Australia’s hope of seeing a homegrown Grand Slam champion now rests solely on the temperamental shoulders of Nick Kyrgios after women’s contender Ashleigh Barty was sent packing by Naomi Osaka.
And Barty was not the only crowd fancy to get her marching orders, with five-time Grand Slam winner Maria Sharapova roundly beaten by a surgically precise Angelique Kerber.
In the men’s competition defending champion Roger Federer cruised through to the second week, defeating Frenchman Richard Gasquet in straight sets.
Federer will face unseeded Hungarian Marton Fuscovics after dispatching 29th seed Gasquet 6-2 7-5 6-4 on Saturday evening in just under two hours.
The 36-year-old Swiss maestro is yet to drop a set in his quest for an incredible 20th Grand Slam title.
Another veteran and Federer foe was also out to impress.
Six-time champion Novak Djokovic advanced to the fourth round of the Australian Open, looking in excellent form during a straight-sets routing of Spain’s Albert Ramos-Vinolas.
The Serbian took a medical time-out during Saturday night’s second set for treatment of an apparent hip complaint, but regrouped to claim a 6-2 6-3 6-3 victory in two hours and 21 minutes.
He will face world No.58 Hyeon Chung in the fourth round after the South Korean youngster’s five-set defeat of fourth seed Alexander Zverev.
After labouring through a four-sets win over Gael Monfils in 39C heat on Thursday, Djokovic found another gear in his best performance since his six-month elbow injury layoff.
The 14th seed held serve throughout the match, fired off 37 winners and made excellent use of his lethal two-handed backhand.
With Barty out of contention, Kyrgios is now the only Australian with a chance to take an Open singles title.
Osaka, the mild-mannered Japanese up-and-comer delivered 12 aces in a ferocious display that must surely have given her next opponent, world number one Simona Halep, reason to take a very deep breath.
Make that an exhausted breath, because the Romanian must now contest the rest of the Open with the physical baggage of an epic two-hour, 22-minute deciding set against American Lauren Davis.
The world number 73 eventually succumbed 4-6 6-4 15-13 to conclude the three-and-a-quarter-hour third-round marathon on Rod Laver Arena.
Their encounter equalled the Open’s record for most games played in a women’s match – and also saw some impromptu courtside surgery when the American lost a toenail.
It was Barty, though, who drew the sympathy of a disappointed crowd, especially in light of her achievements over the past few months, which saw her achieve a career-high world number 17 ranking in November with a semi-final berth at the WTA Elite Trophy in Zhuhai.
She then received the highest individual honour in Australian tennis when she took out the 2017 Newcombe Medal, before winning through to the final of the Sydney International earlier this month.
“It wasn’t a good day at the office for me but we’ve still had a pretty unbelievable summer,” Barty told the ABC after her defeat..
“I’m pretty shattered and it’s a missed opportunity only because we’ve done well to get here and would have loved to have gone further.”
The Ipswich 21-year-old went down in straight sets 6-4, 6-2, but the numbers don’t tell the full story of a game that was a tour de force for the visitor and a shocking anticlimax for Barty, who walked onto Margaret Court Arena accompanied by the hopes of a nation.
They were hopes that evaporated as Osaka dominated from the first serve.
“I feel really happy but I’m also kind of sorry because I know you guys wanted her to win,” the exultant 20-year-old said after the match.
“So thank you very much because I’ve never played in an atmosphere like this before.
“I’ve always wanted to play against an Australian player because on TV it always seems really cool!”
While Osaka was celebrating, 2016 Open champion Angelique Kerber made just seven unforced errors against Sharapova, holding serve in all but one game while cruising to a 6-1 6-3 victory in an hour and four minutes on Rod Laver Arena.
Kerber will face Taiwain’s Su-wei Hsieh in the fourth round after the 32-year-old downed Polish 26th seed Agnieszka Radwanska in straight sets late last night.
The German 21st seed is the last remaining major winner in the women’s field following a streak of first-week upsets.
If her campaign so far is any indication, she will be extremely tough to stop.
Kerber took the first set in just 29 minutes, displaying her trademark athleticism and forcing Sharapova into a number of erratic shots.
Kerber now looms as a serious title threat, having seemingly overcome the form struggles that plagued her last year.
“I was so happy that we have 2018 and not 2017 anymore,” an emotional Kerber said after the match.
“I really try to enjoy every single moment right now.
“Everybody who knows me, they know that I never give up and I am always coming back.
“I had a really tough off-season and I was working hard to be here and playing against the best players.”
-with Michael Ramsey/AAP