Sabalenka barrels into Australian Open last 16 as seeds prevail


The Belarusian fifth seed blew away 26th-seeded Elise Mertens 6-2, 6-3 to set up a clash with Olympic champion Belinda Bencic.

Thirtieth seed Karolina Pliskova and 23rd seed Zhang Shuai also went through in straight sets on day six at Melbourne Park and will clash in the fourth round.

Sabalenka is building a head of steam in her pursuit of a first Grand Slam title.

The Minsk-born 24-year-old teased the Margaret Court Arena crowd for supporting Belgium's Mertens over her but said she was enjoying the ride into the second week.

She is yet to drop a set. Likewise her next opponent Bencic, the Swiss 12th seed who eased past unseeded Italian Camila Giorgi 6-2, 7-5.

"Sabalenka is a very aggressive player, has a lot of power," said Bencic.

Pliskova, the former world number one from the Czech Republic, defeated Varvara Gracheva of Russia 6-4, 6-2.
Pliskova faces China's Zhang, a 6-3, 6-2 victor over Katie Volynets of the United States.

In the men's draw, fifth seed Andrey Rublev surged into a last-16 clash with Holger Rune -- then thanked his beaten opponent Dan Evans for giving him a banana mid-match.

The Russian crushed the Briton 6-4, 6-2, 6-3 to make the fourth round for a third time.

He will face Danish teenager Rune for a place in the quarter-finals after the ninth seed survived a nasty fall to sweep past unseeded Frenchman Ugo Humbert 6-4, 6-2, 7-6 (7/5).

Also through is Alex De Minaur after the Australian 22nd seed saw off Benjamin Bonzi of France 7-6 (7/0), 6-2, 6-1.