Belinda Bencic backhand

Bencic rides storm to reach fourth round


On a storm-filled day in Melbourne, the investment by Tennis Australia in three covered arenas paid dividends. Heavy rain arrived in the city in the early morning, delaying play on the outside courts until 5:30pm local time, with further rain and storms expected.

First up on Rod Laver Arena, No.12 Bencic needed three sets to defeat 29-year-old Bondarenko 4-6 6-2 6-4. The Ukrainian, who took a break from the tour to give birth to a daughter in 2013, saved two match points but Bencic, who has been working hard on her fitness, took the match at the third attempt. She has now won her last 15 three-set matches, a streak which stretches back to May 2015.

“I just feel like I’m not as nervous when I go to the court anymore,” said Bencic, who fell in the first round in Melbourne last year. “I mean, when I played last year I was very nervous. I didn’t really know what to do on the court.

“Now I got a lot of confidence. When I go on court I stay calm and really try to think more about what I have to do. I think my serve got better, which helps a lot in the game.”

Bencic, a former junior world No.1, plays No.5 seed Sharapova for a place in the quarter-finals, and a win would equal her previous best Grand Slam result (US Open 2014).

“I’m very happy to play all these big players,” said Bencic, who has ten wins against Top 10 opponents but has never faced Sharapova. “That’s what I play for. For sure, I will prepare well and just be really excited.”

Like Bencic, Sharapova also needed three sets to reach the last 16, defeating American Lauren Davis 6-1 6-7(5) 6-0 in two hours and 14 minutes. The tiebreak in the second set was closely contested with Sharapova leaving the court at the end of the set and Davis eating spoonfuls of almond butter between sets.

After the 77-minute tiebreak set, Sharapova came back out on court and took the match, her 600th career win, without dropping another game. The Russian played down the significance of the milestone but says she still loves playing the game.

“I’ve been doing it for a long time,” said Sharapova. “But there’s nothing else that I’d rather do right now.”

The roof was briefly opened on Rod Laver Arena for the first game in the match between Roger Federer and Grigor Dimitrov but at 4pm local time, after one game, the roof again swung into action.

The retractable roof on Margaret Court Arena, first used in 2015, covered the match of Kei Nishikori, who defeated Spain’s Guillermo Garcia-Lopez 7-5 2-6 6-3 6-4 and the all French affair between Jo Wilfried Tsonga and qualifier Pierre-Hugues Herbert. Tsonga, who won 6-4 7-6(9) 7-6(4), will face Nishikori in the fourth round.

Hisense Arena, which this week has been hosting many of the Australian players in the tournament, showcased an intense match between good friends David Goffin and Austrian Dominic Thiem. Goffin was the victor 6-1 3-6 7-6(2) 7-5, notching up his first win against a Top 20 player in a Grand Slam.

“It was a match with really high intensity, so mentally I lost so many energy on the court. I mean, mentally, even if physically I’m feeling good,” said Goffin who had joked in his on court post match interview that, despite the sweat pouring off him he felt fresh enough to play the fourth round match. The 25-year-old will face Roger Federer in the fourth round.

Friday showcourt results
Rod Laver Arena
Belinda Bencic d. Kateryna Bondarenko 4-6 6-2 6-4
Maria Sharapova d. Lauren Davis 6-1 6-7(5) 6-0
Roger Federer d. Grigor Dimitrov 6-4 3-6 6-1 6-4

Margaret Court Arena
Kei Nishikori d. Guillermo Garcia-Lopez 7-5 2-6 6-3 6-4
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga d. Pierre-Hugues Herbert 6-4 7-6(9) 7-6(4)
Agnieszka Radwanska d. Monica Puig 6-4 6-0

Hisense Arena
David Goffin d. Dominic Thiem 6-1 3-6 7-6(2) 7-5
Anna-Lena Friedsam d. Roberta Vinci 0-6 6-4 6-4
Gilles Simon d. Federico Delbonis 6-3 6-2 6-1
Kristyna Mladenovic v Daria Gavrilova

Belinda Bencic backhand
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