Australian Open: Ashleigh Barty to play Shelby Rogers next as Elina Svitolina and Donna Vekic also advance

World No 1 Ashleigh Barty overcame a stumbling start to reach the fourth round of the Australian Open inside an empty Margaret Court Arena on Saturday.

Despite playing with a heavily strapped thigh, Barty came from breaks down in both sets to beat Ekaterina Alexandrova 6-2 6-4.

The 2019 French Open champion, who is looking to become the first homegrown Australian Open singles champion since 1978, recovered from losing the first two games with a run of seven in a row.

Barty will play unseeded American Shelby Rogers, who advanced to the fourth round for the first time in her career after beating Anett Kontaveit 6-4 6-3.

Alexandrova fought back to lead 4-2 in the second set but Barty responded again to move through to the fourth round for the third year in a row.

“It’s very strange, I’ve never experienced it before in my life,” said Barty. “It changes the sound of the court. Bit rude but I like it. I love the crowd but I loved the sound of the ball.”

When you realise you're into the 4️⃣R of the #AusOpen 😌

👏 @Shelby_Rogers_ #AO2021 pic.twitter.com/nBCpsY0fz0

A snap five-day lockdown to try to contain an outbreak of COVID-19 came into effect just before midnight on Friday, restricting Victoria’s six million residents to their homes and shutting fans out of the tennis.

Shops, bars and restaurants on the site usually teeming with fans were shuttered and the only noise was the mask-muffled chatter of those workers deemed essential – police, security guards, match officials and media.

Bend it like @iga_swiatek ⚽⚽⚽#AusOpen | #AO2021 pic.twitter.com/I5b6hBnhnr

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Elina Svitolina set up a fourth-round meeting with unseeded American Jessica Pegula.

Fans were not allowed in for the first time after Melbourne was placed in a five-day lockdown on Saturday, meaning no-one was there to witness Svitolina’s 6-4 6-0 win over Yulia Putintseva.

The fifth seed chose not to play at the US Open last September while spectators were allowed into the French Open a month later, so this was her first experience of playing in an empty stadium at a Grand Slam.

“It was very different conditions,” Svitolina said. “I played a night match at 7pm with a good crowd. Now it was completely different. It was for sure a bit disturbing, I would say, in some ways sad.

“But it is what it is. I had to accept. I had to have a good mindset, not thinking too much about that. I just tried to focus on my game.

“I actually had few thoughts about it, it feels like a practice match. I tried to convince myself that it’s a grand slam and that we are playing an important match. I have to focus on my match.

“But for sure there’s some thoughts and there is I say some low moments that can sneak into the mind. It’s what we have to deal with. I’m trying my best to do it.”

That fourth round feeling 💪@JLPegula | #AusOpen | #AO2021 pic.twitter.com/nyOF4bJsaY

Pegula advanced to the fourth round at a major for the first time after hitting 21 winners on her way to beating Kristina Mladenovic 6-2 6-1.

Her career was stalled by a series of knee and hip injuries, spending a year-and-a-half in recovery after having surgery on her hip.

“The last one, my hip, was definitely the hardest to come back from,” Pegula told a news conference. “When I first realised I was probably going to have to get surgery, I was down and out for a couple days.

“I didn’t even know if I wanted to come back. This was just going to be so hard. I think I just got over it. I was like, whatever, I’m just going to fight through it again.”

Karolina Muchova staged a fine second-set comeback to send her friend and world No 6 Karolina Pliskova packing from this year’s tournament 7-5 7-5.

After taking the first set, the third-round encounter seemed destined for a decider after Pliskova raced into a 5-0 lead in the second set.

But Muchova, seeded 25, regained her composure to rattle off seven successive games and match her best ever performance at a Grand Slam by reaching the fourth round.

“I had chances on my serve, I just could do so many things better today. I don’t think my game is the top for sure. I don’t want to be too sarcastic and too negative because I just lost,” said Czech Pliskova.

“The feeling was not great from any of my matches here. I think overall, too many mistakes, too much panic in the rallies. I don’t know if it’s just not having any matches much lately. I don’t feel like safe with anything I was doing on the court.”

4️⃣th round 👊 & ✌️ week @AustralianOpen pic.twitter.com/2DHryIWwfo

Muchova will face Elise Mertens next after the Belgian continued her winning start to 2021 with a 6-2 6-1 drubbing of 11th-seeded Belinda Bencic.

Donna Vekic was staring defeat in the face before staging an impressive comeback to beat Kaia Kanepi.

Kanepi, who beat defending champion Sofia Kenin in the second round, had another seed in her sights when she led by a set and 3-0 only for the Croatian to produce her best and claim a 5-7 7-6 (7-2) 6-4 victory.

Okay so is anyone else getting emotional or is it just us? ❤️@DonnaVekic | #AusOpen | #AO2021 pic.twitter.com/DrBjNMTNru

Vekic, seeded 28th, will next face last year’s US Open semi-finalist Jennifer Brady after the American beat Slovenian qualifier Kaja Juvan 6-1 6-3.

Through to the final 1⃣6⃣ with plenty of work still to do 🇭🇷@DonnaVekic feels there is room for improvement 👀#AusOpen | #AO2021 pic.twitter.com/EwEsWzVfEi

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Jamie Murray and Bethanie Mattek-Sands’ reunion got off to a winning start in the mixed doubles.

Murray and Mattek-Sands, who won the 2019 US Open title, had not played together since last year’s Australian Open as mixed doubles was not played at the US Open and French Open last year due to coronavirus restrictions.

However, it has made a timely return here and the Scottish-American pairing beat Rohan Bopanna and Yingying Duan 6-4 6-4.

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