After appearing in the Wimbledon final last year, Matteo Berrettini's bid for a maiden quarterfinal at The Australian Open moved a step closer on Wednesday. In the process, he set a showdown with history-maker Carlos Alcaraz, while Denis Shapovalov went the distance.
Aslan Karatsev won again despite a five-hour contest in the first round, but Wimbledon semifinalist Hubert Hurkacz wasn’t as fortunate, becoming the first top-10 men's seed to depart.
Matteo marches on after tummy troubles
Wrap Matteo Berrettini up in cotton wool when in Melbourne.
Last year, an abdominal injury forced the Italian to concede a walkover against Stefanos Tsitsipas in the fourth round, paving the way for the Greek's thriller against Rafael Nadal.
Berrettini complained of an upset stomach in his first match this week against the rising Brandon Nakashima – thanking Imodium afterwards – and the seventh seed slipped near the locker room ahead of his tussle on Wednesday against another American, Stefan Kozlov.
Thankfully, he was fine.
Berrettini overcame a second-set dip to down the wildcard contesting his first Grand Slam, 6-1 4-6 6-4 6-1.
"It's better," Berrettini said in his on-court interview when asked how his body felt post-tummy woes. "Any worse and it would be tough. It's definitely better.
"It's never easy to recover from something like that. That's why my energy wasn't the highest I ever had but today was important to win and I did it."
Things got complicated for Berrettini after missing three-straight break points at 2-2 in the second set.
But his stunning backhand return winner down the line with the 2014 junior runner-up serving and volleying on set point in the third proved decisive.
Kozlov – whose baseline shots offer good disguise – then appeared to suffer from cramp in the fourth.
"It was a really tough match," said Berrettini, watched by Australian girlfriend and World No.43 Ajla Tomljanovic. "He is a really tricky player.
"I think I started pretty well and then he started playing better. I wasn't feeling my strokes as the first set. I had to fight through."
Alcaraz continues to roll
Carlos Alcaraz is aiming for a spot in the world's top 15 this year. Given his progress – not to mention ability – it wouldn't appear to be an unrealistic goal.
The 18-year-old became the youngest man to reach the third round at the Australian Open since Bernard Tomic in 2011 after he beat Dusan Lajovic 6-2 6-1 7-5 for a seventh consecutive win.
The No.31 seed encountered resistance in the third set – trailing 4-2 against the Serb with the picturesque one-handed backhand – before grabbing five of the final six games.
Known for his booming baseline drives, a deft drop shot from the Spaniard flummoxed Lajovic on match point.
Through two matches, he has yet to surrender a set.
And doing so in a sleeveless shirt revealing his ripped biceps, drawing some comparisons to a teenaged Rafael Nadal all those years ago.
In a huge third-round clash, Alcaraz next meets Berrettini.
Shapovalov battles to another win
If a fan of hard, flat groundstrokes – and roars of "come on" – then Denis Shapovalov's match against Soonwoo Kwon at Margaret Court Arena was the place to be.
A veritable slugfest and the flashy Shapovalov won it in a bruising four-and-a-half hours, 7-6(6) 6-7(3) 6-7(6) 7-5 6-2.
"Probably going to sleep in the ice bath tonight," joked Shapovalov, who endured a three-and-a-half-hour battle in the first round versus Laslo Djere.
Last year's Wimbledon semifinalist from Canada crushed 29 aces.
A key moment? Shapovalov escaping a break point at 2-2 in the fourth when the South Korean elected to lob instead of rip a backhand with his opponent stranded at the net.
Karatsev rebounds after epic
Taken to five sets and five hours by Jaume Munar in the first round after his title win in Sydney, one had to wonder how Aslan Karatsev felt physically.
That marathon may yet catch up with the pure-striking Russian, but he advanced in Wednesday's night session, coming from a set down for the second consecutive outing. This time, the opponent was American Mackenzie McDonald.
Karatsev tidied up his unforced error tally in the 3-6 6-2 6-2 6-3 win, hitting 43 winners and 45 unforced errors. Munar coaxed more than 100 unforced errors out of last year’s unlikely semifinalist at Melbourne Park.
Hubi comes unstuck
Subtract Wimbledon and Hubert Hurkacz has yet to reach the third round at a Grand Slam.
The Pole was foiled in his efforts by Adrian Mannarino, who went through 6-4 6-2 6-3 in barely over two hours.
Hurkacz rode his serve to glory at Wimbledon but against the Frenchman who is accustomed to redirecting pace, he won only 57 per cent of his first-serve points.
And while Mannarino profited by going 6-for-14 on break points, Hurkacz’s ratio sunk to a mere 1-for-10.
Mannarino, who plays Karatsev in the third roundm ended a notable drought as he pulled off a first top-20 win at a Grand Slam since beating compatriot Gael Monfils at Wimbledon in 2017.
Zverev wastes no time
In the final match at Rod Laver Arena on Wednesday, third seed Alexander Zverev made light work of a potentially tricky second-round opponent in Australia's John Millman, winning through 6-4 6-4 6-0 in a tick under two hours.
Millman regularly lifts at his home major, memorably taking Roger Federer to five sets in Melbourne in 2020, but the German increased his head-to-head advantage over the Australian to three wins from as many meetings with an assured display.
Zverev meets Moldovan qualifier Radu Albot on Friday for a place in the fourth round.