Medvedev on march into Melbourne second week, Halep on comeback trail

Russia’s Daniil Medvedev in action during his second round match against Australia’s Nick Kyrgios at Melbourne Park, Melbourne, January 20, 2022. — Reuters pic

MELBOURNE, Jan 22 ― World number two Daniil Medvedev will step up his march towards the Australian Open men’s title today while a resurgent Simona Halep eyes a place in the second week of the Grand Slam.

US Open champion Medvedev cemented his status as tournament favourite by overcoming the mercurial Nick Kyrgios in four sets in a raucous second-round encounter on Thursday.

Medvedev, the de facto top seed after Novak Djokovic was deported on the eve of the tournament, now faces a more conventional opponent in Dutch world number 57 Botic van de Zandschulp for a place in the last 16.

But he will not take his opponent lightly in their third-round meeting.

“Grand Slams are tough, there are going to be tough opponents,” said Medvedev.

“Sometimes you lose early, sometimes you lose late, sometimes you win it. I just want to play really good.”

Former women’s number one Halep tumbled down the rankings after an injury-blighted 2021 but said she had given her best performance of the year in beating Beatriz Haddad Maia of Brazil 6-2, 6-0 in the second round.

“I played well and I felt very confident on court,” said 14th seed Halep, who now faces world number 98 Danka Kovinic, the conqueror of US Open champion Emma Raducanu.

“I felt great, everything. Was the best match.”

With Andy Murray and Raducanu out, the weight of British expectation now falls entirely on the shoulders of 24th seed Dan Evans.

The last Brit standing had an unexpected day off on Thursday when his French opponent Arthur Rinderknech pulled out with injury giving him a walkover into the third round.

Evans faces in-form ninth seed Felix Auger-Aliassime, who was part of Canada’s ATP Cup-winning team in Sydney earlier this month.

Sabalenka serve woes

There is an intriguing clash between fifth seed Andrey Rublev of Russia and 2018 Melbourne Park finalist Marin Cilic of Croatia that has the potential to be a late-night classic on Margaret Court Arena.

Cilic pushed Roger Federer to five sets in the final four years ago and the big-serving 27th seed is capable of upsetting anyone.

Fourth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas is a potential semi-final opponent for Medvedev, but first he needs to get past seasoned Frenchman Benoit Paire on Rod Laver Arena.

Paire, the world number 56, is looking to equal his best at a Slam by reaching the fourth round at the Australian Open for the first time.

In the women’s event, second seed Aryna Sabalenka has been plagued by poor serving and dished up 19 double faults in scraping through her second-round match against China’s Wang Xiyu in three sets on Thursday.

A repeat could see her in trouble against 31st seed Marketa Vondrousova of the Czech Republic, in the bottom half of a draw that has already seen the shock departure of third seed Garbine Muguruza and sixth seed Anett Kontaveit. ― AFP

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