Former world No.1 Simona Halep is gathering momentum at Australian Open 2022, having dropped just 12 games in total to seal a spot in the second week.
Halep, seeded 14th this fortnight, routed Danka Kovinic 6-2 6-1 in 64 minutes at John Cain Arena on Saturday, keeping her energy expenditure to a minimum on a hot summer's day at Melbourne Park.
Halep, Danielle Collins and Alize Cornet cemented their victories within a few minutes of one another on the tournament's three main arenas, results that set up some intriguing fourth-round clashes.
Halep continues to look brilliant so far in 2022, improving her win-loss record to 8-0.
Kovinic had in the previous round stunned reigning US Open champion Emma Raducanu to become the first player representing Montenegro to advance to the last 32 at a major.
But she was no match for the Romanian, who has progressed to the second week in her past five visits to Melbourne, and has now won 31 matches at Melbourne Park – equalling her tally at Roland Garros, the Slam at which she had previously notched the most singles victories.
"(This is the best I've played in) the last months," said Halep, who won the Melbourne Summer Set 1 title to open the season.
"I feel great physically, first of all. Mentally I'm confident and also strong, I would say. Feeling the game. Feeling joy out there. I think that helps me to be positive and to be confident that I have a chance every time I step on the court.
"I feel I'm in a good spot. I really trust that I can play good tennis here."
Riding a streak of 11 consecutive sets won, Halep will next face Cornet, who recovered from a set and 4-1 down to topple Tamara Zidansek 4-6 6-4 6-2 on her 32nd birthday.
Cornet had upset world No.3 Garbine Muguruza in the previous round, and she ensured her stay in Melbourne will extend at least another two days after overcoming 29th seed Zidansek – a semifinalist at Roland Garros last year – in a gruelling two-hour, 43-minute encounter.
Thirteen years after first reaching the last 16 at the Australian Open as a teenager, Cornet will play Halep for a place in her first-ever Grand Slam quarterfinal.
"I just kept going, I was just fighting, I put all the resilience I could put in this match, and finally I came back," said Cornet, who leads the head-to-head with Halep 3-1.
"It's a magic win for me. I'm so happy."
In a thriller at Rod Laver Arena, Collins out-duelled impressive Danish teenager Clara Tauson to progress in the same quarter of the draw as Halep and Cornet.
In a battle of memorable rallies and aggressive ball-striking, Collins forged ahead 4-1 in the first set only for Tauson to recover and build her own 6-4 4-2 lead.
But Collins, one of the game's grittiest and most intense fighters, willed herself to a 4-6 6-4 7-5 triumph on her fourth match point.
"A long battle today, but super happy to be able to pull it out, especially after how that first set ended," the 27th seed said.
"I was getting pretty hard on myself... I needed to just try to get my rhythm back and get into some long rallies, and really make her play and work for it.
"We're gonna be seeing some really good results from her going forward, so it's going to be exciting."
An Australian Open semifinalist in 2019, Collins will meet an AO 2018 semifinalist in Elise Mertens, who dominated Zhang Shuai for the loss of only four games.
In 70 minutes at KIA Arena, Mertens posted a 6-2 6-2 victory, committing only nine unforced errors while Zhang sprayed 28.
Mertens advances to the second week at Melbourne Park for the third straight year.
Later on Saturday, former world No.15 Kaia Kanepi survived a fright against Australian wildcard Maddison Inglis before storming to victory.
The 24-year-old Inglis dominated the first set before Kanepi adjusted and settled; the Estonian veteran, who turns 37 this year, won 10 of the last 11 games of the match to advance 2-6 6-2 6-0.
Kanepi, who upset AO 2016 champion Angelique Kerber in the first round, now stands one win away from her seventh career Grand Slam quarterfinal.
She will take on world No.2 Aryna Sabalenka – who beat 31st seed Marketa Vondrousova in three – in a bid to get there.