From a buzzy night match at Rod Laver Arena to playing in an empty stadium, Elina Svitolina has described a fan-free Australian Open as “disturbing and sad”.
The world No.5 was among the first players in round-three action at Melbourne Park on Saturday since Victoria was plunged into a snap five-day lockdown.
The midpoint of the year’s first major, the first Saturday is usually the most popular with crowds and their five-day absence is a massive blow for organisers already taking a huge hit with reduced capacity.
The Ukrainian swept aside Yulia Putintseva of Kazahstan 6-4 6-0 with the Open venue eerily quiet, with only officials and the players’ support staff permitted.
Svitolina, who has reached the quarter-finals twice at the Open and is a two-time major semi-finalist, said it was tough to adjust.
“It was very different conditions – I played a night match at 7pm with a good crowd and now it was completely different,” Svitolina said.
It was for sure a bit disturbing, I would say, in some ways sad but it is what it is.”
The 26-year-old says it felt like a practice match, and she had to force herself to switch on.
“I tried to convince myself that it’s a grand slam and that we are playing an important match and I have to focus.”
Svitolina said it was tougher for the losing player, without the crowds there to urge them on.
“When you are down, I think you feel like you’re almost alone here,” said the former world No.3.
“People give you energy, they are supporting you, they are trying to get you back into the match.”
The first match to be completed under the new conditions was the Friday night clash between world No.1 Novak Djokovic and American Taylor Fritz.
The match was bizarrely halted at 11.30pm while the crowd was cleared so fans could get home by the midnight lockdown deadline.
On court Saturday, Karolina Muchova ousted sixth seed Karolina Pliskova from the Australian Open with a spirited fightback at Melbourne Park.
Muchova battled back from 5-0 down in the second set to send the former world No.1 crashing out with a 7-5 7-5 third-round victory on Saturday.
The opening set was tight but Pliskova looked to have found her groove before dramatically collapsing.
“I’m a little sad because we are very good friends,” Muchova, the world No.27 said.
“But it’s a game and I’m definitely happy that I made it through in two sets.
“We were both a little nervous, but I’m happy I’m through.”
Muchova will meet either Swiss 11th seed Belinda Bencic or Belgian Elise Mertens on Monday for a place in the last eight.
Elina Svitolina earlier continued her quiet progression through the draw to advance to the fourth round without dropping a set.
The Ukrainian fifth seed had too many guns for Yulia Putintseva, winning 6-4 6-0 in one hour, 23 minutes after trailing 2-0 early.
From trailing 4-3 in the opening set, she reeled off nine consecutive games to win easily.
Putintseva was among the 72 players forced into hard quarantine before the Open last month.
The 26-year-old was bizarrely accused of feeding rodents in her hotel after repeatedly taking to social media to complain of a mice plague in her hotel.
It’s been quite the experience for her in Australia over the past month, but she’ll at least depart with a cheque for $215,000 for coming to the season’s first grand slam.
“I know Yulia for a very long time. We used to play when we were kids – under 10s, under 12s – so I know her from a very young age,” Svitolina said.
“So I always expect a big battle against her. She’s a big fighter so I had to really play my best and, in the end, it was a good match for me.
“I’m happy with the way I could come back in the first set.”
Svitolina will play Jessica Pegula next after the unseeded American crushed Frenchwoman Kristina Mladenovic 6-2 6-1.