Australian Open | Swiatek and Collins outlast giant-killers to meet in semi-final

Iga Swiatek took 3 hours to figure out how to beat the resilient Kaia Kanepi at the Australian Open on Wednesday, while Danielle Collins figured out tricky Alizé Cornet rather more quickly, and the two will now meet in their first semi-final at Melbourne Park on Thursday.

I have eternal respect for the Grand Slam winner because it's such a long way. My God, I have the feeling I'm playing this tournament for a year. I'm so exhausted mentally, physically. When you go all the way and win these freaking seven matches, it's just huge. Alizé Cornet

For Swiatek, it was a question of to how to outlast the tenacious Estonian veteran, as the No 7 seed from Poland had to come from a set and a break down in the brutal heat to eventually out-gun Kanepi, 4-6 7-6(2) 6-3.

“This match was crazy,” Swiatek said. “In the first set I think my mistake was … I had so many break points, that I felt like I missed my chances.

“She has broken me on her first break point, and I had like, I don’t know, five? So I was pretty annoyed.

“I should have been focused on the future, on the next ball. And that’s why in second set, I did exactly that.”

Earlier, Collins, the American 27th seed, had shown that she is fully recovered from the emergency surgery for endometriosis last April, and then suffering an abdominal injury at Roland-Garros, as she dealt with the giant-killing Cornet, 7-5 6-1, in just under an hour and a half.

“It feels incredible,” she said. “I think especially after some of the health challenges that I’ve had to be able to get back to this level, and be able to compete the way that I have been, being able to be as physical as i have been has been so rewarding.

“Especially playing against the girls I’ve been playing against the last couple of matches, playing against really good competitors, really great athletes to be able to compete with these women is an honour.”

Swiatek had to dampen down her frustrations after wasting break-point chances in each of Kanepi’s first 3 service games, and it was the 36-year old Estonian who converted her first chance in the 7th game to nose ahead.

Remarkably, 115th-ranked Kanepi turned professional in 1999, two years before Swiatek was born, and throughout her career, she has notched 14 wins over top-10 players, 9 of those coming at Grand Slam tournaments, including beating former AO champion Angelique Kerber in round 1 and then World No 2 Aryna Sabalenka on Monday.

20-year old Swiatek saved 4 set points in the 9th game that lasted 16 minutes, but she could not stop Kanepi from taking the opener on her 9th after another lengthy game.

Kaia Kanepi, who turned pro in 1999, before Iga Swiatek was born, put up a fight on Wednesday but could not get past the No 7 seed

© Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Despite the 16-year age gap, the Estonian showed plenty of fight as she looked to make a first Grand Slam semi-final since playing her first in 2006.

She broke early in the second, with a frustrated Swiatek slapping herself and slamming her racket on the court as Kanepi did most of the damage with her powerful double-handed backhand, leaving the Pole rooted to the spot and watching helplessly as the winners screamed past.

Swiatek, the 2020 French Open champion, dug in and broke straight back before holding as Kanepi seemed to wilt in the searing heat, and the Pole struck again to take a 3-1 lead.

The Pole’s 9th double-fault, however, helped Kanepi break back and the set rolled on to a tiebreak, in which Swiatek was able to regroup and dominate.

While Kanepi had been winning the bulk of short points, those less than 5 strokes, Swiatek was dominating the long rallies of 10-plus shots, and when she won an intense 18-shot exchange, the Pole led 5-2 in the breaker, and the wilting Estonian sprayed 2 subsequent errors to find herself in a third set.

They exchanged early breaks in the decider before Swiatek broke again for 3-2 and she looked destined to sweep home, but Kanepi made life difficult before a late break ensured the Pole was victorious.

Apart from a scintillating match point, this was a gnarly contest beset with errors, with Swiatek dishing up a career-high 12 double-faults, and both women combining for 112 unforced errors, against 66 winners.

The No 7 seed played dependable tennis when it mattered in the tiebreak, and was able to fire enough resounding winners in the third set to eventually advance after breaking 115th-ranked Kanepi 4 times, sealing the 3 hour 1 minute contest on her 2nd match point when the Estonian sent a backhand wide for her 62nd unforced error.

“I’m really glad that I have my voice because I was shouting so loud,” Swiatek said. “This match was crazy and without the energy in the stadium, I think it would’ve been really hard to win it.”

Swiatek is in the second week for a 6th consecutive Grand Slam since her 2020 French Open triumph, but it the first time she has made the last 4 away from the Paris clay.

“She played so great,” Swiatek said. “It seemed like the ball is going out, it suddenly went in [laughing].

“That was my mistake, because I didn’t run, but I felt like she’s in a good shape, and she can play anything.

“After my match against Sorana [Cirstea in the 4th round], they [my team] told me they believed I’m gonna win, even though I lost the first set.

“So I remembered that today in the tiebreaker. It gave me a lot.”

Ranked 9, Swiatek is now projected to rise to No 4 in the world, and could go as high as 3 if she wins the title.

For Kanepi, this was a heart-breaking loss as she now falls to 0-7 in Grand Slam quarter-finals.

Danielle Collins overcame Alizé Cornet to reach the AO semi-finals where she will play Iga Swiatek on Thursday

© Michael Errey/AFP via Getty Images

Swiatek will play Collins on Thursday for a place in the final after the American 27th seed ground down Alize Cornet 7-5, 6-1 to match her Australian Open exploits from 2019.

Earlier in the day, Collins’ game plan was to dictate at any cost from on top of the baseline at the get-go against Cornet, and it reaped the early rewards when after a 10-minute game she landed a crucial break to go up 3-1.

On another sweltering day on Rod Laver Arena, conserving energy proved critical after had battled 3-sets coming into the contest.

In her 63rd main draw appearance, Cornet had scaled her 4th-round Grand Slam hurdle with a lung-busting 3-set triumph over Simona Halep, her second upset of a dual major champion and former No 1 this tournament, following her 2nd-round dismissal of Garbiñe Muguruza.

Collins had come from a set down in consecutive matches at a major for the first time, against Clara Tauson and fellow former semi-finalist Elise Mertens to reach this stage.

Being pain-free had made a huge difference for Collins: “I think I certainly feel a lot freer just not having to deal with the symptoms that I used to deal with, that not being a continuous issue that I’m dealing with on a daily basis.

“I think aside from surgery, I’ve gotten a lot physically stronger over the last couple of years.

“My strength and conditioning, my fitness, it’s been one of the most important areas of my training and focuses.

“That has transferred over to my tennis, the way that I’m able to play physically with my serving.

“My stamina on court has improved tremendously. I think just overall power and speed has improved.”

Collins, who won the NCAA women’s singles championship out of the University of Virginia in 2014 and 2016, had to recover from a set down in her two prior matches, but held on in a tough first set before cruising through the second set this time around.

The American had 28 winners to Cornet’s 11 in the match and although Collins also had 12 more unforced errors than the Frenchwoman, she still claimed a staggering 90 percent of points behind her first serve, 28-of-31, and only dropped her serve once.

Collins triumphed in a gruelling 12-minute game to earn the first break of the day and lead 3-1, but Cornet’s guile kept her alive in the first set.

The Frenchwoman broke back for 5-4 when the American served for the set, and a forehand winner off the net-cord gave Cornet a 3rd straight game to level the opener at 5-5.

Two aces and a marvellous backhand cross-court winner earned Collins a key hold for 6-5, and the American garnered her first opportunities to notch the one-set lead in the subsequent game when, after missing on her first 2 set points, a forehand winner gave the American her 3d chance, which she took after a long forehand miscue by Cornet in just shy of an hour.

Alizé Cornet narrowly lost the first set to Danielle Collins and then ran out of steam in their quarter-final contest

© Paul Crock/AFP via Getty Images

Exhausted from her groundbreaking feats and feeling the heat, it did not bode well for the Frenchwoman, who had to be at her relentless retrieving best for two more sets if she was to extend her stay.

It was a bridge too far, as Collins romped to a 4-0 lead in the second set, then held on for 5-0, saving a break point with an ace in the process.

Cornet pulled herself through a two-deuce game to get on the scoreboard at 5-1, but a series of superb forehands by Collins helped her close out the next game and book a second Australian Open semi-final.

“It means the world to me. I think as athletes and especially for myself, I’ve been playing tennis since I was seven years old,” Collins said. “I worked at this every day.

“I gave up so much as a kid to get to where I am now.

“The amount of hours I spent each day on the court playing at the park with my dad, and him driving me around everywhere to try to get me the best resources to get to where I am today and with the health challenges, to be able to overcome all that means a lot to me and to my family as well.”

Defeat was bittersweet for the unseeded Cornet, who was in her first-ever Grand Slam quarter-final after 17 years of trying, but was unable to take it a step further.

“I have this little regret, but I gave everything I had on the court today, which was less than the previous day, but that’s what I had,” said the Frenchwoman.

“I have eternal respect for the Grand Slam winner because it’s such a long way.

“My God, I have the feeling I’m playing this tournament for a year.

“I’m so exhausted mentally, physically. When you go all the way and win these freaking seven matches, it’s just huge.”

28-year-old Collins has compiled a sterling win-loss record of late, going 31-7 since last July, building a 12-match winning streak, which included her first 2 WTA singles titles consecutively at Palermo, on clay, and San Jose, on hard court.

Looking ahead to the semi-finals, she said: “No matter who I’m going to play, they’re going to be very tough competitors, very relentless, powerful, strong, everything you would expect in a semi-final.”



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