Australian Open proceeds without spectators as Pegula, Svitolina advance


It’s a long way from Buffalo, New York, to the second week of a Grand Slam, which may be why Jessica Pegula’s journey took a while.

The No. 61-ranked Pegula reached the fourth round at the Australian Open by drubbing Kristina Mladenovic 6-2, 6-1 Saturday.

Even Pegula, 26, seemed surprised by her best career showing at a major tournament. She beat two-time Australian champion Victoria Azarenka in the first round, and has dropped a total of four games in the past two rounds.

“I don’t really expect to be playing this good next match,” Pegula said.

She’s a Buffalo native and the daughter of Terry and Kim Pegula, owners of the NFL Bills and NHL Sabres. She trains in Florida, and while there were no spectators at Melbourne Park to applaud her latest win, she felt plenty of support from across the Pacific.

“Some in Buffalo, some in Florida — everyone is watching back home and cheering for me,” she said, before adding with a laugh, “and happy the matches have been quick.”

There were no fans in the stands due to the start of a five-day lockdown imposed by the Victoria state government in response to a COVID-19 outbreak at a hotel. Up to 30,000 spectators daily — 50 per cent of capacity — had been admitted on previous days.

No. 25-seeded Karolina Muchova staged an astounding second-set comeback from a 5-0 deficit in near silence, which only made the turnaround seem more bizarre as she beat No. 6 Karolina Pliskova 7-5, 7-5.

WATCH | Pliskova upset by Muchova in straight sets:

Czech Republic’s Karolina Muchova advances to round of 16 at Australian Open for 1st time in her career with 7-5, 7-5 win over compatriot Karolina Pliskova. 1:03

Muchova played in an empty Rod Laver Arena.

“It’s a big difference,” the Czech said. “I was actually getting, like, happy yesterday morning that I’m finally going to play on a bigger court and there’s going to be a crowd. But unlucky now for five days here. Hopefully then it’s going to be back again.”

Muchova waged her comeback against a fellow Czech and former world No. 1.

“I’m a little sad,” Muchova said. “We are very good friends. But it’s a game, so I’m definitely happy I made it through. I think we were both a little nervous.”

Pegula will next play No. 5-seeded Elina Svitolina, who beat No. 26 Yulia Putintseva, 6-4, 6-0.

Pegula lost the first six points but then began to dominate with her versatile game. She hit 21 winners to just 13 unforced errors and won eight points at the net.

Her previous best showing at a Grand Slam tournament was a run to the third round at last year’s U.S. Open.

Svitolina, a tour veteran from Ukraine who has won 66 Grand Slam matches, needs one more win to match her best showing in Melbourne. She was a semifinalist at both Wimbledon and the U.S. Open in 2019.

WATCH | Graphic warning: Nadal overcomes heckler at Aussie Open:

Rafael Nadal advanced to the third round of the Australian Open, defeating American qualifier Michael Mmoh 6-1, 6-4, 6-2, but he also had to deal with a fan who yelled at him and made an obscene hand gesture before security escorted her from the stadium. 5:18

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