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Naomi Osaka sinks local favorite Ashleigh Barty to reach last 16 at Australian Open


Australian Open

Unseeded Naomi Osaka downed local Australian Open hope Ashleigh Barty with a comprehensive 6-4, 6-2 win Saturday to reach the last 16 of a Grand Slam for the first time.

Ranked 72, her reward is a clash with top seed Simona Halep for a place in the quarterfinals.

The powerful Japanese 20-year-old took the first set against the 18th seed in 38 minutes before racing to a 4-0 lead in the second on the back of an impressive serve.

Barty finally got on the board in her third service game but it was too little too late to the dismay of the raucous band of “Ash’s Army” supporters on Margaret Court Arena.

Osaka, who beat this year’s fourth seed Elina Svitolina in Melbourne as an 18-year-old two years ago, served out calmly — smacking down her 12th ace on match point to win in 73 minutes.

“I feel really happy, but also I’m sorry because I know you all really wanted her to win,” Osaka, whose mother is Japanese and father is Haitian, told the crowd after her win to great applause.

“I’m honored to be playing for Japan,” she said before adding that she had benefited from a late switch of the match from the Rod Laver Arena center court to the smaller venue because of matches overrunning.

“I think there would have been a lot more people cheering for her there so it was good for me,” she said. “Thank you all for a great atmosphere. I always wanted to experience playing against an Australian here.”

After wasting three chances to serve it out, then saving three match points, Halep finally finished off American Lauren Davis in a third-round win that took 3 hours, 45 minutes and equaled a record at the Australian Open.

For Halep, already playing with an injured left ankle, the 4-6, 6-4, 15-13 victory was a testament to her renewed self-belief.

The third set took 2 hours, 22 minutes and momentum swung, with 11 service breaks and two medical timeouts — for Davis to get treatment for toes on both feet — before Halep converted on her first match point.

Halep had chances to serve for the match in the ninth, 11th and 15th games of the third set but was broken each time by the No. 76-ranked Davis, who then blew three match points from 0-40 on Halep’s serve in the 22nd game.

“Definitely was a very tough match, so long,” said Halep, who has twice reached the final at the French Open but never won a Grand Slam singles title. “I never played the third set so long, so I’m really happy I could stay and win it. I’m almost dead.”

It equaled the longest women’s singles match at the Australian Open in terms of games played: Chanda Rubin’s win over Arantxa Shanchez Vicario in 1996 was also 48 games.

In terms of duration, it was almost an hour shorter than the record 4:44 that Francesca Schiavone needed to beat Svetlana Kuznetsova in 2011.