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Melbourne Highlights - Day 6

by Alexandra Willis
Saturday 21 January 2012

Three strolls in the park and two history-making matches in the men's draw as the crowds came out to play at Melbourne Park on Saturday, occupying Grand Slam Oval from noon till dusk with the final fourth round spots to be decided.

Novak Djokovic, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Andy Murray wasted little time or energy booking their places in the last 16, Djokovic dismantling Nicolas Mahut 6-1, 6-0, 6-1, Tsonga seeing off Frederico Gil 6-2, 6-2, 6-2, and Murray tearing apart Michael Llodra 6-4, 6-2, 6-0.

While Djokovic was terrifying, and Tsonga intimidating, it was Murray's win that was perhaps the most impressive, 48 winners to just 11 unforced errors as he blistered an opponent who is no slouch on a tennis court. Llodra, in the twilight of his career but still winning big, dove around the net like Stefan Edberg used to, desperately trying, and failing, to make life hard for Murray.

If those results went to plan, two men became the first from their two very different nations to reach this stage of the Australian Open. First, Kei Nishikori, the highly thought of Japanese, came from a set down to see off Julien Benneateau in four, and confirm his rising star status at Grand Slam level.

Second, Mikhail Kukushkin, a softly spoken Kazakh, out-foxed the wily Gael Monfils over five torturous sets. Before today, Kukushkin, who a year ago sent Kazkhastan into the quarter-finals of the Davis Cup with a five-set win in the fifth rubber against the Czech Republic, had made the second round of a Slam only once.

Another unexpected result was Richard Gasquet's straight sets strong-arming of Janko Tipsarevic, the No.9 seed. The Frenchman with the beautiful one-handed backhand will next meet David Ferrer, who muscled past Juan Ignacio Chela in three.

The final spot, to face Djokovic, came down to another late-night thriller from Lleyton Hewitt. Motivated by sheer presence of will and the noise of the crowd, Hewitt battled long and hard against Milos Raonic, last year's wonder qualifier, who many though would simply have too much power and gas for the dogged Aussie.

But willpower can be enough sometimes, Hewitt coming back from a set down to take the second, third, and fourth sets, and make it into the last 16.

Quite a fourth round it will be.

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For the women, there was more quick business from Maria Sharapova, Serena Williams, Petra Kvitova (thanks to a retirement), and Ana Ivanovic.

But three big names departed in the shape of Marion Bartoli, the ninth seed, Vera Zvonareva, the seventh seed, and Svetlana Kuznetsova, the 18th seed.

Bartoli was bundled by early January's Auckland champion Zheng Jie, semi-finalist here in 2010, Zvonareva was seen off by Ekaterina Makarova, enjoying her usual Australian Open love affair, and Kuznetsova, perhaps not surprisingly according to seeding, but surprisingly according to form, was boom-boomed by Sabine Lisicki.

Biggest surprise of the bottom half though remains Sara Errani, who ended Sorana Cirstea's run. The diminutive Italian packs a fair punch.

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Finally, the Legends are in town. With many a Grand Slam title between them, the likes of Martina Hingis, Martina Navratilova, Mansour Bahrami, Pat Cash, Mark Woodforde and more are wandering the halls of Melbourne Park for the Legends event. Nothing too heavy, mind, but a lot of fun.

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For all the reports and results from Melbourne Park, visit the Official Australian Open website


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