Having been pushed to the brink of defeat by Ajla Tomljanovic in the second round, No.2 seed Simona Halep was back to her razor-sharp best in dispatching No.32 seed Veronika Kudermetova 6-1, 6-3 to reach the fourth round of the Australian Open.
Against local crowd favorite Tomljanovic, Halep had been beset by 37 unforced errors and passive play that allowed the Australian's power game to flow. A similar performance against the in-form Kudermetova would have spelled trouble.
The Russian, after all, was fresh off her maiden WTA final in Abu Dhabi last month, and had matched her previous career-best Grand Slam showing by reaching the third round. Four prior Top 5 wins, as well as a first-round upset of Caroline Wozniacki at Roland Garros 2019 that proved to be the Dane's final match in Paris, also indicated that Kudermetova had the potential to mix it with the very best.
Indeed, Kudermetova impressed intermittently, particularly with some fine play at net and smooth power hitting that saw her twice move up a break in a competitive second set. But she was undone by a tally of 38 unforced errors to just 17 winners, while Halep combined accuracy and aggression to rack up 21 winners to 12 unforced errors.
Of particular note was Halep's determination go after her returns: the Romanian sealed the first two breaks of the match, and set up her first set point, with clean return winners in a thoroughly dominant opening stanza.
"I played much better than the previous one," Halep noted. "Tomljanovic, she hit a little bit stronger, so it was really tough for me to defend better... I feel more confident after the match against Ajla, because when you stay mentally strong during the matches, you get an extra boost the next one."
Having navigated an encounter that could have proved much trickier than it was, Halep will now face a rematch with Roland Garros champion Iga Swiatek, who dismissed her 6-1, 6-2 at this stage in Paris in October.
"Many things I have to do different," mused Halep on the potential Swiatek meeting. "It was a very fast match in Roland Garros. I didn't actually feel anything. She was very fast and very strong in that day. But I will forget that match."
Swiatek swats Ferro, shows off skills
Like Halep, No.15 seed Swiatek was also sharp in moving past Fiona Ferro 6-4, 6-3 in one hour and 24 minutes, her 10th consecutive Grand Slam win in straight sets, despite some stellar resistance from the unseeded Frenchwoman.
Ferro was quick to pounce when Swiatek's focus occasionally wavered, swinging freely through her dangerous forehand to reel off four straight games from a double break down in the first set, and breaking the 19-year-old back as she served for the match. But for the bulk of the contest Swiatek was dialled-in and often-unplayable, wowing the night session crowd with her anticipation and control on a handful of marvellous gets, as well as a 180-degree spin to successfully deal with a net cord that sent the ball looping behind her.
The Pole has now reached the second week of a Grand Slam for the fourth time - exactly half of the major main draws she has contested in her young career. There is a painful memory to exorcise in Melbourne Park, though: this time last year, Swiatek was denied a first quarterfinal by Anett Kontaveit in a 6-7(4), 7-5, 7-5 heartbreaker.
Aoyama, Shibahara keep on winning
No doubles team is on as hot a run as Shuko Aoyama and Ena Shibahara right now. The Japanese duo opened 2021 with back-to-back titles, their fourth and fifth together, in Abu Dhabi and at the Yarra Valley Classic, and Friday saw them extend their winning streak to 10 to make the Australian Open third round.
Aoyama and Shibahara did it the hard way: for the second round in a row, they had to come from a set down, this time also needing to save a match point before overcoming wildcards Lizette Cabrera and Maddison Inglis 5-7, 7-6(5), 6-0. The No.7 seeds' previous best showing at a major came at Roland Garros last October, where they reached the quarterfinals before falling to eventual runners-up Alexa Guarachi and Desirae Krawczyk, though back in 2013 Aoyama also partnered Chanelle Scheepers to make the Wimbledon semifinals. This week, No.12 seeds Hayley Carter and Luisa Stefani stand between them and a second straight last-eight major showing.
Gippsland Trophy champions Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova are also on a roll: the No.3 seeds, the only other 2021 titlists in the draw, won their sixth match in a row by defeating Ons Jabeur and Christina McHale 6-3, 6-4. Elsewhere, teenage duo Coco Gauff and Caty McNally needed just an hour exactly to upset No.6 seeds Gabriela Dabrowski and Bethanie Mattek-Sands 6-1, 6-2.