Barty keeps Aussie hopes on track with easy win; racquet-smashing Pliskova falls to Muchova; Bopanna also bows out
Rafael Nadal stayed on course for a record 21st Grand Slam title at a fan-free Australian Open on Saturday as Ashleigh Barty gave locked-down Melbourne something to cheer.
As Victoria State went into a snap, five-day lockdown to curb a coronavirus outbreak, Daniil Medvedev, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Andrey Rublev all reached the last 16 at an eerily empty Melbourne Park.
But World No. 1 Novak Djokovic, the defending champion and holder of a record eight Australian Open titles, faced a race to be fit for his third-round clash on Sunday.
The loss of Djokovic, 33, would be another blow for the tournament, reducing the men’s ‘Big Three’ to just one — Nadal — with Roger Federer already sidelined by injury.
Nadal, who has his own injury concerns with a stiff lower back, faced down his toughest test so far with a 7-5, 6-2, 7-5 win over British leftie Cameron Norrie.
Barty, the women’s top seed, also said it was “very strange” to play behind closed doors, a day after more than 22,000 fans visited Melbourne Park.
Barty’s straightforward 6-2, 6-4 win over Russia’s Ekaterina Alexandrova put her into the fourth round without dropping a set as she bids to become the first Australian winner since Chris O’Neil in 1978.
Into a bubble
Players were ordered into a biosecure “bubble” during the lockdown, just the latest coronavirus disruption for a tournament that was pushed back three weeks to allow for quarantines.
As play unfolded in the empty arenas, former World No. 1 Karolina Pliskova had a racquet-smashing tantrum en route to a 7-5, 7-5 defeat by fellow Czech Karolina Muchova.
“It’s a different atmosphere, different vibe,” said Greek World No. 6 Tsitsipas, after his 6-4, 6-1, 6-1 win over Mikael Ymer.
Tsitsipas beat Ymer in a silent John Cain Arena — which had been packed with thousands of noisy fans late on Friday for Australian player Nick Kyrgios’ defeat by Dominic Thiem.
Indian campaign ends
Meanwhile, Rohan Bopanna and his Chinese partner Yingying Duan lost 4-6, 4-6 to American Bethanie Mattek-Sands and UK’s Jamie Murray.