much for the former world number one as she got to a 5-1 lead in the first set. But Wozniacki roared back, winning 15 of 16 points – 14 consecutive – to even the score 5-5.
The Dane then ground to hold her serve in a 14-point game and broke the Ukrainian to take the first 7-5.
After winning six straight games, Wozniacki found herself back in a 3-0 hole, but again showed off the defensive skills she is famous for as she brought things back to 4-4 before finally closing the game in just over two hours.
“I was really nervous going into my first round, actually today I felt pretty calm, and quickly it became 5-1, and I was saying ‘ok, well, hopefully I can be out here for another 30 minutes, you know, to try and take it in,” Wozniacki said in her on court interview.
Men’s sixth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece was also through to the third round of the slam after Germany’s Philipp Kohlschreiber withdrew.