Ruthless Djokovic, Sabalenka advance to quarter-finals at Australian Open

Novak Djokovic advanced to the quarter-finals of the Australian Open on Monday, while Aryna Sabalenka was an equally ruthless winner.

After a series of shocks at Melbourne Park, normality was more or less restored on the eighth day, with the exception of fourth seed Caroline Garcia who was left under the weight of expectations.

Djokovic defeated Alex de Minaur with a loss of just five matches to storm into the quarter-finals and escalate his bid for a 10th Melbourne title, and a record-tying 22nd major title.

He will meet fifth seed Andrei Rublev in the semi-finals after he knocked out the talented Danish teenager Holger Rohn in a thrilling five-set match at Rod Laver Arena.

And the Serb’s 6-2 6-1 6-2 thrashing of the 22nd seed at home hoped De Minaur was also important as his troublesome left hamstring was much improved.

Asked afterwards how so supportive he was, Djokovic told the crowd, “Because I wanted to.”

The 35-year-old described it as his “best match of the year so far” and a “perfect match”.

He added from his hamstring: “Tonight I didn’t feel any pain. I moved like I did the whole tournament.

“This means we are moving in the right direction.”

His next opponent Rublev admitted he was “lucky” after saving two match points against Roone in an energy-draining heat.

He described hitting the 19-year-old as “not like a roller coaster, like they put a gun to your head. An easier roller coaster”.

In the men’s draw rocked by shocks, including the second-round exit of champion Rafael Nadal, there will be a quarter-final clash between two unseeded Americans.

20-year-old Ben Chilton, on his first outing outside the US, came out in another five sets against friend and fellow American JJ Wolfe.

Shilton is the fourth player in the past 20 years to reach the quarter-finals of Melbourne on his debut.

“Surprising for sure,” said Shelton, the 89th-ranked who was a year ago at the University of Florida and 569th in the world.

“This is my first time, not being out of the US, I knew it was going to be a struggle,” he added.

“So I think maybe it kind of helped me not having that expectation or feeling that I had to perform, but just being able to go out there, be myself and play for free.”

He plays Tommy Paul, who defeated 24th seed Roberto Bautista Agut of Spain.

– ‘Uncomfortable’ Garcia –

In the women’s draw, Garcia became the latest top 10 seed to fall, after an upset defeat by Magda Linette, ranked 45th in the world.

This is the first major tournament since the open era began in 1968 that the top two finishers in the men’s and women’s ties lose out before the quarter-finals.

She stunned unseeded Paul-Lenette Garcia 7-6 (7/3) 6-4 and the Frenchwoman admitted that expectations and nerves got the better of her.

When asked if it was difficult to deal with being one of the favorites to win the title, she replied: “Yes, I think so.

“It’s one of the things I’m not comfortable with.”

Lynette said she “couldn’t believe it” because she reached her first Grand Slam quarter-final at the age of 30.

She faces Karolina Pliskova after the former world number one defeated China’s Zhang Shuai 6-0, 6-4.

Sabalenka never looked like she was going to follow top seed Ija Swiatek, Garcia and the rest from the first major of the year.

Belarusian and American third seed Jessica Pegula – both chasing their first major crown – are now the women to beat.

Sabalenka defeated dangerous 12th seed Belinda Bencic 7-5, 6-2 to set up a quarter-final clash against unseeded Donna Vekic, who beat 17-year-old Linda Frohvertova in three sets.

A hard-hitting Sabalenka ran to her first quarter-final at the Australian Open and said: “All my life, it took me a while to realize that negative emotions aren’t going to help you on the court.

“You just have to stay strong and believe no matter what, and then do whatever you can.”

blast, pst

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