Muguruza, Karatsev turn up the heat as Murray fights on in Sydney

  • Alex Sharp

A plethora of key contenders rose to the occasion at the Sydney Tennis Classic with quarterfinal spots up for grabs on Wednesday. 
 
World No.3 Garbine Muguruza launched her 2022 campaign in straight sets, and was joined on the winners' list by fellow top-10 talents Barbora Krejcikova, Anett Kontaveit, Paula Badosa and Ons Jabeur
 
In the men's draw, top seed Aslan Karatsev harnessed fond memories from his 2021 magic in Melbourne to earn his first win of the season, edging Serbian Miomir Kecmanovic 7-5 6-4.  

However, five-time Australian Open finalist Andy Murray was in warrior mode once again to dismiss second seed Nikoloz Basilashvili in a midnight marathon. 
 
Former world No.1 Murray withstood a barrage of explosive shots and 59 winners from the Georgian to win 6-7(4) 7-6(3) 6-3 over three hours and 13 minutes.  
 
"I'd rather make it a bit easier on myself," quipped the world No.135, who takes on the rejuvenated David Goffin next. 
 
"That was an unbelievably tough match, he's hitting the ball consistently bigger than anyone on tour. I was having to do a lot of defending and running." 

Murray was forced to dig deep to repel the clean-hitting Basilashvili

Muguruza finished last year with WTA Finals glory in Guadalajara, Mexico, and transferred that form to Sydney. The Spaniard dug deep to fend off five set points to prevail 6-1 7-6(4) versus Ekaterina Alexandrova.  
 
The second seed was impressed by her composure back within the cauldron of competition.

Muguruza got her 2022 campaign off to the perfect start on Wednesday

"I was happy to manage the anxiety, playing the first match of the year. You want to win and you want to start with the right foot," mused Muguruza. 

"Just managing those moments that the last match was two months ago, so it's been a while." 
 
The 28-year-old has navigated to three finals Down Under, including a runner-up spot at Australian Open 2020.  
 
"I feel like feeling that if you work so hard in the off-season and then you come and you have all this energy and all these things in mind to put in the game and some sort of freshness in the mindset," added the two-time Grand Slam champion. 

"There are great tournaments, great environment. I feel like, 'Why not?'" 

Daria Kasatkina awaits in the last eight having eliminated Elise Mertens 6-3 6-4, with Muguruza holding a slender 3-2 head-to-head advantage.  

Indian Wells champion Badosa fended off a spirited effort from Australian No.2 Ajla Tomljanovic 6-3 6-4 to open the night session. 
 
The world No.9's cannonball forehands and depth on return wrestled away the initiative to accelerate to a set and 3-1 lead. 
 
Tomljanovic rallied with some risky strikes to edge some lung-bursting rallies, forcing the Spaniard to raise her game. Badosa obliged, securing a pivotal break back in a grueling nine-minute game at 3-4 with an instinctive forehand return winner. 
 
Jabeur's patience against Petra Kvitova was rewarded with a 6-4 6-4 triumph over the powerful two-time Wimbledon winner. 
 
The Tunisian hadn't won a set in their previous three encounters and had been formulating a plan with her team how to tackle players such as Kvitova, who give opponents minimal time to react. 

Jabeur turned the tables against Kvitova in Sydney

"Was very important. For some reason I was talking to my coach about it, that I wanted to win at least once against her," Jabeur said, having battled back from 3-1 down in each set.

"She's the kind of player that puts a lot of pressure on me that I don't particularly like, and that gave me the courage to work on this style of a game." 

The world No.10 lined up a quarterfinal clash with fourth seed Kontaveit, who enjoyed an efficient 6-3 6-1 win over Elena-Gabriela Ruse. 
 
Kontaveit pipped Jabeur to a spot in the WTA Finals in the climax of the 2021 campaign, but the Tunisian has claimed their past three battles, most recently 7-5 6-3 at Indian Wells.  
 
"Anett is a great player. We had our moments last year. I told her, 'You're obsessed with me, you always follow me, so stop'," added Jabeur with a grin. 

"I know the pressure is on me, not really on her. But maybe some payback for last year." 
 
Roland Garros champion Krejcikova is up and running, fending off stern resistance from Jaqueline Cristan 6-1 7-5 to advance to a final-eight meeting with Caroline Garcia.  

Russia's Karatsev burst onto the major stage at the Australian Open last February, compiling a dream run to the semifinals. Now an established top-20 player, the 28-year-old ignited his 2022 season with a strong serving display, winning 88 per cent of points off first delivery against world No.78 Kecmanovic. 

Karatsev's serve barely gave Kecmanovic a look-in

Karatsev will have his work cut out with fifth seed Lorenzo Sonego next. Sonego swept aside Argentine Next Gen prodigy Sebastian Baez 6-2 6-3.
 
Great Britain's Dan Evans continued his supreme ATP Cup form to soar past Pedro Martinez for the loss of just five games.  
 
Reilly Opelka dominated proceedings 6-3 6-2 against local Jordan Thompson, with 10 aces serving up a last-eight encounter with countryman Brandon Nakashima. The American youngster chalked up a second career win over Fabio Fognini 7-6(7) 7-6(6) in two hours.