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Nadal dominant Wozniacki pulls off escape

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Rafa Nadal’s march towards a 17th Grand Slam crown stays on course. AFP

SYDNEY (AFP) – Dominant Rafael Nadal swept into the Australian Open third round to keep his Grand Slam title hunt on track yesterday, as Caroline Wozniacki pulled off a great escape.

The world number one Spaniard’s march towards a 17th Grand Slam crown was never threatened by Argentina’s Leonardo Mayer, who took him to a third set tiebreak before being swatted aside 6-3, 6-4, 7-6 (7/4).

“Playing this court is always a big motivation for me,” said Nadal, who lost last year’s final.

“He was a dangerous opponent and I’m happy to be in the third round.

“For my team and my family, this is our favourite tournament of the year, so I hope to stay around a bit longer,” he added.

Nadal, showing no signs of the troublesome knee that bothered him last season, next plays Bosnian Damir Dzumhur.

In contrast to Nadal’s easy progress, world number two Wozniacki survived a scare against Croat Jana Fett.

The Dane saved two match points and rallied from 5-1 down in an epic third set to keep her dream of a first Grand Slam title alive.

She looked out for the count, and was struggling afterwards to work out how she survived 3-6, 6-2, 7-5 against a player ranked 119.

“That was crazy, I don’t how I got back the in the match,” said Wozniacki, adding that “experience was crucial”. Elina Svitolina also came from a set down to beat Czech Katerina Siniakova 4-6, 6-2, 6-1.

The Ukrainian is now on a seven-match win streak.

She picked up five WTA Tour titles last year, more than any other woman, making her a contender.

Her next task is tackling 15-year-old sensation Marta Kostyuk. Also Ukrainian, she beat local wildcard Olivia Rogowska 6-3, 7-5.

Her win streak at Melbourne Park is now 11 straight matches after claiming the Australian Open girls’ title in 2017 and coming through qualifying this year.

“I heard a lot of times that I’m talented, and I know that,” said the confident teen. “But I know that only talent will not help me to play good. So I’m working pretty hard.”

Svitolina said she knew little about the youngster, and was preparing for a no-holds barred fight.

“She has nothing to lose, so that’s why I know she goes just for everything. You know, a little bit like a headless chicken,” she said.

French Open champion and seventh seed Jelena Ostapenko also progressed, but she too needed three sets to get past China’s Duan Yingying. On a hot Melbourne day, Croatia’s sixth seed Marin Cilic advanced, with last year’s Wimbledon finalist easily beating Joao Sousa.

US Open semi-finalist Pablo Carreno-Busta also went through after Frenchman Gilles Simon retired injured.

And fighting former finalist Jo-Wilfried Tsonga saw off rising Canadian youngster Denis Shapovalov in a five-set thriller.

But Russia’s Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, a quarter-finalist last year, became the latest seed to slump out in the women’s draw, which has been shorn of leading names over the first two rounds.

Seeded 15, she lost to Ukraine’s Kateryna Bondarenko.

Venus Williams’ conqueror Belinda Bencic also ran out of steam, having no answers against Thai qualifier Luksika Kumkhum, slumping out 6-1, 6-3.

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