Dimitrov downs Gasquet in early-AM finish

Grigor Dimitrov (AFP)
Grigor Dimitrov (AFP)

Melbourne - Grigor Dimitrov played to 02:00 on Sunday as he beat Richard Gasquet to reach the Australian Open's last 16, recalling the tournament's infamous late - or early - finishes.

Play got underway at two minutes to midnight and Dimitrov took two hours, two minutes to oust Gasquet 6-3, 6-2, 6-4, following Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams into the fourth round.

The timing had echoes of the 2008 clash between Lleyton Hewitt and Marcos Baghdatis, which started at 23:47 and wrapped up at a bleary-eyed 04:34 the following day.

In 2012, the men's singles final between Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal started before 20:00 and went on for a record five hours and 53 minutes, finishing at 01:40.

Scattered groups of fans at Rod Laver Arena sipped coffee and huddled in towels against the early-hours chill as Dimitrov broke his French opponent's serve five times.

"Lately I've been struggling with my sleeping so I've been going to bed so late, so today it's 02:00 and I'm feeling great," smiled the 15th-seeded Bulgarian.

"It's going to take a while to fall asleep so I might go and practice again," he joked.

Earlier, Nadal needed all his trademark grit to grind out a thrilling 4-6, 6-3, 6-7 (5/7), 6-3, 6-2 win over 19-year-old Alexander Zverev, widely tipped as a future number one.

It means Nadal, 30, joins fellow veteran Roger Federer in the last 16 of a contest missing defending champion Novak Djokovic after his stunning defeat to Denis Istomin.

"Everybody knows how good Alexander is," said Nadal, who will play France's Gael Monfils in the fourth round. "He's the future of our sport, and the present."

Williams, by contrast, had no such trouble as she brushed off fellow American Nicole Gibbs 6-1, 6-3 to maintain her charge towards a 23rd Grand Slam title.

Williams, back after an injury break at the end of 2016, has been in brilliant form and she will take some stopping as she zeroes in on Steffi Graf's Open-era record.

The next player to take on Williams will be Barbora Strycova, who ousted France's Caroline Garcia to earn a shot at the world number two.

"Obviously I'm here for one reason," said Williams, who again lifted her index finger in celebration at her victory, symbolising the number one. 

Elsewhere, 117th-ranked Istomin built on his win over Djokovic by beating Pablo Carreno Busta 6-4, 4-6, 6-4, 4-6, 6-2 to reach the last 16 for the first time, where he will play Dimitrov.

David Goffin halted towering Croatian Ivo Karlovic, who won a tournament-record 84-game match in the first round, to set up a clash against Austrian eighth seed Dominic Thiem.

Roberto Bautista Agut ousted fellow Spaniard David Ferrer 7-5, 6-7 (6/8), 7-6 (7/3), 6-4 and will next play third seed Milos Raonic, who beat Gilles Simon 6-2, 7-6 (7/5), 3-6, 6-3.

In the women's draw, Britain's Johanna Konta maintained her sizzling form with a dominant 6-3, 6-1 victory over former world number one Caroline Wozniacki.

Konta's prize is a round-of-16 rematch with Russia's Ekaterina Makarova, whom she edged at the same stage last year, going 8-6 in the final set.

Makarova, seeded 30, beat sixth seed Dominika Cibulkova in a three-set marathon.

Mirjana Lucic-Baroni, who hadn't won an Australian Open match since 1998 before this year, extended her fairytale run by beating Greece's Maria Sakkari 3-6, 6-2, 6-3.

Next up for the 34-year-old Croatian, who put her career on hold to flee her abusive father, is American qualifier Jennifer Brady, who upset 14th seed Elena Vesnina.

Fifth seed Karolina Pliskova survived a scare before beating Latvian teenager Jelena Ostapenko 4-6, 6-0, 10-8 and she will face Australia's Daria Gavrilova in the next round.

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