MELBOURNE, Jan 21 (Reuters) – Fifth seed Andrey Rublev avoided a third round banana skin in the form of Briton Dan Evans at the Australian Open on Saturday after former world number one Karolina Pliskova sailed into the last 16 of the women’s tournament.
Red-headed Russian Rublev has found Evans a handful in the past but swept aside the 25th seed 6-4 6-2 6-3 with 60 winners on a glorious afternoon at Melbourne Park.
A quarter-finalist two years ago, Rublev had unleashed on the chair umpire in his previous match after being warned for an audible obscenity.
But it was all smooth sailing against Evans, who obligingly threw Rublev a banana during a change of ends at sun-drenched Margaret Court Arena when the Russian came up empty in his search for a snack.
“I didn’t ask him (for one), I asked the ball-boy,” said Rublev, who will meet Danish young gun Holger Rune for a place in the quarter-finals.
“He helped me with some energy, for sure.”
Pliskova, renowned for being a former world number one without a Grand Slam title, beat Russian Varvara Gracheva 6-4 6-2 in the early match at Rod Laver Arena to book a fourth round spot against China’s Zhang Shuai.
Twice major finalist Pliskova missed last year’s tournament after breaking her arm in a freak gym accident but victory over 23rd seed Zhang would continue the tall Czech’s resurgence following her quarter-final run at Flushing Meadows.
“Last couple years were tough, especially missing it last year,” she told reporters.
“I think the conditions here, they can be quite good for me.”
In the bottom quarter of the women’s draw, 12th seed Belinda Bencic continued her smooth run with a 6-2 7-5 win over Camila Giorgi in the second match at Rod Laver Arena.
Olympic champion Bencic has now racked up nine straight wins, including the Adelaide International ‘2’ title, in a near-perfect start to the season, a few months after linking up with Emma Raducanu’s former coach Dmitry Tursunov.
“It’s working really well. I’m changing some things, (going) out of my comfort zone,” the Swiss said on court.
“But I’m really happy with the start of the season.”
Unseeded Croatian Donna Vekic joined Bencic in the last 16 with a 6-2 6-2 win over Spain’s Nuria Parrizas Diaz.
Men’s ninth seed Rune, one of the game’s most exciting young talents, suffered a horrid-looking fall against Ugo Humbert at John Cain Arena when his ankle rolled as he ran for a shot.
After a lengthy medical time-out, the 19-year-old returned to complete an impressive 6-4 6-2 7-6(5) win over the Frenchman.
Rune said he was in pain but the doctor had given him the all-clear to continue.
“I’m feeling better than I expected. My ankle is good, my wrist is hurting a bit. Of course, it was painful but I tried to focus on something else,” he told the crowd.
Reporting by Ian Ransom in Melbourne; Editing by Peter Rutherford
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