MELBOURNE (AFP) – World number two Angelique Kerber was sensationally bundled out of the Australian Open yesterday by a woman playing the event for the first time, as a rampant Rafael Nadal powered into the quarter-finals.
Hometown hero Ashleigh Barty also made the last eight after muscling past Maria Sharapova and will next meet Petra Kvitova, who matched her best Slam performance since a terrifying knife attack derailed her career.
Wimbledon winner Kerber, the bookies’ favourite along with Serena Williams after defending champion Caroline Wozniacki was ousted early, was humiliated by American Danielle Collins 6-0, 6-2 in under an hour.
Ranked 35 in the world, Collins is little known after playing much of her tennis in the US college system and was making her debut in the main draw at Melbourne Park. She had never won a Grand Slam match before this year.
“I may not have won a Grand Slam match before this but I tell you, it’s going to keep happening,” said the 25-year-old. “I better have many more of these.”
Collins said she held no fears about facing three-time Slam champion Kerber, who made the semis last year and won in 2016.
“I just go out fearless, just give it my all.”
Her reward is a last-eight clash with either fifth seed Sloane Stephens or Russia’s Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.
Men’s second seed Nadal, returning from foot surgery, barrelled past former world number four Tomas Berdych 6-0, 6-1, 7-6 (7/4) as he stays on track for an 18th Grand Slam title.
“I always say the same when I am back for injury,” said the Spaniard. “I don’t expect negative or positive things. I just try to do my work every day and just be with (the) right attitude every single day.”
He will play world number 39 Frances Tiafoe for a place in the semi-finals after the young American celebrated his 21st birthday by grinding his way past Grigor Dimitrov 7-5, 7-6 (8/6), 6-7 (1/7), 7-5.
“It means the world,” said Tiafoe, the son of immigrants from Sierra Leone.
Swiss great Roger Federer, the double defending champion who is targetting a record seventh crown at Melbourne Park, plays an evening match against Greek Stefanos Tsitsipas.
Barty is also a surprise quarter-finalist after bringing Sharapova’s drive to win a first Grand Slam since the 2014 French Open to a grinding halt 4-6, 6-1, 6-4.
Five-time major winner Sharapova claimed her biggest scalp since completing a drugs ban in 2017 when she rolled Wozniacki in round three and looked on track to carry the momentum forward.
The 30th seed won the first set but then fell to pieces in front of a parochial crowd who booed her at times, losing nine games in a row to surrender the second and go two breaks down in the third.
Despite offering some late resistance, and some unbelievable tennis, there was no way back for the 2008 Melbourne winner.
“She is an absolute champion,” Barty, seeded 15, said of Sharapova.
“She was never going to go away. I knew I had to keep chipping away – in a sense, trust the work we’ve done. I know that I can match it with the best.”
The diminutive Barty, 22, has been in sizzling form, winning seven of eight matches this year to back up a title victory in Zhuhai late last year.
Next up is Kvitova, who beat Barty in the final of the warm-up Sydney International this month.
The two-time Wimbledon champion beat 17-year-old Amanda Anisimova 6-2, 6-1 to match her best performance at a major since being slashed in a terrifying attack at her home in late 2016 that left her with lasting nerve damage in her fingers.
“I’m feeling good. It is important for me to enjoy time on the court and playing tennis, which is the main thing for me,” said the Czech, who is in the quarters at Melbourne for the first time since 2012.