World number two Simona Halep (main pix) battled her way into the fourth round at Wimbledon with victory over China’s Peng Shuai on Friday.

Romania’s Halep, the second seed, won 6-4, 7-6 (9/7) in a 99-minute match on Court Two.

She plays former world number one Victoria Azarenka in the fourth round on Monday for a place in the quarter-finals.

Peng, the world number 37, was the last of the six Chinese players in the women’s tournament.

In the meantime, Kei Nishikori suffered fresh Wimbledon misery as the Japanese star crashed out on Friday, while Victoria Azarenka stepped up her bid to become the first mother to win the All England Club title for 37 years.

Former US Open finalist Nishikori had hoped to finally advance past the fourth round at Wimbledon after years of underachievement.

But the world number nine didn’t even reach the last 16 as he was over-powered 6-4, 7-6 (7/3), 3-6, 6-3 by Spanish 18th seed Roberto Bautista Agut.

Nishikori’s third round exit means Wimbledon remains the only Grand Slam he has failed to make the quarter-finals.

It was the 27-year-old’s earliest departure from a major since his first round defeat against Benoit Paire at the 2015 US Open.

“I think he served well every set. It was a tough time on my return game. I had many chances, but I think he played the important points well,” said Nishikori.

For the first time in 20 years, there were four British men and women through to the last 32.

But, with former England captain David Beckham watching from the Royal Box, Heather Watson was unable to maintain Britain’s unexpectedly strong showing as Azarenka edged past the world number 102 with a gritty 3-6, 6-1, 6-4 victory.

Competing in her first Grand Slam since taking a year off to have her first child — son Leo — in December, former world number one Azarenka was caught out as Watson made a fast start to her attempt to reach the last 16 for the first time.

But after a sloppy first set, the two-time Australian Open champion stepped on the gas to keep alive her attempt to emulate Evonne Goolagong, who was the last Wimbledon mum to lift the Venus Rosewater Dish in 1980.

Only Goolagong, Margaret Court and Kim Clijsters have won a Grand Slam singles title after having a child.

Azarenka, who reached the Wimbledon semi-finals in 2011 and 2012, will play world number two Simona Halep or Peng Shuai for a place in the quarter-finals.

“The whole match I was a little bit on the back foot. The second set I started to step in a little bit more,” Azarenka said.

“I was very happy that I was able to find other ways to win.”

– Blistering –

Watson’s defeat came just hours after compatriot Aljaz Bedene slumped to a 7-6 (7/4), 7-5, 6-4 against 16th seed Gilles Muller in the men’s tournament.

Luxembourg’s Muller is enjoying a golden period in his previously unremarkable career after finally winning his first two tour titles in Sydney and ‘s-Hertogenbosch this year.

Into the Wimbledon last 16 for the first time in 10 appearances, the 34-year-old will face Rafael Nadal or Karen Khachanov for a place in the quarter-finals.

Former US Open champion Marin Cilic moved into the last 16 with a 6-4, 7-6 (7/3), 6-4 win against American 26th seed Steve Johnson.

Croatian seventh seed Cilic will bid for a fourth successive Wimbledon quarter-final berth when he takes on Bautista Agut.

Later on Friday, defending champion Andy Murray sets his sights on a 10th successive last 16 appearance when he faces flamboyant Italian Fabio Fognini.

Murray hasn’t lost before the fourth round of any Grand Slam for seven years, but he was beaten in three of his six previous meetings with Fognini, including a straight sets defeat in Rome this year.

The Scot hopes to become the first Briton to successfully defend a Grand Slam title since Fred Perry at Wimbledon from 1934-1936.

Fognini, the 28th seed, is trying to reach the last 16 at Wimbledon for the first time.

Having won his 10th French Open crown without dropping a set last month, fourth seed Nadal has made the switch from clay to grass with such ease that his title rivals might be getting a little worried. 

A straight sets victory over Russian 30th seed Karen Khachanov would equal Nadal’s personal record of 28 successive sets won at Grand Slams, a blistering streak he last produced in 2010.

Nadal’s second and most recent Wimbledon title came in 2010 and he hasn’t been past the fourth round for six years. – Agence France-Presse

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