While Serena Williams soared under lights, fellow major champions Naomi Osaka, Ashleigh Barty, Sofia Kenin and Angelique Kerber did it the hard way to book their respective passages through on Wednesday at Melbourne Park.
Garbine Muguruza was in cruise control, but top Czech pair Karolina Pliskova and Petra Kvitova crashed out on a stacked Wednesday schedule.
Match of the day
(5) Serena Williams v Tsvetana Pironkova – Yarra Valley Classic
Seven-time Australian Open champion Williams had double cause to celebrate her efficient outing at Melbourne Park on Wednesday night.
The fifth seed’s 6-1 6-4 triumph over Tsvetana Pironkova was done and dusted in 75 minutes, a welcome reprieve from the protracted comebacks she has had to mount from a set down in three of her five prior victories over the Bulgarian.
It meant she had sufficient time to make it home before daughter Olympia’s 8.30pm bedtime, too.
“So I'm hoping to rush home and, might make it, but then I'm a little torn,” Williams said. “Then I'm like maybe I should just let her go to bed so she doesn't get too moody. Yeah, she's too hyper. She needs her rest, she's a busy kid. She has a fully booked schedule.”
Williams now meets 13th-seeded compatriot Danielle Collins, who progressed to the quarterfinals 7-6(5) 7-6(3) over No.3 seed Pliskova.
(2) Naomi Osaka v Katie Boulter - Gippsland Trophy
Anime-loving, fashion-forward and a prominent activist, life is rarely dull in Osaka’s world.
In keeping matters on-court as interesting as her pursuits off it, the triple major champion found herself up against it when she met upstart Brit Katie Boulter on Wednesday.
If a tough affair was in order to test the No.2 seed before her Australian Open campaign, it came via her 3-6 6-3 6-1 triumph.
“She was playing really amazing. I thought if I lose it’s OK but I just have to give my best effort,” Osaka said after she extended her winning streak to 13 matches.
“Honestly I like playing long matches just because I feel I like can gauge the conditions of the court and my fitness always gets better. I played a shorter match yesterday so maybe I subconsciously I made myself play a long match today.”
She will meet Romanian Irina-Camelia Begu for a place in the semifinals.
(8) Angelique Kerber v Katerina Siniakova – Grampians Trophy
Former Australian Open champion Kerber’s admission that a hard quarantine stint had only eased her expectations held her in good stead in her first match since the French Open last September.
The AO2016 champion regathered after Katerina Siniakova snatched the second set and secured a 6-3 4-6 6-3 victory on Wednesday night.
The eighth seed had won three of four clashes with the Czech, but had fallen in their most recent, in Rome last year.
Kerber will take on Ons Jabeur for a place in the quarterfinals, after the Tunisian earlier accounted for Russia’s Anna Blinkova.
Yarra Valley Classic
Following Osaka’s early scare, world No.1 Barty hit full throttle from the start line as she steamrolled through the opening set against world No.52 Marie Bouzkova.
There was little in the Czech’s game to trouble Barty early on as she finished the first set with only two winners.
The 16th seed, however, began to find more depth in the second set and was not shy in coming forward more frequently as she levelled the match after 76 minutes.
A string of breaks were swapped throughout the deciding set before Barty hammered home her authority – a 182km/h ace down the T brought up match point, and the 6-0 4-6 6-3 result was soon secure in little more than two hours.
“I think that was the challenge today to make sure that I didn't just bundle up like a bag of spuds and lose what was happening,” Barty said after conceding the second set. “I just needed to stick fat and continue doing the right things.”
Barty will meet unseeded American Shelby Rogers for a semifinal berth.
Superstitions served world No.4 Kenin well on her way to her maiden major last February, however, it turns out Williams was not the only player with Melbourne’s culinary offerings in mind.
The 22-year-old Kenin revealed her superstitions would require an adjustment on the dining front this time round.
“One restaurant we went to last year during lunch it closed, it doesn't exist. A little devastating for me,” Kenin said following her 5-7 7-5 6-1 victory over fellow American Jessica Pegula on Wednesday.
“I'm obviously superstitious. I was planning to go there for Australian Open. No, got to find another way.”
Kenin looked down for the count when trailing a break and 4-1 to Pegula and had fallen to the 26-year-old in their only prior meeting.
The No.2 seed flipped momentum and went on claim her ninth straight win at Melbourne Park.
Sixth seed Muguruza is next in a rematch of last year’s Australian Open final.
The Spaniard trounced 11th seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 6-1 6-2.
Fourth seed Kvitova was the highest seeded casualty in the Yarra Valley Classic draw as the Czech succumbed to 14th seed Nadia Podoroska on Wednesday night.
Kvitova prevailed in a high-quality first set between two of last year’s French Open semifinalists before calling a medical timeout for a foot injury while trailing 1-3 in the second. Podoroska blitzed the second set before the final set built to a thrilling tiebreak, the Argentine edging it to win 5-7 6-1 7-6(7) in two and a half hours.
Podoroska will next meet another Czech, eighth seed Marketa Vondrousova.
While Vegemite on toast won’t be making its way onto Simona Halep’s breakfast plate any time soon, the top seed told commentator Jelena Dokic some of coach Darren Cahill’s Australian influence was beginning to rub off.
“I’m used to ‘let’s have a beer’ and ‘tomorrow’s a new day’,” Halep said.
The Romanian recovered from a break down in the second set to see off German 16th seed Laura Siegemund 6-2 6-4 to reach the quarterfinals on Wednesday, and made no secret the Australian Open was one of her big career goals left to tick off after adding a Wimbledon trophy to her French Open triumph.
“It is, but it’s not easy and it’s still very far,” Halep grinned. “I have to trust and work every day and to believe.”
Halep will face ninth seed Ekaterina Alexandrova for a semifinal spot, following the Russian’s upset of last year’s French Open champion and No.6 seed Iga Swiatek, 6-4 6-2.
Holding momentum for any significant stretch can be a fanciful proposition when Jelena Ostapenko is trading blows and her showdown with No.3 seed Elina Svitolina proved no different.
The 13th-seeded Latvian held three set points on serve only to be broken at 5-3 but had no trouble breaking the Ukrainian when it was her turn to serve for the opening set at 6-5.
Consistency, though, is the biggest factor in the current 10-ranking gap between the pair and after dropping a tight first set, Svitolina held steadier, charging back for a 6-7(4) 6-3 6-3 victory after two hours and 14 minutes.
Her 23 winners paled in comparison to Ostapenko’s 43 but her 27 unforced errors were less than half her opponent’s 65.
Svitolina will meet seventh seed Elise Mertens, after the Belgian became the first to advance to the quarterfinals with a 7-6(1) 6-3 win over French 12th seed Caroline Garcia.
Seventh seed Jennifer Brady had already dipped her feet into match-play this week thanks to a first-round doubles win with Barty, and on Wednesday, the 25-year-old went into battle in her first singles outing of the Grampians Trophy against dual major winner Svetlana Kuznetsova. After conceding the first two games, the American ripped through 12 of the last 13 to reach the second round where she will meet Marta Kostyuk.
Nearly eight years since their only previous meeting, Estonian Anett Kontaveit avenged defeat to Christina McHale 6-1 6-3 to reach the second round at Melbourne Park.
The sixth seed needed just under 90 minutes to set a second-round clash with another American, Bethanie Mattek-Sands, an earlier winner over Barbora Strycova.
Match points to burn
In a showdown where 11 match points arose between them, either Johanna Konta or Irina-Camelia Begu would be left to rue missed opportunities in the Gippsland Trophy Round of 16.
After three hours and 35 minutes, it ended up being the fifth seed, Konta.
Less than five months after claiming the pair’s only prior meeting in Rome, the 29-year-old saved six set points and held two match points in the second-set tie-break only to bow out, 4-6 7-6(10) 7-6(4).
The letdown of losing the second set saw Konta staring down defeat at 3-5 in the deciding set.
She saved three match points on serve, four more on Begu’s subsequent serve – including one off a netcord winner – and another in the tie-break before the Romanian finally made good on her ninth opportunity with a forehand winner into the open court.
Her reward: a quarterfinal clash with No.2 seed Osaka.