Australian Open: Pliskova, Bencic bounced as more top seeds crumble

andrew hendrie:

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova conquered Karolina Pliskova for the first time, while Anett Kontaveit demolished Belinda Bencic as more top women’s seeds fell at the Australian Open on Saturday.

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With Serena Williams, Naomi Osaka, Caroline Wozniacki and Madison Keys all biting the dust on a frantic Friday at Melbourne Park, two more top 10 seeds followed them out of the Australian Open on Saturday, with second seed Pliskova and sixth seed Bencic both bounced in straight sets.

Pavlyuchenkova, a two-time Australian Open quarter-finalist, earned her first win over Pliskova in seven attempts as she overcame the Czech 7-6(4) 7-6(3) in a titanic tussle that lasted two hours and 25 minutes.

A 30-point opening service game for Pliskova set the tone for the rest of the match as the pair traded blows from the baseline, but it was Pavlyuchenkova who was the more reliable when it came to the crunch in both tiebreaks, coming from a mini-break down in the second set to win four straight points and clinch the match when the second seed netted a forehand.

It’s the third time in the last four years that Pavlyuchenkova has advanced to the second week at the Australian Open. A former junior champion at Melbourne Park, the 28-year-old said in her on-court post-match interview she had the belief she can go all the way in what is another wide open women’s major field.

Karolina Pliskova (AAP Image/Rob Prezioso)

Meanwhile, it was yet another disappointing loss at a slam for Pliskova, with the former World No. 1 now failing to make it past the fourth round at her last four majors. Pliskova was defending semi-final points from the Australian Open last year and at best will drop to No. 3 after the tournament.

While Pliskova toiled away for over two hours before succumbing, Bencic was put to the sword in less than an hour, suffering a 0-6 1-6 whitewash to Kontaveit in just 49 minutes.

It was a near-flawless performance from Kontaveit, with the Estonian firing 21 winners to just seven unforced errors to claim the 10th top 10 scalp of her career.

Kontaveit is into the Australian Open fourth round for the second time in three years after also doing so in 2018. The 24-year-old faces Iga Swiatek for a place in the quarter-finals after the 18-year-old rising star knocked off 19th seed Donna Vekic in straight sets.

Swiatek, who is playing her first tournament since the U.S. Open after being sidelined with a stress fracture in her right foot, is competing in the fourth round of a major for the second time after breaking through at Roland Garros last year. The Polish player is the second teenager into the fourth round after 15-year-old Coco Gauff’s stunning upset of defending champion Osaka on Friday night.

Elsewhere, 2016 champion Angelique Kerber – only Australian Open winner left in the draw – continues to fly under the radar, with the German making the fourth round with a three-set win over Camila Giorgi.

Kerber will face Pavlyuchenkova in the Round of 16, while 2018 runner-up and reigning Wimbledon champion Simona Halep avoided the mass exit of seeds, with the No. 4 cruising to a 6-1 6-4 win over Yulia Putintseva.

Halep awaits the winner of Elise Mertens and CiCi Bellis in the fourth round.