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Halep sets up Serena showdown, Djokovic relentlessly marches on


Serbia’s Novak Djokovic celebrates after defeating Canada’s Denis Shapovalov during their third round match at the Australian Open in Melbourne, on Saturday. – AP/PTI
 MELBOURNE, Jan 19: World number one Simona Halep set up a headline last 16 showdown with Serena Williams by beating her sister Venus on Saturday as Novak Djokovic’s relentless drive towards more Australian Open glory cranked up another gear.

On day six at Melbourne Park, the Romanian finally hit form to pull off her best win of the year and cruise past the veteran American 6-2, 6-3.

Williams crushed Ukrainian Dayana Yastremska 6-2, 6-1 before consoling her at the net as the teenager burst into tears.

The ominous 37-year-old, seeded 16, has dropped just nine games in her three matches so far on her first return to the tournament since winning it in 2017 while pregnant.

Fourteen-time Grand Slam winner and top seed Djokovic is gunning for a record seventh Australian title.

He dropped a set for the first time this year against fast-rising Canadian Denis Shapovalov, before demolishing him in the fourth stanza to win 6-3, 6-4, 4-6, 6-0.

He next plays another up-and-coming star, Russia’s 15th seed Daniil Medvedev, who eased past David Goffin and has yet to drop a set.

Another young gun Alexander Zverev made the last 16 for the first time when he swatted aside Australian Alex Bolt in three sets and will play former world number three Milos Raonic for a place in the quarterfinals. Fourth seed Naomi Osaka looked down and out against Taiwanese veteran Hsieh Su-wei before battling back to win 7-5, 4-6, 6-1 and set up meeting with Latvia’s Anastasija Sevastova.

Osaka’s win equals the 21-year-old’s best performance at the Australian Open, where she reached the last 16 in 2018 but lost to Halep.

But she looked headed for the exit when she conceded the first set and was down 4-1 in the second, before winning five straight games to force a decider.

Sixth seed Elina Svitolina struggled with a painful shoulder complaint that required treatment at every changeover, and medical timeouts, before she somehow beat China’s Zhang Shuai 4-6, 6-4, 7-5 as the temperature rose in the centre court sunshine.

She will next meet 17th-seeded American Madison Keys. Eighth seed Kei Nishikori made it back-to-back victories for Japan, following Osaka on court by beating Portugal’s 44th-ranked Joao Sousa in three sets.

The 29-year-old has won all three of his first week matches on Margaret Court Arena to reach the last 16 for the seventh time in nine appearances. He next plays Spain’s 23rd seed Pablo Carreno Busta. – AFP

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