The women’s Australian Open draw was shaken up by second-round defeats for Garbine Muguruza and Anett Kontaveit but Aryna Sabalenka survived despite more serving woes.
The first three days saw very few upsets but Thursday began with a bang as third seed Muguruza lost 6-3 6-3 to French veteran Alize Cornet while sixth seed Kontaveit was toppled 6-2 6-4 by Danish teenager Clara Tauson.
Both were among the title favourites having finished last season very strongly.
Muguruza, the beaten finalist here two years ago, won the WTA Finals in November but her preparation for the new season was disrupted when all her coaching team contracted Covid-19.
“It’s a tough day,” said the Spaniard. “I didn’t feel at all my game. My serve wasn’t there. I think my shots weren’t there also. Tactically I think I wasn’t doing the right decisions either. On top of that she played very well, very solid game. I think she plays better when she’s playing against top players.”
Cornet, 31, has pulled off a number of upsets in her career and reached the fourth round at all of the slams.
She said: “I think today the key was that I’m telling myself that I’m playing probably my last year. I’m not sure yet. When I stepped on the court, I was like, ‘You know what, just enjoy the moment because you don’t know if you’re going to come back’.”
Tauson is at the other end of her career and is making her main draw debut in Melbourne having won the junior title three years ago.
The 19-year-old is already a top-40 player and was superb on Margaret Court Arena against a player in Kontaveit who surged into the top 10 at the end of last season.
“Today we had a plan that I didn’t really follow because I felt really good out there, so I went for everything in my shots,” said Tauson.
“It’s the first time I’m in the third round of a slam. Playing a player like her to reach it, it’s a really big achievement for me. Obviously it was one of the things I really wanted to do, to beat the good players in the bigger tournaments.”
Tauson showed her potential by pushing Ashleigh Barty at the US Open last summer, and she added: “I had a little talk with my coach right before the match where we talked about I have to go in believing I could win this match.
“Last year I don’t think I really believed that I could beat those players. I think that really helped me a lot today. Even in some of the difficult moments, I believed that I could win.”
Sabalenka lost her opening two matches of the season amid a plethora of double faults and, four matches into 2022, her tally now stands at 70.
She sent down 19 against China’s Wang Xinyu on Thursday, including six in the opening game, but came from a set down to claim a 1-6 6-4 6-2 victory.
Seventh seed Iga Swiatek has had a much easier time of things so far and she eased to a 6-2 6-2 victory over Rebecca Peterson but it was the end of the road in singles for Australian veteran Sam Stosur, who was beaten 6-2 6-2 by 10th seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.
Stosur, the 2011 US Open champion, will only play doubles after this tournament.
She said: “It was a good match. I actually feel like I played pretty well, so I’m happy with the fact that that was the last one. I still feel good about what I was able to do out there. Pavs was just too good.
“I think from that aspect, it was nice to finish against someone like her. To finish with someone you know and really respect as a person and player, that was I guess a perfect ending. So I’m very happy.”