Fit-again Simona Halep said she was in “a good spot” and feeling no pressure as she stepped up a level to crush the Australian Open dreams of Emma Raducanu’s conqueror Danka Kovinic and power into the last 16 on Saturday.
The two-time Grand Slam winner drew on all her experience to sweep past the 98th-ranked Mon-tenegrin 6-2, 6-1 and ensure her participation in the second week for a fifth consecutive year in Mel-bourne.
She will now play French veteran Alize Cornet, who celebrated her 32nd birthday by beating 29th seed Tamara Zidansek 4-6, 6-4, 6-2 on the back of her stunning upset of world number three Garbine Muguruza in round two.
The Romanian Halep is on her way back after a calf tear scuttled her mid-season in 2021 and saw her briefly fall outside the top 20 for the first time since 2013.
“I feel great physically, first of all. Mentally I’m confident and also strong, I would say,” said the 30-year-old as she targets a first title at Melbourne Park, having lost to Caroline Wozniacki in the 2018 final.
“I’m feeling the game, feeling joy out there. I think that helps me to be positive and to be confi-dent that I have a chance every time I step on the court.
“I feel I’m in a good spot. I really trust that I can play good tennis here. I feel that the pressure is off.” Halep came into the tournament buoyant after her first title in 16 months at the Melbourne Summer Set and was always in charge against Kovinic, who upset US Open champion Raducanu in round two.
Seeded 14, Halep has been in good form this week, dropping just nine games in her opening two matches, and carried that into her clash against the 27-year-old Kovinic.
She raced through the first set and broke early again in the second to steamroll through to a show-down with Cornet, who battled back from a set down in her match.
“It was mostly about survival,” said Cornet, who is appearing in her 60th consecutive Grand Slam main draw, the WTA’s longest active streak and third longest in history.
“It’s definitely a very, very special victory being back in the second week 13 years after my first sec-ond week at the Australian Open. It’s quite special.
“The day of my birthday, I mean, what else can I ask for?”
A pumped-up Iga Swiatek burnished her Austra-lian Open credentials with a hard-fought straight-sets win over in-form Daria Kasatkina Saturday to battle into the fourth round.
The Polish seventh seed, who won the 2020 French Open as a 19-year-old, needed 94 minutes to dismantle the 25th-ranked Russian 6-2, 6-3 on Mar-garet Court Arena.
But it was an impressive performance of power and precision from Swiatek against a player who opened her season with back-to-back semi-finals in Melbourne and Sydney.—APP