Tennis: Halep hot-foots it into last 16 at Melbourne Park

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MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Second seed Simon Halep eased past Russian Veronika Kudermetova 6-1 6-3 to reach the fourth round of the Australian Open for the fourth straight year on Friday.

The twice Grand Slam champion feasted on the Russian's serve, breaking her opponent three times in the first set and another three times in the second.

The 29-year-old was broken twice herself but pounded 21 winners past her error-prone opponent and served out reasonably comfortably for the win after an hour and 18 minutes on court.

"It's always tough to play someone who you have never played before," said Halep, a finalist at Melbourne Park in 2018 and semi-finalist last year. "I improved a lot in my serve, I worked a lot on it in the off-season. I want to improve in every way."

Up next is a last-16 encounter with the winner of Fiona Ferro's later match against Iga Swiatek, the Polish teenager who downed Halep 6-1 6-2 at the same stage of last year's French Open on her way to her maiden Grand Slam title.

"It's a big challenge because she crushed me at the French Open," Halep said.

"I have to do something better. I'm confident, let's see."

(Reporting by Nick Mulvenney, editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)