And then there were 16. It’s fourth round time at the Australian Open, with the field of 132 in each of the men’s and women’s draws having been wilted down to those good enough to make it into what is traditionally known as the second week of the tournament.
There have been plenty of surprises at Melbourne Park this year, but as predicted top seeds Serena Williams and Novak Djokovic remain on course to retain their titles – and in dominating fashion too.
Williams has surrendered just five games across her last two matches and in her third round demolition of Daria Kasatkina, where she lost just three points on her serve in the match. It’s hard to think that the world number one could head into her fourth round match against world number 58 Margarita Gasparyan on the back of a better performance.
Should Williams progress, she could face fifth seed Maria Sharapova in the quarter-finals in what would be a repeat of last year’s finale. Sharapova’s progress is anything but guaranteed though, with the Russian set to face 12th seed Belinda Bencic first up on Rod Laver Arena.
And don’t forget fourth seed Agnieszka Radwanska, who is quietly going about her business in clinical fashion. The Pole is up against surprise package Anna-Lena Friedsam on Sunday.
The home fans will be hoping that the new darling of Melbourne Park, Daria Gavrilova, can continue her dream run against tenth seed Carla Suárez Navarro.
Like Williams, Djokovic too has not dropped a set at this year’s event, although the last two sets of his third-round clash with Andreas Seppi did see him pushed to some extent. Fourteenth seed Gilles Simon should pose an increasingly testing challenge.
Roger Federer is another who has impressed thus far and the Swiss will be last man out on Rod Laver Arena when he meets Belgian David Goffin, the 15th seed.
Seventh seed Kei Nishikori and ninth seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga get play underway on the Hisense Arena, with Nishikori sure to continue to be backed by tremendous support.
Having quelled the challenge of Australian Nick Kyrgios on Friday, sixth seed Tomas Berdych is up against Spaniard Roberto Bautista Agut, who downed 2014 US Open winner Marin Cilic in the previous round.
Matches not to miss:
Kei Nishikori v Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
Nishikori edges the head-to-head between the pair 4-2, but each player holds a victory in a grand slam, and both were fought over five sets, suggesting that Sunday’s match could be a classic.
The Japan ace had to go the distance to down Tsonga at the 2012 Australian Open, and he’ll be hoping for a repeat performance. The seventh seed wasn’t always at his best against Guillermo Garcia-Lopez in the third round, and he’ll have to up his game against Tsonga, who, as a 2008 semi-finalist, certainly knows what it takes to go deep at Melbourne Park.
Maria Sharapova v Belinda Bencic
Heading into 2015 Bencic hadn’t beaten a top five player, but she stepped up to the plate last year, going 5-0 against the top five. Early in 2016 she has another big scalp in her sights.
While Sharapova has never faced the 18-year-old Bencic, the Swiss is not the first teen on the rise that the four-time grand slam winner has come up against and she’ll be hoping to send out a message to the new generation: she may be 28 – very much a veteran in women’s tennis – but Sharapova is far from ready to step aside.