Osaka, Barty struggle but reach Melbourne quarters as Halep cruises

Dubai: World No. 3 Naomi Osaka and top-ranked Ashleigh Barty were pushed to the brink on Wednesday, but both avoided early exits at Melbourne Park, as Simona Halep cruised.

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Japan’s Osaka was made to work hard against in-form Katie Boulter, but fought back for a 3-6, 6-3, 6-1 victory to reach the quarter-finals in the Gippsland Trophy.

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She next meets Irina-Camelia Begu from Romania as she ramps up preparations for the Australian Open starting on Monday.

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“Today was really tough for me. It just felt like a new experience playing here again after such a long while,” Osaka said. “For me, I thought she played really well. I sort of had to raise my level, kind of go within myself. I was actually more calm after losing the first set because I felt like for me, I just wanted to be able to play well,” she added.

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British world No. 371 Boulter, who knocked out teenage sensation Coco Gauff on Tuesday, ran her error-strewn opponent ragged to claim the first set in 39 minutes. A refocused Osaka lifted her intensity to run away with the contest in a one-sided third set.

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Kenin pushed

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The three-time Grand Slam champion had comfortably beaten France’s Alize Cornet in straight sets on Tuesday in her first competitive match since lifting her second US Open title in September.

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World No. 1 Barty also had a fright in her match against Marie Bouzkova of the Czech Republic, but recovered from a second-set stutter to win 6-0, 4-6, 6-3.

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“Mid-match I lacked execution … but happy to get it on my terms in the end,” Barty said after a quick turnaround, having beaten Ana Bogdan in straight sets on Tuesday night.

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Barty, hoping to break her country’s 43-year singles title drought at the Australian Open, will face Shelby Rogers of the United States next.

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Reigning Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin was also pushed hard by American Jessica Pegula, dropping the first set and finding herself 4-1 down in the second before prevailing 5-7, 7-5, 6-2.

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“I was happy the way I was able to change things in the second set … I found my groove,” Kenin said.

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World No. 5 Elina Svitolina also had to come from behind to beat 2017 French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko 6-7, 6-3, 6-2.

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She’ll next face 20th-ranked Belgium’s Elise Mertens, who knocked out Caroline Garcia of France 7-6, 6-3.

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World No. 2 Halep bucked the trend and downed Laura Siegemund in straight sets to set up a Gippsland Trophy quarter-final against Russia’s Ekaterina Alexandrova who upset French Open champion Iga Swiatek 6-4, 6-2.

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“I’m really happy with both matches, so it’s good to be back,” said Halep who beat Anastasia Potapova easily on Monday.

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