AO 2024 – Day 6: Contenders cruise, Andreeva's mirra-cle

Second week tickets were up for grabs during another thrilling instalment of elite tennis at Melbourne Park.

Aryna Sabalenka / 3e tour Open d'Australie 2024©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT
 - Alex Sharp

Thursday witnessed plenty of favourites toil or fall at the Australian Open.

However, by and large, Friday saw key contenders fight back with force. Here are the main storylines from Down Under…

Sabalenka leads the charge

Three matches down, just six games chalked up by opponents. Aryna Sabalenka's title defence is gaining some serious momentum.

The world No.2 dismissed No.28 seed Lesia Tsurenko 6-0, 6-0 in just 52 minutes on Rod Laver Arena and still maintained she could play "even better" in her on-court interview.

"There is always something to improve," stated the 2023 champion. "That's why you just can't be happy with the level you are at right now so you always have to keep moving, keep improving."

Despite title rivals such as Elena Rybakina, Jessica Pegula and Ons Jabeur departing on Wednesday and Thursday, Sabalenka laughed off the notion the draw is opening up, insisting "anything can happen, I'm just focusing match by match."

The No.2 seed is right to be wary as the resurgent Amanda Anisimova awaits in the fourth round. The American, a Roland-Garros 2019 semi-finalist, is back on the major stage following an indefinite break from the tour last May and she's blazed into the Last 16.

The 22-year-old claimed a 7-5, 6-4 passage past Paula Badosa to reunite on court with the world No.2. Anisimova holds a 4-1 record over Sabalenka, including 2019 triumphs at the Australian Open and Roland-Garros. 

"She's an amazing competitor. She's had a great year. I know she's going to be coming in hot, playing well. So I'm expecting a really good match," said the American.

"We're both very big hitters, so it always ends up being an enjoyable match to watch and also for us to play I think. I'm just really looking forward to it. I think it will be a good experience."

US Open champion Coco Gauff also sent out another signal of intent, brushing childhood training partner Alycia Parks aside 6-0, 6-2 to book a fourth round encounter with world No.69 Magdalena Frech.

Riding the wave from his sensational end to the 2023 season, Jannik Sinner continues to stream roll through the draw, joining seeded peers such as Stefanos Tsitsipas, Alex de Minaur and Taylor Fritz in the winner's circle on Day 6.

The No.4 seed is yet to drop a set, securing a 6-0, 6-1, 6-3 scoreboard to overcome Argentine Sebastian Baez. The next task is a clash with 2023 semi-finalist Karen Khachanov.

"It's already quite a while that I don't play against him," said Sinner, who claimed two finely-poised wins against the world No.15 in 2021 to avenge US Open 2020 defeat.

"He is playing always good, especially in a Grand Slam. Every time we played, was very long matches, tough matches.

"I'm just quite focused and also relaxed on the court at the moment. Let's see how I handle the situation when the score is even or I'm down, how I react. It's going to be interesting to see."

Mannarino marathon mark III

11 hours and 46 minutes on court - Adrian Mannarino is officially the marathon man. The Frenchman has now found a way in three successive five-set victories to earn a fourth round ticket.

The 35-year-old, playing at a career-high ranking at No.19, squeezed past American Ben Shelton 7-6(4), 1-6, 6-7(2), 6-3, 6-4 to equal his best Australian Open showing.

"In the end, I was not thinking anymore. I don't even know how it was the game, I just kept fighting until the end," declared Mannarino.

"You just keep going and sometimes you need to clear your brain and stop thinking about the past and you just keep going."

Mannarino enhances his impressive five-set record to 14-3, including his week-one victories over 2014 champion Stan Wawrinka and Jaume Munar.

The Frenchman asks interviewers to not reveal his next opponent, but he'll need more marathon heroics if he's to overcome world No.1 and defending champion Novak Djokovic.

In his 100th singles match at Melbourne Park, Djokovic collected his 92nd win with his "best performance" of the week, toppling No.30 seed Tomas Martin Etcheverry 6-3, 6-3, 7-6(2).

The 24-time major winner, who didn't face a break point on Friday night, becomes just the third player to reach a century of singles matches at the Australian Open alongside Roger Federer (117) and Serena Williams (105).

Can Mannarino deny Djokovic a 32nd successive victory at Melbourne Park? Four previous meetings, four straight-set scorelines in favour of the Serbian. Over to Adrian the marathon man.

Mirra-cle for Mirra

16-year-old Mirra Andreeva continues to compete like a seasoned pro.

The teenage sensation, a Grand Slam debutant as recent as Roland-Garros 2023, erased match point and climbed out from a 1-5 deficit to down French youngster Diane Parry 1-6, 6-1, 7-6[10-5].

"I would prefer to win in straight sets. I think everybody would," stated the world No.47.

"But it's also good to win when you're fighting for every point. I think I will have a lot of matches like this in my career. I'm just happy with the win. I don't care how I win exactly with the score and the time, I just want to win."

Andreeva advances to take on Roland-Garros 2021 champion Barbora Krejcikova in the Last 16.

20-year-old Maria Timofeeva hailed another "great day in the office" as the qualifier posted a sixth straight statement win in Melbourne.

The world No.170, having already defeated Alize Cornet and 2018 champion Caroline Wozniacki in the main draw, claimed a 7-6(7), 6-3 victory facing No.10 seed Beatriz Haddad Maia.

"If I'm in the right mental state, I can play good,"mused the Grand Slam debutant. "I think now is just everything coming up together. I'm having one of the best weeks of my life so far."

21-year-old Marta Kostyuk and Timofeeva will duel for a quarter-final ticket. The world No.37 edged Elina Avanesyan in three sets to match her Last 16 showing at Roland-Garros 2021.