Melbourne, Jan 22: As Daniil Medvedev sat courtside trying to re-hydrate during a changeover, an image of nine-time Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic flashed up in the stadium behind him.
It was in the third set Saturday, and it was like the absent No. 1 was looking over the shoulder of the player who is effectively the No. 1 seed at the year’s first Grand Slam tournament.
Medvedev, who lost last year’s Australian Open final to Djokovic but avenged that with a victory over the Serb for the U.S. Open title, reached the fourth round for the fourth straight year at Melbourne Park with a 6-4, 6-4, 6-2 win over Botic van de Zandschulp.
The 25-year-old Russian was a conspicuous fan favorite on Margaret Court Arena, too, two days after being unsettled by the boos and jeers of a parochial crowd on Rod Laver Arena when he ended the run of mercurial Aussie Nick Kyrgios.
He was critical of a lack of respect in that match — mostly about the noise between first and second serves — and this time offered some relationship advice to the crowd.
“Every good relationship must have its ups and downs,” he said in his on-court TV interview, explaining that he planned to be back on court quite often in the future.
“I hope it’s going to be more good times than bad times, otherwise it doesn’t work.”
Medvedev later clarified he didn’t have a problem with the Australian crowds and had been fully expecting to have them against him when he played Kyrgios — just not while he was in his service motion.
“The other night I was playing against an Australian player, very electric Australian player,” he said.
“After the match, I think it was, yeah, straightaway pretty actually fun for everybody.
“That’s how I felt, and I didn’t see actually a lot of let’s say negative reactions.” Medvedev avoided a showdown with Djokovic after the world’s top-ranked player had his visa canceled and was deported on the eve of the tournament for failing to meet Australia’s strict COVID-19 vaccination criteria.
He also avoided another match against an Australian in the fourth round when wildcard entry Chris O’Connell lost to Maxime Cressy 6-2, 6-7 (6), 6-3, 6-2.
Cressy’s win means there’s two 24-year-old Americans who’ll be in the fourth round of a major for their first time.
No. 70-ranked Cressy is in his fourth Grand Slam tournament. No. 20-ranked Taylor Fritz finally made it in his 22nd attempt, with a 6-0, 3-6, 3-6, 6-4, 6-3 win over No. 15 Roberto Bautista Agut, and said it “means a ton.” “I mean, it’s huge. Like after that match I was almost close to like tearing up a bit,” Fritz said. “It seems stupid, because so many people have made the second week of Slams but it’s just, like, eluded me for so long.
“I never doubted it would happen,” he added, “but I definitely, definitely was getting sick of playing, you know, Top 4 player for the opportunity every time.” Fritz will next play fourth-seeded Stefanos Tsitsipas, a runner-up at the French Open and semifinalist in Australia last year, who fended off Benoit Paire 6-3, 7-5, 6-7 (2), 6-4.
No. 9 Felix Auger-Aliassime progressed with a 6-4, 6-1, 6-1 win over No. 24 Dan Evans, winning 14 of the last 16 games.
On the women’s side, two-time Grand Slam champion Simona Halep is into Week 2 at Melbourne Park for the fifth consecutive year after a 6-2, 6-1 victory over Danka Kovinic.
She’ll be joined by second-seeded Aryna Sabalenka, who advanced with a 4-6, 6-3, 6-1 win over No. 31 Marketa Vondrousova.
A contender for the No. 1 ranking — Sabalenka can potentially overtake Ash Barty depending on results here — the 23-year-old from Belarus admits her serve is still a work in progress.
The match started ominously, when Sabalenka had two double-faults and was broken in the first game.
But unlike the previous round, when she had nine double-faults in her first two service games and 19 in the match, the semifinalist last year at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open managed to almost halve that glaring statistic.
“I’m really happy right now,” Sabalenka said, laughing, in her on-court TV interview.
“Mostly I’m happy I made only 10 double-faults.”
It’s something she’ll be working on ahead of her next match against No. 115-ranked Kaia Kanepi, who has reached the quarterfinals six times at Grand Slam events — but only once since 2013 and never in Australia.
In other third-round matches, 27th-seeded Danielle Collins of the U.S. Rallied from a set and a break down to beat 19-year-old Clara Tauson 4-6, 6-4, 7-5. She’ll next meet No. 19 Elise Mertens, who advanced 6-2, 6-2 over Zhang Shuai. No. 7 Iga Swaitek, the 2020 French Open champion, beat No. 25 Daria Kasatkina 6-2, 6-3.
None of the other players remaining the women’s draw has won as many tour-level titles as Halep’s 23.
Halep’s next opponent will be Alize Cornet, who celebrated her 32nd birthday with a 4-6, 6-4, 6-2 victory over No. 29 Tamara Zidansek, a 2021 French Open semifinalist.
Cornet followed up her upset of No. 3 Garbiñe Muguruza by reaching the fourth round at the Australian Open for the first time since 2009. (Agencies)