MELBOURNE: Defending champion Novak Djokovic survived a huge scare before beating home hope Alexei Popyrin 6-3 4-6 7-6(4) 6-3 to reach the third round of the Australian Open on Wednesday.
The 36-year-old Serb, bidding for a record-extending 11th crown in Melbourne, was in deep trouble in the third set when errors began to flow and he had to save four set points.
With the packed night-time crowd on the edge of their seats, top seed Djokovic used his vast experience to win the pivotal tiebreak and then broke a dispirited Popyrin midway through the fourth set to finally seize control.
Djokovic duly racked up his 30th successive victory at the Australian Open -- his last defeat coming in 2018 -- but for the second successive round he was pushed hard.
Second seed Aryna Sabalenka continued her title defence with another comfortable victory as the Belarusian beat 16-year-old Czech Brenda Fruhvirtova 6-3, 6-2 to move into the third round.
Playing a second straight qualifier, Sabalenka did not have it all her way early in the opening set on Rod Laver Arena and swapped breaks with her opponent after some wayward hitting.
Sabalenka quickly reset to find her range for a 5-3 lead following a second break of serve before she wrapped up the first set and surged to a 4-0 lead in the second.
World number 107 Fruhvirtova responded to get on the board but Sabalenka was in no mood to allow an unlikely comeback and reeled off the winners en route to victory.
The 25-year-old will next play Ukrainian 28th seed Lesia Tsurenko beat Spain's Rebeka Masarova 6-3, 6-4.
World number four Coco Gauff battled through a difficult opening set and overcame issues with her first serve to beat fellow American Caroline Dolehide 7-6(2), 6-2.
The 19-year-old will next play another compatriot in Alycia Parks, who beat former US Open finalist Leylah Fernandez 7-5, 6-4 in one of the first matches completed on the outside courts.
Former world number one Caroline Wozniacki also fell victim to a young Russian in qualifier Maria Timofeeva, the Dane cursing herself after winning the first set comfortably on John Cain Arena but going out 1-6, 6-4, 6-1.
Wozniacki's exit follows that of Angelique Kerber and Naomi Osaka in the first round, leaving the tournament without any of the trio of mothers and former champions who returned to the Grand Slam this year.
Ons Jabeur suffered a stunning 6-0, 6-2 loss to Russian teenager Mirra Andreeva in the second round as the sixth seed's bid to become the first Arab and African woman to win a Grand Slam title lay in tatters.
Jabeur began the match with a big ace down the middle but quickly found herself on the back foot as her 16-year-old opponent capitalised on some uncharacteristic errors to cruise through the opening set in 20 minutes conceding eight points.
In her fourth Grand Slam main draw appearance since making her debut at last year's French Open, Andreeva showed maturity beyond her years as Jabeur desperately sought answers from her coaching team after the early jolt.
Jabeur - dubbed by fans as Tunisia's 'Minister of Happiness' - swapped her trademark smile for a more determined look and the 29-year-old held early in the next set but there was no stopping Andreeva, who raised her level again and pulled away.
Jannik Sinner continued his hot streak of form to race into the third round for the third successive year with a 6-2, 6-2, 6-2 demolition of Dutch qualifier Jesper de Jong.
The 22-year-old Italian fourth seed, favoured by some as a potential champion at Melbourne Park after a stellar finish to last season, completely dominated the world number 161 under the closed roof on Margaret Court Arena.
Sinner, who banged down seven aces and 26 winners, faced not a single break point over the entire contest while winning an impressive 45% of his return points.
There were sympathetic cheers from the crowd when De Jong finally got on the scoreboard in the final set but Sinner was soon serving out to love to book a meeting with Sebastian Baez who beat Daniel Elahi Galan 7-5, 2-6, 6-2, 6-4.
Moreover, in women’s section, Elina Avanesyan stunned 8th seed Maria Sakkari 6-4, 6-4, Marta Kostyuk beat Elise Mertens 5-7, 6-1, 7-5, Lesia Tsurenko beat Rebeka Masarova 6-3, 6-4, Paula Badosa beat Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 6-2, 6-3, Caroline Garcia beat Magdalena Frech 6-4, 7-6 to reach third round.
In men’s section, 5th seed Andrey Rublev beat Christopher Eubanks 6-4, 6-4, 6-4, Sebastian Korda beat Quentin Halys 6-4, 6-4, 6-4, Tomás Martín Etcheverry beat Gaël Monfils 6-4, 6-4, 6-4, Tomas Machac beat 17th seed Frances Tiafoe 6-4, 6-4, 7-6 to reach third round. Agencies