By Nick Mulvenney
MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Sixth seed Belinda Bencic’s hopes of exploiting a string of upsets at the Australian Open lasted exactly 49 minutes on Saturday, just long enough for a ruthless Anett Kontaveit to administer a 6-0 6-1 third-round thrashing at Melbourne Park.
Bencic had been on a good run of form after years of battling injury, toppling defending champion Naomi Osaka to reach the semi-finals of the U.S. Open last year and earning her highest seeding at a Grand Slam for Melbourne Park.
Kontaveit was supposed to play the Swiss in the third round at Flushing Meadows only to withdraw with a viral illness that cut short her 2019 season and sent the Estonian hurtling down the rankings to number 31 in the world.
On Saturday’s evidence, Bencic would never have made it to the encounter with Osaka that revitalized her career as the powerful Estonian simply blew her off the court at the Margaret Court Arena.
“She played a great match. Really solid. I think I was a little bit overwhelmed,” said Bencic, 22.
“There is not much you can do. You can just try and fight. Obviously it didn’t work out for me today. I didn’t feel my best on the court but she was playing really well.
“I was trying to hang in there, trying to fight.”
Kontaveit hit 21 winners in the short contest and Bencic made 18 unforced errors, including the wild swipe of a forehand return that sent her opponent into a fourth round meeting with Polish teenager Iga Swiatek.
“Didn’t work out well for me today,” Bencic added. “But I’m really happy for her because last time we were supposed to play, something bad happened to her.”
With the last three champions — Osaka, Caroline Wosniaki and Serena Williams — knocked out on Friday and second seed Karolina Pliskova upset on Saturday, the women’s draw at Melbourne Park is wide open.
“It’s the same at every Grand Slam. There are upsets and I think it’s normal because it’s tennis, and tennis is very unpredictable,” said Bencic.
“I don’t really care so much now who is going to win.”
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)