MELBOURNE, Australia – In-form Canadian teenager Bianca Andreescu extended her exceptional string of results by moving into the final qualifying round of the Australian Open after a 6-4, 6-1 victory over Valentini Grammatikopoulou of Greece.
A finalist in Auckland last week, where she claimed shock wins over Caroline Wozniacki and Venus Williams, Andreescu was in total command after the first four games of the match were shared. In total, the 18-year-old, who is the No.4 seed in qualifying, hit 21 winners to just 17 unforced errors and faced just a single break point over the course of the match.
Tereza Smitkova of the Czech Republic, the No.26 seed, stands between Andreescu and a first Australian Open main draw showing. But Smitkova knows how to post a big Slam result from the qualifying -- she reached the fourth round of Wimbledon as a qualifier in 2014.
More young guns joined Andreescu in the final round of qualifying. No.9 seed Marta Kostyuk of Ukraine, who reached the third round in Melbourne last year as a 15-year-old, beat France's Amandine Hesse, 6-3, 6-2, to move within a match of a return appearance in the main draw at Melbourne Park.
Fellow up-and-comer Iga Swiatek has also reached the third round. After beating the No.6 seed and fellow teen sensation Olga Danilovic in three sets in the first round, the 17-year-old from Poland eased past Aliona Bolsova Zadoinov of Spain, 7-6(1), 6-2 on Thursday. Swiatek hit 37 winners, including six aces, during the match, while the Spaniard had only 13 winners.
Reigning Wimbledon junior champion Swiatek will aim to make her Grand Slam main draw debut when she faces American Danielle Lao, who qualified for the US Open in 2017 and 2018. Lao beat her compatriot Caroline Dolehide, 6-1, 2-6, 6-1, on Thursday.
Two other heavily touted teens were not as lucky. 17-year-old Wang Xiyu of China, the reigning US Open junior champion, went out to Czech Tereza Martincova, 6-4, 6-3. Also, 18-year-old Kaja Juvan of Slovenia was eliminated by Brazil's Beatriz Haddad Maia, 6-3, 6-4.
There were mixed results for the veterans in the second round of the qualifying field as well. One day after No.1 seed Vera Zvonareva crashed out in the first round, No.2 seed Mandy Minella of Luxembourg lost to Olga Govortsova of Belarus, in a 6-1, 1-6, 7-5 barnburner.
The match between Govortsova and Minella was especially poignant as both players are mounting comebacks to the tour after becoming mothers. Minella has already pulled her ranking back to just outside the Top 100, while Govortsova used a protected ranking to enter the qualifying draw. Govortsova needed five match points in the final game to break Minella for the victory.
Former World No.35 Govortsova will play former World No.30 Misaki Doi of Japan in the final round. Doi, seeded 22nd, survived a two-hour and seven-minute battle with 20-year-old Australian wild card Kaylah McPhee, before prevailing 2-6, 7-6(0), 6-3.
No.5 seed Anhelina Kalinina of Ukraine, who saved a match point in the first round, was not as lucky today, as she lost to Jamie Loeb of the United States, 6-3, 6-4, meaning three of the top five seeds failed to reach the final qualifying round in Melbourne.
But No.3 seed Viktorija Golubic of Switzerland had an easier day, beating American Kristie Ahn, 6-4, 6-4, in an hour and a half, and joining No.4 seed Andreescu as the only top five seeds still alive on Friday. Golubic, who beat Kiki Bertens to win the WTA singles title in Gstaad in 2016, will face another American, No.18 seed Nicole Gibbs, in the final round.
Elsewhere, No.28 seed Karolina Muchova of the Czech Republic, who raised eyebrows with a stunning upset of Garbiñe Muguruza en route to the third round of last year's US Open as a qualifier, is one win away from entering another major main draw after dispatching Russia's Liudmila Samsonova, 6-4, 6-0. Muchova will play Loeb in the final qualifying round.
And the home nation of Australia will have two representatives in the final round of qualifying. Astra Sharma, who took out Zvonareva in the opening round, followed up with another win, edging Russia's Varvara Flink, 6-7(3), 6-2, 6-4 in two hours and seven minutes. Sharma will meet her third consecutive Russian, No.25 seed Irina Khromacheva, in the last round.
The other Australian to reach the last hurdle is 21-year-old Naiktha Bains. Ranked World No.303, Bains made excellent use of her wild card into the qualifying by stunning former World No.32 Kurumi Nara of Japan, 6-4, 6-4, on Thursday. Bains will meet crafty Frenchwoman Jessika Ponchet in the final round.