Melbourne: Garbine Muguruza’s participation at the Australian Open had been in doubt due to illness but Monday’s demolition of Kiki Bertens to reach the quarter-finals proved she is not only nearing full health but could also be a genuine title contender.
The 26-year-old smashed ninth-seed Bertens 6-3 6-3 on Rod Laver Arena in a little over an hour to advance to her first quarter-final at Melbourne Park since 2017.
The victory followed a similar 6-1 6-2 thrashing of fifth seed Elina Svitolina in the third round and the unseeded Muguruza said she was beginning to feel more comfortable.
“Starting the Grand Slam not feeling great it’s not a good feeling,” she said of the viral illness that forced her out of a warmup tournament in Hobart.
“(I’m) just adapting to every single day, how my body was, how my matches were.
“I feel like my body is getting healthier (and) I’m happy of how I’m dealing with this.”
Former French Open and Wimbledon champion Muguruza entered the tournament unseeded and was viewed as a dangerous floater.
Her lack of match play caught up with her, however, when she lost the opening set of her first-round clash with Shelby Rogers without winning a game, only to battle back for a 0-6 6-1 6-0 victory.
She was also taken to three sets by Australia’s Ajla Tomljanovic in the second round but since then has hit top gear, her win on Monday showing how dangerous she could be coming through the bottom half of the draw.
The Spaniard broke Bertens five times in the match and proved she could still overpower the bigger hitters of the women’s game from the baseline.
“She’s a very solid player, has a big serve. She’s physically very strong,” Muguruza said.
“I was expecting that it’s going to be a tough match because every time we played, it has been like this. I was ready for it (and) I played my game, aggressive game.
“Right away I felt it was working.”
Muguruza, who faces either Angelique Kerber or Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in the quarters, acknowledged that completing the third leg of a career Grand Slam was still in the back of her mind.
“I feel like every player has this desire. If you can achieve it, for sure, to be able to win the whole four, it’s incredible,” she said.
“I don’t think about it all the time, but I do feel like, okay, I don’t have 20 more Australian Opens to play.
“Every time I come here, I’m ... thinking ‘okay, how far can I go this year?’”
Counter-punching Halep beats Mertens
Simona Halep had to be at her counter-punching best to fight off another determined second-set comeback bid from Elise Mertens as the Romanian world number three advanced to the quarter-finals.
Halep, a beaten finalist at Melbourne Park two years ago, moved on with a 6-4 6-4 victory that sets up a meeting with Estonia’s 28th-seed Anett Kontaveit in the last eight.
Halep had lost to Mertens in the Doha final last year when up a set and cruising in the second and the Romanian conceded nerves crept into her game as the momentum shifted on Monday.
“Against her in Doha in the final I was leading a set and 4-2 and lost the match so I knew I had to stay focused until the end,” the two-time Grand Slam champion said.
“To be honest I got a bit nervous at 4-3 (in the second).
“I had in my head she came back in that match, and I have just to pay attention on every ball, not giving up at all, because she can come back strong.”
Mertens blasted bags of winners but also made 38 unforced errors as Halep chased down every ball and made the Belgian work for every point.
The fourth seed’s confidence will have been boosted by the way she was able to raise her game on Monday as she battled the Belgian in lengthy rallies of high quality shot-making.
Halep managed to crack Mertens at crucial moments, breaking for the second time to go 5-4 up in the first set and then serving it out.
She jumped out to a double break 3-0 lead in the second but Mertens came storming back and levelled at 4-4 as a frustrated Halep remonstrated with her box and whacked her racquet into the ground without breaking it.
That outburst seemed to help Halep as she put Mertens under intense pressure in the 11-minute ninth game, which she took on her fifth break point opportunity then sealed the win on her next service game.
“Mentally I think I did a great job today at four-all with those breakpoints, game points,” she said.
“In the end, I got the game and then I served very well the last game.
I feel like I played a better match than all the matches since I’m here.”
Kontaveit holds off teenager Swiatek
Anett Kontaveit fought off a spirited challenge from Polish teenager Iga Swiatek to reach her first Grand Slam quarter-final with a 6-7(4) 7-5 7-5 victory.
The Estonian 28th seed saved 12 break points in a see-saw contest on Melbourne Arena as she battled back from a set down to book a last eight meeting with Halep.
After losing the first set on a tiebreak, 24-year-old Kontaveit twice rallied from a break down to win the second set before racing to a 3-0 lead in the decider.
Swiatek, who mixed 42 winners with 51 unforced errors as she looked to become the youngest quarter-finalist at Melbourne Park since 2007, was not done yet, however.
The 18-year-old showed true grit to get the set back on serve at 5-5 and the match looked destined to be decided in a super tiebreak.
Kontaveit held her nerve and her serve, however, and sealed her place in the quarter-finals with her ninth break of the contest when the tough young Pole hit a backhand return wide.
“I couldn’t be happier, it was such a battle today but so happy I stuck it out,” said Kontaveit, who slumped to 31st in the world after a viral illness cut short her 2019 season.
“I’m very happy to be in the quarter-finals for the first time. I’m still shaking. I was just trying to stay as tough as I could and focus on every point.”
Kontaveit has only played Halep twice, back in 2017 when the former Wimbledon and French Open champion first topped the world rankings.
The Estonian lost the matches in Rome and Miami in straight sets and knows she will have her work cut out against the fourth seed in Melbourne.
“Simona’s so tough so I’ll probably have to do everything well,” she said.
“I have nothing to lose so I’ll just go out and give it my all.”
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Updated Date: Jan 27, 2020 15:59:27 IST