Kerber figures out Hsieh
It was perhaps Angelique Kerber herself who summed it up best.
“I don’t know how I won, I was running everywhere and every time she had an answer,” said the German, who spent her Monday afternoon attempting to solve the tennis conundrum that is Su-wei Hsieh.
Having served to stay in the match in the second set, Kerber did ultimately find the solution just in time, ending the world No.88’s giant-killing run 4-6, 7-5, 6-2.
But if ever there was a match designed to test Kerber’s renewed focus in 2018, then this was it, with Hsieh’s wonderfully unpredictable brand of tennis causing all sorts of problems for the No.21 seed.
A doubles specialist whose shot selection appears to be determined entirely at random, Hsieh poses a challenge unlike anything else on the tour. With Garbine Muguruza and Agnieszka Radwanska already among her victims this week, Hsieh looked set to claim another big scalp when she lead 6-4, 5-4.
Having losing her serve at the first time of asking in the opening set, Hsieh had recovered strongly, playing flawless, unreadable tennis as she frustrated Kerber, who was struggling to breach Hsieh’s defences.
The 2016 Australian Open champion continued to battle, though, and looked to have seized the initiative when she broke for a 4-3 lead in the second set. But Hsieh, allying scurrying defence with inspired shotmaking, broke back immediately and consolidated, putting Kerber on the brink.
A naturally defensive player, Kerber decided now was the time to go on the offensive, and that move was not a second too late. Retaining the positivity that disappeared all too easily last year, she won the next three games to force a decider.
There, it became clear that the answer to Hsieh’s puzzle was simply keeping her out on court. Kerber’s superior conditioning told as she broke in Hsieh’s first three service games, before serving out to move into the quarter-finals.
Hsieh received a deserved ovation as she left Rod Laver Arena, and Kerber was full of praise for her opponent.
"You know, I was always like this is impossible how she hit the ball," said ther German in her post-match press conference.
"All the time she had the better answer. If she go, like, down the line, then she had the dropshot. She went to the net, and I was - I don't know where I was, but I hit the ball just, yeah, just a dropshot."
Nevertheless, Kerber will be all the better for coming through this test, and she admitted that coming through it was a boost to her confidence.
Next up is a blockbuster quarter-final clash with Madison Keys, who put in one of the most complete attacking performances of the tournament so far against Caroline Garcia, blasting past the Frenchwoman 6-3, 6-2.
Federer too good for Fucsovics
Had Roger Federer taken to court with even an ounce of complacency, he may have endured a seriously testing afternoon against Marton Fucsovics.
Of course, the 19-time Grand Slam singles champion is far too experienced, far too long in the tooth to allow something like that happen, but he still had to be alert against the Hungarian, who had never won a Grand Slam singles match prior to this week.
While Federer triumphed 6-4, 7-6(3), 6-2, didn’t face a break point in the entire match and won a total of 108 points to Fucsovics’ 81, this wasn't a stroll in the Melbourne Park.
Fucsovics, who won the Wimbledon boys' singles title in 2010, gave an excellent account of himself, hanging with Federer and showcasing the heavy hitting that had led him to the fourth round.
But he just couldn't make significant inroads on the Federer serve, with the Swiss losing just 15 points behind his own deliveries.
Nor could he match Federer’s experience in the crucial junctures, with world No.2 breaking when Fucsovics served to stay in the opening set, raising his level in the second set tie-break and accelerating away from his opponent in the third.
Up next for Federer is a quarter-final meeting with Tomas Berdych, who looked in impressive form as he beat Fabio Fognini 6-1, 6-4, 6-4.
Halep outguns Osaka
Simona Halep contained the talented Naomi Osaka 6-3, 6-2 to reach the Australian Open quarter-finals.
Given Halep’s marathon encounter against Lauren Davis and Osaka’s blistering form against Ashleigh Barty, this contest had been seriously touted as potential upset.
And the opening exchanges did indeed suggest this would be a tough outing for Halep, with Osaka’s substantial power earning her a number of break points. The 20-year-old had eight opportunities to break in all, but only converted one and saw four go begging with Halep serving at 2-3 in the first set.
The world No.1 escaped with a hold, though, and Osaka’s challenge faded away thereafter, with Halep reeling off nine of the next 11 games to reach the last eight.
Shot of the Day
Kerber was forced to be at her best by Hsieh, and she produced it here with this magnificent round-the-net effort...