Defending champion Angelique Kerber has celebrated her 29th birthday by advancing to the third round of the Australian Open. On the men's side, world No.1 Andy Murray made short work of his young opponent.
Angelique Kerber was given a battle by her fellow German, Carina Witthöft, in Melbourne on Wednesday, but eventually prevailed 6-2, 6-7 (3), 6-2 to advance to the third round of the first Grand Slam of the season.
Kerber started out solid in the first set, but struggled against some of Witthöft's deep, powerful forehands late in the second. In the tiebreaker, she double-faulted twice - once on either side of the change of ends to surrender a 3-2 lead - as Witthöft won five straight points to level the match.
Kerber dropped her serve to open the third set, but recovered her composure and took a 4-1 lead, saving two break points in the fifth game. The defending champion went on to win the match in two hours and eight minutes.
The world No. 1 is to face Kristyna Pliskova, who beat Irina-Camelia Begu 6-4, 7-6 (8) in the fourth round on Friday.
The match ended on a lighter note, as Kerber was treated to a rendition of "Happy Birthday" by the crowd at the Rod Laver Arena.
"I'm always playing on my birthday - always in Australia," Kerber told reporters in the on-court interview. "I feel at home here. I'm 29. I'm getting older, but I think I'll have a great day today."
Murray, Federer through
On the men's side, world No. 1 Andy Murray cruised into the third round by beating Russian teenager Andrey Rublev in straight sets, 6-3, 6-0, 6-2.
The British knight was troubled only briefly by a rolled ankle after taking a tumble in the third set. He now goes on to face Sam Querrey of the United States in the third round.
Murray, who has reached the final of the Australian Open five times but has never won the tournament, looked much better than in his opening round victory over Illya Marchenko.
Roger Federer also advanced to the third round, by beating Noah Rubin 7-5, 6-3, 7-6 (3) to keep intact his record of never having failed to reach the third round at the 18 Australian Opens he's played in.
The 35-year-old former No.1 will face former Wimbledon finalist Tomas Berdych in the third round after the Czech posted a 6-3, 7-6 (6), 6-2 win over Ryan Harrison.
pfd/ (AP, SID, Reuters)