World number one and home favourite Ashleigh Barty said she played her best match this year in blowing away 29th seed Elena Rybakina 6-3, 6-2 to barrel into the Australian Open fourth round on Friday (January 24).
Barty reached Melbourne last 16 on a day when world number two Novak Djokovic barely got out of first gear in a sizzling performance to thrash Yoshihito Nishioka and move into the fourth round, closing in on a record eighth title.
Barty plays American 18th seed Alison Riske or Julia Goerges — her doubles partner — next in Melbourne as she bids to become the first Australian to win the women’s title since 1978.
Barty needed just 78 minutes to dispose of the young Kazakh and said: “I felt I needed to be really switched on for this.”
“I feel it’s the best I’ve played this summer so far.” “This is why I train and work so hard — to come out here, I’m loving every minute,” added the 23-year-old, who won the title in Adelaide before the Australian Open.
Barty was broken in her first service game at an expectant Rod Laver Arena, but the Australian top seed immediately broke back.
She exchanged breaks with the Moscow-born Rybakina again before Barty held serve for a 3-2 lead, then broke the 20-year-old for 4-2.
Rybakina, winner of the Hobart International in the week leading up to Melbourne, did not know how to respond and Barty sealed the first set in 32 minutes.
The second set was even more emphatic, Barty wrapping up a one-sided victory on the first match point when Rybakina sliced wide.
As for the Serbian defending champion, he swept past the Japanese 6-3, 6-2, 6-2 in just 85 minutes on Rod Laver Arena to reach a Grand Slam round of 16 for the 50th time — second only to Roger Federer’s 67.
“That’s definitely one of the best service matches I have had lately. I was inspired by my coach Goran (Ivanisevic) who came out here today. He brings a lot of insight,” said the world number two after firing down 17 aces, along with 40 winners.
He will next play 14th seed Diego Schwartzman for a place in the quarter-finals after the Argentinian beat Djokovics countryman Dusan Lajovic 6-2, 6-4, 7-6 (9/7).
“Diego is definitely one of the quickest on tour. Hopefully, if I serve as good as I did today, I feel I have a decent chance,” said the second seed.
Djokovic gave away just three games in his first and only meeting with left-hander Nishioka in the Davis Cup last year and the 24-year-old fared little better at Melbourne Park.
He was broken in his first service game and was no match for the power and precision of the 16-time Grand Slam winner.
Djokovic twisted the knife with another early break in the second set as he went through the gears.
Nishioka became despondent with Djokovic doing no wrong, winning 34 points in a row on his serve before a double fault brought the run to a halt. He wrapped up the one-sided rout when Nishioka sent a forehand wide.
Djokovic is seeking to become only the third man to win eight or more titles at the same Grand Slam after Rafael Nadal (12 at Roland Garros) and Roger Federer (eight at Wimbledon).
(With inputs from agencies)