Play at the Australian Open was suspended temporarily to allow fans to leave arenas as Melbourne enters a five day lockdown to contain a cluster of infections. The fans present at the Rod Laver Arena were told to leave to comply with new directives from the authorities.
At Rod Laver Arena, when play was suspended to empty the stadium, Novak Djokovic was two sets to one up on American Taylor Fritz — albeit struggling with an injury. After a short delay while fans made their way to the exits, play resumed.
It is clear that no fans will be allowed into Melbourne Park until at least Thursday, which is the day of the women’s semifinals. One of the men’s semifinals will be held on Thursday night, the other Friday.
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Those holding tickets for matches over the next five days will be eligible for refunds. The situation will undoubtedly add to the economic fallout Tennis Australia is already experiencing given the massive financial outlay to fly in players and their entourages from around the world for quarantine.
But the impact of not running the Australian Open (or even cancelling it midway) will be far worse, as it would have meant no payments from sponsors and broadcasters. Tennis Australia chief executive Craig Tiley said the tournament will go on, noting that playing without fans had already been one of the contingencies considered.
All players still in the fray, and their entourages will enter a Covid-safe bubble over the next five days in order to ensure the tournament continues. Aside from accessing tennis courts to practise and gymnasiums to train, restaurants and other facilities including medical rooms and ice baths will be available.
“Those who will be allowed on site will be the players only and their support team, as well as staff members who will be unable to do their work from home,” Tiley said.
In what is sure to go down as a first, the Victorian government deemed the players to be essential workers. It was a description tournament favourite Naomi Osaka said “kind of seems a bit funny”.
“But I don’t know. I don’t make the rules,” she said.
Djokovic overcame a fall and curtailed Fritz’s brave comeback to enter the fourth round. The Serbian won 7-6 (1), 6-4, 3-6, 4-6, 6-2. The match began in front of spectators and Djokovic seemed to be cruising along after taking the first two sets. But his left foot gave out as he tried to change directions in the third set. He took timeout for treatment while his trainer attended to him during changeovers.
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Fritz, seeded 27th, got back into the match but couldn't pull off the upset. Following the pause in play, Djokovic seemed to be able to move and play more like himself and closed out the match in five sets.
The top seed, though, was worried whether his leg would recover before the next round. He felt he has a torn muscle as a result of the fall he suffered through the match
“I know it’s a tear, definitely, of the muscle. So I don’t know if I’ll manage to recover from that in less than two days. I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know if I’m going to step out onto the court or not,” said Djokovic, who will face Milos Raonic in the next round.
“I am just very proud of this achievement tonight,” Djokovic said. “Let’s see what happens tomorrow.”
In what will undoubtedly go down as one of the matches of the tournament this year, US Open champion Dominic Thiem came back from two sets down against a resurgent Nick Kyrgios to win their third-round encounter earlier in the day. Thiem, the third seed, ignored a partisan crowd supporting Kyrgios, and won 4-6, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4, 6-4.
This was Kyrgios' second consecutive five-setter at the John Cain Arena. In the previous round, he overcame two match points before eliminating No. 29 Ugo Humbert.
This time, though, it was the Aussie who let his opponent come from behind wasting a pair of match break points at the start of the third set. They proved to be fatal as Thiem, notorious for his ruthless physicality and fitness, punished the Aussie to dominate the final stanza.
Thiem ended up runner-up to Djokovic last year and is looking like one of the contenders in a fairly open field this year. He will face Grigor Dimitrov for a spot in the quarterfinals next.
Halep Rediscovers Touch
Simona Halep revived her wobbly campaign Down Under with a straight-sets victory over Veronika Kudermetova. The World No. 2 served strongly and was skirting the lines with accurate and powerful groundstrokes to overwhelm the 32nd seed 6-1, 6-3 in the third round.
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"It's always tough to play an opponent for the first time and I thought my serve helped me today ... I've improved on my serve a lot," said Halep, after the match during which she hit 21 winners and four aces.
Kudermetova, known as a big hitter, was pushed onto the back foot with Halep coming out with all guns blazing. The win, or rather the way Halep went about it, will be a big confidence boost for her, who was almost eliminated by Aussie Alja Tomljanovic in the previous round.
Halep, 29, will face Iga Swiatek in the next round. The youngster, a surprise winner of Roland Garros last year beat Fiona Ferro in straight sets 6-4, 6-3.
Earlier Friday, Serena Williams registered her 90th win at the Australian Open to enter the fourth round. Williams beat Russian teenager Anatasia Potapova 7-6 (5), 6-2, saving two set points in the first set, and overcoming 31 unforced errors to prevail.
After overcoming a tough fight in the first set, Williams did not allow her opponent to make a comeback in the second, completing an easy win, despite being error prone. The seven-time Australian Open champion will play the in-form Belarusian Aryna Sabalenka on Sunday. Sabalenka thrashed American Ann Li 6-3, 6-1 in the third round.
The other big matchup of the fourth round will feature US Open champion Naomi Osaka (who beat Ons Jabeur in straight sets) and last year’s finalist Garbine Muguruza. Muguruza has been on a roll at the Australian Open, having dropped only 10 games in the three matches she has played. She prevailed against Zarina Diyas 6-1, 6-1 in a lopsided encounter.
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