Paris Saint-Germain midfielder Marco Verratti will train ahead of Tuesday's Champions League clash with Barcelona, which Mauricio Pochettino is approaching with calm despite the weight of history on his team's shoulders.

Last season's finalists will face Barca at the Camp Nou for the first time since their collapse in the second leg of the last-16 tie between the two teams in 2017.

PSG led 4-0 from the first leg at the Parc des Princes but astonishingly lost 6-1 in the second as Barca pulled off the greatest comeback in Champions League history.

The cast of characters has changed significantly for both clubs since then. Neymar scored twice that night but is now in his fourth season with PSG, though he will miss this meeting with a groin injury.

Angel Di Maria came off the bench for the PSG in the 6-1 defeat but is also out with a thigh problem.

Verratti also featured for a side then coached by Unai Emery and, despite a hip issue, appears poised to play a part in the first leg.

"We are taking it step by step with Marco Verratti," Pochettino told a pre-match media conference. "He is going to train today [Tuesday] and it won't be a particularly demanding one as it is the day before the match.

"We have a strategy and a gameplan that, depending on who is available, will affect our decision."

History suggests having Verratti available will boost PSG's chances.

Their win percentage in the 56 Champions League games he has started since joining from Pescara in 2012 is 60.7, compared to 56 in the 25 games he has either missed or been named on the bench.

Despite their injury concerns and the mystique around the fixture, Pochettino is confident his players can write a new positive chapter in the history between PSG and Barca.

"It is an obvious target for PSG to win the Champions League. That is our responsibility," said Pochettino.

"I always feel my team is ready. The conditions are the conditions. The situation is the reality and we will try to compete at our best tomorrow.

"I am very calm. History is in the past and we are now in a different reality with different players. Whatever happened in the past is behind us and can be removed."

Jordan Henderson has dismissed the rumour of a bust-up between Liverpool team-mates Alisson and Andy Robertson in the aftermath of the 3-1 defeat to Leicester City.

After the Premier League champions conceded three times in the space of seven minutes to lose at the King Power Stadium on Saturday, speculation circulated on social media over the possibility of Jurgen Klopp sensationally leaving the club. 

There were also posts online relating to an alleged altercation between goalkeeper Alisson - who was involved in a mix-up with Ozan Kabak for Leicester's second goal - and defender Robertson in the dressing room after the game. 

Speaking ahead of Tuesday's Champions League tie against RB Leipzig, Henderson revealed the players saw the funny side of the rumours as he made clear the squad remains united in a bid to turn their fortunes around. 

"I don't think I even need to comment on something like that," Henderson told the media.

"Someone's sitting behind a keyboard making rumours up about the manager or the players in the dressing room. 

"I quite like the one where Robbo and Ali were having a fight. That made us chuckle a bit."

Henderson also offered praise to Klopp - who stated in his pre-match media conference that he has no plans to leave his job – and called on the players to put in a performance to reward their manager's unwavering support during a difficult period. 

"The manager is really good in situations like this. Through adversity he's the one we'll listen to the most. He's always there for us as players and tries to protect us as much as possible," the England international said.  

"Deep down, we know as players we take full responsibility and it's down to us to change this tough period. 

"There are no question marks over how he reacts after games. He probably reacts the opposite to how people would think and he handles situations like that very well. 

"That's why we want to go and put a performance on - for the team, but for him as well." 

Liverpool will play the away leg against Leipzig in Budapest due to travel restrictions currently in place in Germany amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. 

The Reds will hope a resumption of their Champions League campaign can help lead to an improvement in results on the pitch, having lost three on the spin in their domestic title defence. 

Leipzig reached the semi-finals in the previous season and qualified for the knockout rounds this term ahead of Manchester United. However, their tally of 12 goals conceded in the group stage was the highest of any team to reach the last 16. 

Premier League action coincided with Valentine's Day this weekend and Southampton ended a long drought of a particular kind on the most romantic day of the year.

There was also an impressive scoring feat for an Arsenal striker to enjoy on February 14, as the Gunners sent the White Roses of Leeds United back to Yorkshire with their tails between their legs.

A Valentine's Day chocolate variety set was the only box Harry Kane got near this weekend after a tricky time of it against Pep Guardiola's Manchester City, as Ilkay Gundogan continued his remarkable run.

All the above feature in our quirky facts from the weekend's top-flight action!

SAINTS' VALENTINE'S CARD AND AUBA'S RETURN TO FORM

It's usually nice to receive a card or two on Valentine's Day – the only exceptions are if they're tokens of sympathy from your mother, or handed out to you by a referee.

Until this year, Southampton were the only Premier League side to play a match on Valentine's Day and not receive a card, but that changed when Graham Scott booked Oriol Romeu in Saints' 2-1 defeat to Wolves. Coincidentally, that was the Spaniard's 51st Premier League yellow card since the start of 2015-16, 11 more than any player.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang had a rather more enjoyable Valentine's Day, however, as the Arsenal man scored his first Premier League hat-trick in their 4-2 defeat of Leeds United.

He joined Michael Owen and Matt Le Kissier, sorry, Le Tissier as the only players to net trebles in the Premier league on Valentine's Day.

GUNDOGAN GUNNING FOR GOALS

To say anyone predicted Ilkay Gundogan establishing himself as one of the Premier League's deadliest marksman would be a heinous lie… Yet, here we are – he is.

In fact, the German's form isn't bettered by anyone else across Europe's top five leagues in 2021, as his brace against Tottenham took him to nine goals since the turn of the year.

Andre Silva of Eintracht Frankfurt is the only player to match that haul across the same period, but his conversion rate is nothing compared to Gundogan's.

The City star, who has been playing a more advanced role lately, has converted 47.4 per cent of his shots since January 1 – among players to have scored at least five times this year, that is the fifth highest. It is a better record than those of Robert Lewandowski, Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi.

Given the rate he's going at, Gundogan may now have an eye on the all-time record for German players in a single Premier League season – Jurgen Klinsmann (20) and Uwe Rosler (15, both in 1994-95) are the only ones to score more than 11.

KANE FORCED TO THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX

It was another miserable outing for Tottenham at the weekend as their 3-0 loss at City consigned them to a fourth defeat in five Premier League games, as many as they had suffered in their previous 28.

Harry Kane endured a particularly frustrating day, as he was starved of service and found himself roaming as a result, hardly conducive to getting opportunities in the danger area.

In fact, he failed to touch the ball once inside the penalty area, which is practically unheard of for Kane.

It was only the fourth occasion of Kane failing to touch the ball in the box in a league game he started.

SAKA'S TEENAGE KICKS

Bukayo Saka has been a standout performer for Arsenal for quite a while, not just this season. However, in 2020-21 he has arguably taken his influence up a level.

He was a livewire against Leeds at the weekend, winning Arsenal's first-half penalty shortly after he was perhaps cruelly denied another by the VAR.

His performance further highlighted how much influence he has despite not turning 20 for more than six months – he is the youngest player in the Premier League this term to score five goals, be involved in at least seven goals, create 25 chances and complete 30 dribbles.

There has been plenty of talk recently about whether he will get himself into the England squad for the delayed Euro 2020 later this year – at the moment, you'd have to say he'd be unlucky to miss out.

Jurgen Klopp insists he and his Liverpool players are ready to fight and turn their form around, while strongly rejecting suggestions he could be ready to walk away from Anfield.

A 3-1 weekend defeat to Leicester City, after Mohamed Salah gave the Reds a second-half lead at the King Power Stadium, led Klopp to concede his defending champions will be unable to catch Premier League leaders Manchester City.

In their previous match, Liverpool were beaten 4-1 at home by City, who are 13 points better off with a game in hand.

Attention now turns towards the Champions League, where Liverpool will look to continue an impressive recent record in Europe's premier competition when they face last season's semi-finalists RB Leipzig.

The rumour mill went into overdrive after the Leicester defeat, with unsubstantiated online speculation suggesting Klopp might step down amid dressing room ructions.

The 53-year-old also experienced personal tragedy when his mother Elisabeth died last week, with coronavirus travel restrictions preventing him from attending the funeral.

Despite being kept away from matches, a group of Liverpool fans looked to rally around Klopp by hanging a banner in his honour outside the Kop end of Anfield - a gesture he appreciated but felt was unnecessary.

"The banner is nice, not necessary I don't think. I don't feel like I need special support in the moment [but] it's nice, very nice," he said ahead of Tuesday's match, which has been moved to Budapest.

"What was the other thing? That I get the sack or leave by myself or what? Neither, nor. I don't need a break.

"The last thing I want to do is talk about a private thing in a press conference. Everyone knows that privately we [Klopp's family] had a tough time. That wasn't only for three weeks, that was a much longer time.

"We always deal with it as a family 100 per cent.

"When I come here at the football club to work, I can split things. I can switch off. I don't carry things around. If I'm private, I'm private. If I'm in my work place, I'm here. Nobody has to worry about me.

"I might not look like this because the weather's not cool and the beard gets more and more grey, I don't sleep a lot. That's all true. But I'm full of energy.

"The situation is a challenge. I don't want the situation but, now we are in it, I see it as an interesting challenge."

Liverpool's five Premier League losses since the turn of the year is one more than they suffered over the course of the previous two completed seasons.

Klopp is realistic over the magnitude of such a fall but insisted he and his players are ready to roll up their sleeves.

"Nobody wrote a book about being in a situation like this and how you sort it," he said. "But we will sort it by playing football, by sticking even more together, by fighting with all we have, by learning more than we have in each season we played before. That's the plan we have.

"We've learned a lot but in the moment a lot of people aren't happy for the results. I am responsible for that, 100 per cent. But we played still some pretty good stuff. You can forget that, we cannot because that is the start of changing things.

"Do you change a situation like we are in with bad football. I've never heard of that.

"We have to be dominant. Massive challenge, I'm ready, the boys are ready and we will give absolutely everything to sort it."

Klopp added: "Thanks for all the support. I'm very, very grateful for these kind of things. But they can really think about other things because no one has to worry about me."

Naby Keita will not be fit enough to face his former club despite returning to training this week. The midfielder has not featured since December's 7-0 win over Crystal Palace.

Jeetan Patel says England must learn from how Ravichandran Ashwin and Virat Kohli mastered such tough conditions as the tourists prepare to "shake a stick" at pulling off an unlikely win in Chennai.

India are well on course to levelling the four-match series at 1-1 after dominating the third day at M. A. Chidambaram Stadium on Monday.

Ashwin was the star of the show on his home ground, making a brilliant 106 after taking 5-43 on day two, and captain Kohli struck 62 as India recovered from 106-6 to post 286 all out in their second innings.

England were in deep trouble on 53-3 at stumps, needing a mammoth 429 more runs to go 2-0 up, with Kohli's side looking destined to seal a crushing victory.

Axar Patel dismissed Dom Sibley and nightwatchman Jack Leach either side of the magnificent Ashwin getting rid of Rory Burns as India tightened their grip on a pitch that has turned sharply from day one.

Dan Lawrence and Joe Root made it through to stumps and England spin bowling consultant Patel expects the tourists to show fight when they resume on day four.

The former New Zealand spinner said: "I think Ashwin and Kohli were fantastic.

"Kohli, right from the first innings where maybe his footwork was I suppose a touch lazy compared to the second innings – where he was fantastic with the way he got down to the ball and across his stumps.

"The way he forced us to bowl in areas he wanted to, we need to take heed from that. Especially with the way Ashwin came out and swept early, got the field he wanted and then could manipulate the lengths from there.

"They are in a really strong position, there is no doubt about that, but we are going to have work really hard to grab some of that back."

He added: "There's still lots to do, but there's match-winners in this group, we've seen that before.

"I'm not about to say that we are 100 per cent going to win this game, but what I am going to say is we will shake a stick at it."

Patel says it is vital England take a positive approach as they try to dig themselves out of a huge hole.

"I think it's just to keep staying positive, we've got stroke-makers in the group and we want them to keep expressing themselves," he said. 

"The thing that has been the strengths so far in the three matches we have played in the subcontinent is to still try to score. 

"If we sit there and try to defend for two days, we're going to have much success and we're not going to go anywhere in the game. We can certainly look to learn a lot about ourselves while looking to score.

"I think Dan Lawrence was fantastic, the way he played this evening was exactly how he wants to play cricket and how he can contribute to this team."

Marco Rose will leave Borussia Monchengladbach to become Borussia Dortmund's new head coach at the end of the season.

Marco Rose will leave Borussia Monchengladbach to become Borussia Dortmund's new head coach at the end of the season.

Dortmund appointed Edin Terzic until the end of the campaign after Lucien Favre – with whom he had worked as an assistant – was sacked in December, but the 38-year-old has seemingly not done enough to earn the job on a permanent basis.

Favre was dismissed on the back of a humiliating 5-1 defeat to Stuttgart and Terzic initially made a strong impression, winning four of his first five matches in charge, including a 3-1 victory at RB Leipzig.

But just two wins – one of which was in extra time against second-tier Paderborn – in seven games since has left Terzic under pressure.

It seems he will continue until the end of the season, but from then on Rose will take over, according to Gladbach.

A brief Gladbach statement read: "Marco Rose has opted to leave Gladbach at the end of the season and join Borussia Dortmund."

While Dortmund had not confirmed the appointment at the time, Gladbach sporting director Max Eberl added: "We have had many discussions with each other in the past few weeks about Marco's future.

"Unfortunately, he has now decided that he would like to make use of a clause in his contract, which runs until June 2022, and switch to Borussia Dortmund in the summer.

"If the conditions stipulated in his contract are met on time, he will no longer be available to us after the end of the season.

"Until then we will mobilise all our strengths together with Marco to achieve our goals in the Bundesliga, the DFB-Pokal and the Champions League."

Tony Adams has expressed his dismay that Arsenal signed Martin Odegaard, Nicolas Pepe and Willian rather than strengthening their "fragile" defence.

Mikel Arteta landed Odegaard on loan for the rest of the season last month and the attacking midfielder has suggested he would be keen to join the Gunners on a permanent basis.

Willian has failed to make the impact the Arteta had hoped for after the Brazilian switched London clubs when his Chelsea contract expired, failing to score a single goal and providing only three assists in 24 appearances.

Pepe is another winger who has been a disappointment since he become the club's record signing, with Arsenal paying Nice £72million for his services in 2019. 

The Ivory coast international has struggled to make an impact in the Premier League; scoring nine goals, laying on six assists and creating 46 chances in 47 top-flight appearances.

Arteta brought in centre-backs Gabriel and William Saliba, but Gunners legend Adams has questioned his former club's transfer business.

He told Premier League Productions: "To be honest, there's an argument that you don't need Martin Odegaard.

"I got so annoyed that we bought Pepe and Willian in when you've got two kids [Emile Smith Rowe and Bukayo Saka] bursting into the team.

"There's other areas in the team that you could look at, there's holes in that team, we saw how fragile they are defensively. The defence has always been the weak link.

"As the sporting director of Arsenal, you wouldn't be getting Odegaard in, you'd be getting good, strong defenders into the team instead."

Arsenal have only kept one clean sheet in their last six games but beat Leeds United 4-2 on Sunday, courtesy of a Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang hat-trick, to sit 10th in the Premier League.

Lionel Messi, Neymar, Cristiano Ronaldo and players of their ilk should be protected by referees, according to Ronald Koeman, who hopes the Paris Saint-Germain star can face Barcelona in the second leg of their Champions League tie.

Barca host PSG in the first game of their last-16 contest on Tuesday, but Neymar – who spent four years at Camp Nou – will be absent due to an adductor injury suffered against Caen last week.

The Brazil international is expected to be out for four weeks, in theory ruling him out of the return leg against Barca at the Parc des Princes, where he has scored as many Champions League goals (16) as he did at Camp Nou but from six fewer games (14).

The second leg comes around on March 10, just before the predicted four-week absence period is due to end, so there remains a glimmer of hope for Neymar, and Barca coach Koeman would like for the PSG talent to be involved.

"To see the best game, you always have to have the best players on the field of play," Koeman told reporters on Monday.

"You never know how a team reacts if they lack a player like Neymar. Both teams have casualties. I hope in a couple of weeks everyone can be there to find out who is the best.

"I think we must always protect this type of player, players like Neymar, Messi, Cristiano, because they let us enjoy their quality a lot.

"And in this respect, the referees have to defend them, but in football there is contact and the players have to know that when they play one-on-one, and the referees have to decide when it is an ugly foul, but football is still a contact sport."

Given the tie had been billed as something of a duel between Messi and Neymar, understandably much of the focus from a PSG perspective has switched to Kylian Mbappe, despite the France forward netting only once in his nine Champions League knockout games for PSG

Koeman acknowledged Mbappe's talents but was keen to stress there is more to both teams than a single player.

"It is not a duel between Messi and Mbappe," he continued. "It is a duel between two teams played on one side by Leo Messi, the best player in the world and whom we need in his best form to win the tie, and similarly PSG with Mbappe.

"He is a very fast player who can complicate things a lot. It will be a beautiful game and these players are to be enjoyed as a football fan."

While Koeman suggested he hoped Neymar could feature in Paris next month, Jordi Alba – a former team-mate of the PSG talisman – was brutally honest in his appraisal of the situation.

"I am not going to deceive you, personally, it is better that players like Ney do not play in the opposing team," he added. "He is an important loss for them, like [Angel] Di Maria, who defensively and offensively contributes a lot.

"PSG has important players and I am sure that the people who replace them will have the same or similar level. It will be a contested tie that'll be decided by small details. We also have significant casualties from great players but the people who come in are doing well."

Barca are aiming to reach the quarter-finals of the competition for a record 14th successive season, and the omens are not great for PSG, who have only ever won once away to Spanish opposition in the knockout rounds of the Champions League.

Lionel Messi has proven with his recent form that he is committed to Barcelona despite significant uncertainty surrounding his future and links to Tuesday's Champions League opponents Paris Saint-Germain, according to Jordi Alba.

Messi rocked world football in pre-season when declaring his desire to leave Barcelona after spending his entire professional career at Camp Nou.

The Argentina international had grown disillusioned with the state of the club under previous president Josep Maria Bartomeu, whom Messi subsequently accused of reneging on an agreement to let him leave on a free transfer.

Messi ultimately decided to stay put, uncomfortable with the idea of dragging Barca through the courts, leaving the possibility for him to depart at the end of his contract in 2021.

While Barca have made no secret of their desire to renew his deal, a situation that is dominating the lead-up to next month's presidential election, PSG are apparently eager to bring Messi to France and even some of their players have openly addressed the prospect.

With PSG up next on Tuesday, attentions understandably turned to Messi's future in the pre-match news conference, and Alba insisted his illustrious team-mate had shown his professionalism with his haul of nine goals in as many games.

"The decision he makes will be well thought out and well-considered," Alba said. "I have said many times that I am a better player on the field when he is on the field.

"It is his decision and it will have to be respected whatever he makes, but now his thoughts are at Barca and you see that in every game.

"Even if he had decided, he wouldn't say whether he is going to stay. He already said before what intention he had.

"Today he is 100 per cent committed. From here, hopefully we can win a title and let him decide at the end of the season.

"What other players or other clubs say, we do not pay attention to in the dressing room. Leo will have the last word."

Ronald Koeman, who addressed the media after Alba, was a little less willing to discuss Messi, yet he reiterated he is optimistic Barca's captain will remain with them after the end of the 2020-21 campaign.

"I don't know if it was the intention from [the media] to talk a lot about Messi, my idea is to prepare the team and the players for an important game," he said.

"Messi is a Barca player and I have high hopes that he will continue to be a Barca player."

Ravichandran Ashwin scored a magnifcent century on his home ground as India made England toil on day three of the second Test in Chennai.

India need seven wickets to level the four-match series after all-rounder Ashwin made a sublime 106 on a sharply turning pitch at M. A. Chidambaram Stadium on Monday.

Ashwin played with great application and skill to craft a fifth hundred in the longest format, having also taken 5-43 as England were bowled out for only 134 on the second day.

Captain Virat Kohli made 62 but it was all about Ashwin, roared on by a vociferous crowd, once again as India were bowled out for 286 – setting the tourists a mammoth 482 to win.

The excellent Axar Patel dismissed Dom Sibley and nightwatchman Jack Leach, while Ashwin got rid of Rory Burns to leave England 53-3 at stumps and facing a huge defeat.

Moeen Ali (4-98) and Jack Leach (4-100) thrived on a track that has offered significant turn from day one as India lost five wickets in the morning session.

Ashwin and Kohli mastered the conditions impressively to strengthen India's grip on the match, though, putting on 96 for the seventh wicket.

Moeen saw the back of Kohli, who spent five hours at the crease and struck seven boundaries, but went from strength to strength in an imperious knock, hitting a six and 14 fours.

England were finally put out of their misery when Olly Stone cleaned up Ashwin after Mohammed Siraj added insult to injury with a couple of lusty blows over the rope.

Axar (2-15) then got Sibley lbw for only three and Ashwin had Burns (25) caught by Kohli, before Leach fended the first ball he faced from his fellow left-armer to Rohit Sharma at leg slip.

India were convinced Joe Root should have been adjudged lbw when he was struck in front by Axar, but the third umpire ruled he was hit outside the line of off stump in the final over of a great day for India.

 

False dawn for England

The tourists started the third day on the ropes, with India leading by 249 runs on 54-1 after 15 wickets tumbled on a dramatic day two.

Cheteshwar Pujara fell in the first over, comically run out when he lost his grip on his bat after jamming it in the pitch and was out of his ground following fine work from Ollie Pope at short leg.

India were 106-6 with Rohit, Rishabh Pant, Ajinkya Rahane and Axar back in the pavilion, as Ben Foakes produced two excellent stumpings for Leach and Moeen.

Ashwin and Kohli rub England's noses in it

The magnificent Ashwin put England in a spin on Sunday and showed his class with the bat in front of his adoring crowd in what is turning out to be a dream Test for the all-rounder.

Ashwin and the classy Kohli made England suffer on a hot day, with Root's tiring side becoming increasingly sloppy in the field with a combination of dropped catches and a missed stumping.

Kohli looked untroubled until he was pinned in front by Moeen, but Ashwin continued to take a positive approach after bringing up a 64-ball half-century.

He smashed Moeen for a huge six to move three shy of three figures and there was a huge roar when he struck a streaky boundary to complete a brilliant hundred. Only Ian Botham (five) has scored a century and taken a five-wicket haul in the same Test more times than Ashwin's three.

A third consecutive Australian Open quarter-final beckons for Ash Barty but the world number one is far from satisfied as she eyes a drought-ending title in Melbourne.

Barty produced a masterclass to blitz American Shelby Rogers 6-3 6-4 in the fourth round on Monday.

Not since Wendy Turnbull in 1984 has an Australian woman reached three successive quarter-finals or more at Melbourne Park, where Barty will meet Karolina Muchova in the last eight.

But 2019 French Open champion Barty is dreaming big as she looks to become the first Australian woman since 1978 to take the title.

"We're not done yet," Barty,a semi-finalist last year, said. "Obviously it's exciting to be in another quarter-final of a grand slam, particularly here in Australia.

"If we had looked at the way we were preparing during our pre-season, to have the start that we have had so far is really encouraging, but certainly not satisfied with where we're at at the moment. 

"We will keep chipping away and keep trying to do the right things to progress as far as we can."

Barty arrived in Melbourne at the start of the year having not played in a competitive WTA Tour event since February 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Asked about the prolonged break, Barty – who stepped away from tennis in 2014 before returning in 2016 after playing cricket – said: "I think I know that I've done the work. I know that we prepared in the right way during the pre-season. 

"We've done all the work to try to give myself the opportunity to play a good level of tennis and to a level that I know I'm capable of. It's just knowing that I put the trust in the work that we've done, more than surprising myself.

"I think I've known that I've done the work. I have the ability to play at this level and then it's just about going about all of our processes, our routines the right way. All of those came back quite naturally.

"It's something that I've practiced a lot, and I gain my confidence from that practice and from those preseasons as opposed to just match results."

Jessica Pegula said she "can't be more confident" after upsetting Elina Svitolina to reach her first grand slam quarter-final and Ash Barty stayed in the hunt for Australian Open glory on Monday.

Pegula, the daughter of NFL and NHL franchise owners of the Buffalo Bills and the Sabres, beat fifth seed Svitolina 6-3 3-6 6-3 on Rod Laver Arena to set up a showdown with her fellow American and friend Jennifer Brady.

Brady made it all the way to the semi-finals of the US Open last year and has now put together her best run at Melbourne Park after seeing off Donna Vekic 6-1 7-5.

World number one Barty has not dropped a set in her home major and started the second week by dispatching Shelby Rogers 6-3 6-4.

The top seed from Queensland's next assignment will be a meeting with Karolina Muchova, who saw the back of Elise Mertens 7-6 (7-5) 7-5.

Muchova, the 25th seed from the Czech Republic, has made it through to her second grand slam quarter-final - having also reached this stage at Wimbledon in 2019 - without losing a set.

 

Pegula to put friendship to one side

Pegula and Brady are close friends, but they will have to put that to one side when they meet in the quarter-finals.

The world number 61 claimed her first victory over an opponent ranked in the top 10 just over a month after Svitolina beat her in straight sets in Abu Dhabi.

Pegula hit 31 winners to Svitolina's 19 and won 21 points from 29 when she made a trip to the net as she broke new ground at a major

She said: "I can't get more confident, it's my best result yet and I'm playing good tennis. Today was a hard-fought win, so, yeah, feeling pretty good."

Pegula added on the prospect of facing Brady: "We're here to have fun and compete. If I can do it against somebody that I like, that I wouldn't mind if they beat me, hopefully not, but if they did, why not?"

Brady benefited from strict lockdown

Many players understandably struggled during and after being in a strict two-week lockdown in a hotel room following their arrival in Australia.

Brady was among the players who were not allowed out of their rooms for a fortnight, but said she used the situation to recharge her batteries before the first major of the year.

The 22nd-seeded Pennsylvanian said: "I think it was a little bit of a benefit for me, just taking a break from tennis. I had been going non-stop since World Team Tennis in June. I didn't take any time off.

"I was playing from June and then played US Open, the U.S. tournaments, and then went straight to Europe, then finished there and was training in Europe, then went home for Christmas and then came and started in Abu Dhabi.

"So obviously I didn't really feel super fresh mentally coming into Abu Dhabi. And then when I was away from tennis for two weeks, I felt like I wanted to play again to compete and I think that helped me."

Much improved Czech

Muchova had not been beyond the second round of the Australian Open before last week but now has a semi-final spot in her sights.

The 24-year-old was 4-0 down in the opening set as Mertens got off to a flyer but warmed to the task with her battling spirit and positive approach.

Muchova converted five of the six break points she earned on Margaret Court Arena, also coming from a mini-break down in a first-set tie-break.

She struck 25 winners to Mertens' 15 and advanced despite making 31 unforced errors, getting her rewards for throwing caution to the wind.

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