22 January 2017 | Alex Sharp

With a beaming smile, Daria Gavrilova skipped across the court having once again booked herself a ticket into the fourth round of the Australian Open.

The crowd favourite enjoyed a breakout 2016 to reach the last 16 at Melbourne Park, and has repeated the feat 12 months on as a seeded player with a 6-3 5-7 6-4 triumph over Timea Bacsinszky.

“It feels awesome,” exclaimed the delighted Aussie. “What can I say? I’m just exhausted and very happy. I’m pretty tired right now. It was a very tough match. To be honest, I expected it. Yeah, I feel relieved.”

A year on and Gavrilova insists she is better prepared for the exertions of a fortnight of tennis: “I now realise how tough it is to get to a second week of a slam. It’s really tough for me to win easily,” added the 22-year-old, having spent six and a half hours on court over the past three matches.

“I think I’m the type of player that just has to work for every point, so I guess I’m used to it now.”
The Aussie No.2 had won both of her previous encounters with Bacsinszky, and seemed in a relaxed mood as she entered Rod Laver Arena on Saturday night, singing along to the PA music blaring out Taylor Swift.

Focused and eager to attack, Gavrilova prevailed in a gruelling 14-minute game to break at the fourth attempt for a 2-1 advantage, courtesy of a sumptuous drop shot and acute volley.

The 22nd seed breezed through serve and then teased the errors from 12th seed Bacsinszky to accelerate 4-1 ahead.

Bacsinszky, a former French Open semifinalist, began to connect with her returns as both players traded five breaks. However it was Gavrilova’s touch towards the net (8 of 11 success rate) which clinched the opener, cutting a delightful backhand drop shot inches over the net.

World No.15 Bacsinszky saw an immediate chance to steal a break erased by a fine Gavrilova forehand, but in opposing symmetry of the first set, it was the Swiss who struck a brace of backhand winners for a 3-1 lead.

With Bacsinszky serving to level the match, Gavrilova found the corners with a succession of shots to level 5-5. That good work was instantly undone as the Bacsinszky backhand once again did the damage to nip in front.

The Aussie No.2 saved a set point with an exquisite lob, but Bacsinszky secured the set 7-5 and forced a one-set shootout, making 81 per cent of first serves to ignite her charge.

“I think I was losing my cool a little bit in the second set. I told myself, Just try and be composed.
Don’t do what you did last year,” revealed Gavrilova, referring to her turbulent exit on Rod Laver Arena in the last 16 in 2016.

“I told myself to be really focused and play a tough point every point.”

Gavrilova lost her opening service game in the decider, but inspired shot-making and canny forays to the net earned a 4-1 lead.

The 12th seed managed to stave off a match point for 5-3 to force Gavrilova to serve out the victory. Bacsinszky then went for broke, clattering her groundstrokes in tense rallies to reduce her deficit to 4-5.

Roared on by the ardent Road Laver Arena crowd, Gavrilova then dismissed any chance of a comeback to surge back into the second week at Melbourne Park, where she will face fifth seed Karolina Pliskova, who came from 2-5 in the final set to prevail 4-6 6-0 10-8 over Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia.

“She’s playing unbelievable. I lost to her pretty easily twice, yeah, she’s definitely playing her best tennis right now,” added the home favourite. “I actually told to a reporter, before the draw came out, If it wasn’t me, I picked her to win the tournament.

“I do respect her a lot. I do absolutely have to play my best to beat her.”