Melbourne | Blinkova fells Rybakina in epic breaker, while Ostapenko and Azarenka advance

Thursday’s night session matches eclipsed the earlier dramas of Day 5 at the Australian Open, and saw the departure of World No 3 and last year’s finalist, Elena Rybakina, after a thrilling encounter with Anna Blinkova, while Elina Svitolina led a band of 3 Ukrainians into round 3, and two-times former champion Victoria Azarenka prevailed over Clara Burel.

I had negative thoughts coming to my head, especially when I could not convert my match points and I was match point down on the return. I had a lot of thoughts [like] ‘What if she serves well? What if she hits [a] big first serve? It's going to be over'. I tried to push these thoughts away. I was telling myself to cut the trajectory, accelerate on the return. I was telling myself to stay solid all the time, just to keep running everywhere and put all the balls in the court. Anna Blinkova

25-year-old Blinkova saved 6 match points before finally converting her 10th match point to win the longest-ever women’s tiebreak in Grand Slam history, the breathtaking 30-minute tussle usurping the 20-18 record set by Lesia Tsurenko in her win over Ana Bogdan at Wimbledon last year.

It took 2 hours and 46 minutes to resolve the 2nd-round issue between the tenacious Russian and the unflappable Kazakh, the 2022 Wimbledon champion, finalising with a 6-4 4-6 7-6[20] upset win for Blinkova.

Both struck the ball fearlessly for much of the match tiebreak, during which they hit a combined 14 winners and forced 9 errors with relentless, gasp-inducing shotmaking.

“It took me a lot of courage,” said Blinkova afterwards, revealing that her hand and legs were shaking as she fought for her first win over a Top 3 player. “I was going for it, I was trying to find the balance between being aggressive and being solid, not rushing, but trying to make her play one more shot.

“I was telling myself … to go more for it, to hit harder, to make her move more,” she added. “I was doing a lot of mental work, a lot of self-talk to just stay positive, and telling myself that I still can win the match until the very end.

“I had negative thoughts coming to my head, especially when I could not convert my match points and I was match point down on the return. I had a lot of thoughts [like] ‘What if she serves well? What if she hits [a] big first serve? It’s going to be over’.

“I tried to push these thoughts away. I was telling myself to cut the trajectory, accelerate on the return. I was telling myself to stay solid all the time, just to keep running everywhere and put all the balls in the court.”

Blinkova collapsed to her knees after sealing the win, earning herself a maiden berth in the AO 3rd-round, where she will tackle 26th seeded Jasmine Paolini.

Having missed 2 match points serving for victory against the 3rd seed at 5-4 in the deciding set, matters moved into the shootout that went on and on, Blinkova mesmerising onlookers near and from afar.

The capacity crowd in Rod Laver Arena was spellbound by what they were witnessing, as Blinkova missed another 7 match points before finally converting her 10th to win it 22-20 in the match breaker that had lasted over half an hour, saving 6 match points in the process.

“This day I will remember for the rest of my life,” said the World No 57 after securing the biggest win of her career. “I will never forget it.”

That memorable contest was just one of a handful that went to the wire on Day 5.


Iga Swiatek kept her title hopes alive with a 3 hour 14 minute win over Danielle Collins in the opening match on Rod Laver arena

© Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

At the start of the day, Danielle Collins had surprised everyone in her post-match press conference by announcing that this season will be her last on tour, and so her 3-hour plus marathon loss to Iga Swiatek was the last singles match she will ever play at Melbourne Park.

Meanwhile, having played a barn-burner quarter-final in Brisbane in the first week of the 2024 season, Jelena Ostapenko and Victoria Azarenka set up a rematch, after the 11th-seeded Latvian got past home favourite Ajla Tomjlanovic, 6-0 3-6 6-4, while the No 18 seed and two-time champion also had to overcome strong opposition in the second set to move past Denmarks’ Clara Tauson, 6-4 3-6 6-2, in 2 hours and 15 minutes.

Ostapenko roared through a 19-minute first set in which she conceded only 7 points and committed 3 unforced errors, but then had to battle to find that form again in time for the decider.

“Sometimes, when the first set goes too easy, when you play too well, it’s kind of the hardest part of the game,” Ostapenko said afterwards with a laugh. “Australia [is] good so far, winning doubles title in Brisbane, winning singles title in Adelaide.”

Azarenka converted her 5th match point to complete her win over Tauson in the early hours of Friday morning, despite the Dane striking 39 winners to the Belarusian’s 25, and saved 9 of 14 break points, but still came up short.

“I’m very happy that I was able to fight through … today was, I would say, a bit of an ugly win,” said Azarenka, who sprayed 30 unforced errors off her racket. “Sometimes, you have to do whatever it takes to get over that line.

“She’s a very good player, very talented, still young so I’m sure she’s going to improve … definitely has a great future.”


Elina Svitolina is leading the Ukrainian charge, with 4 countrywomen reaching the AO 3rd-round for the first time

© Lillian Suwanrumpha/AFP via Getty Images

Elsewhere, for the first time ever, 4 Ukrainian women have reached the 3rd-round of a Grand Slam, spear-headed by the country’s No 1, three-time major semi-finalist Svitolina, who led the charge with a 65-minute 6-1 6-3 defeat of Viktoriya Tomova from Bulgaria on Thursday.

On Wednesday, Tsurenko, the No 28 seed, and No 37-ranked Marta Kostyuk made it into round-3, while Svitolina, whose return from maternity leave in April saw her named WTA Comeback Player of the Year last month, continued her strong form to defeat No 70-ranked Tomova on Thursday.

The 29-year-old, who is fresh off a run to the Auckland final, fired 25 winners against the Bulgarian.

Svitolina has now reached at least the 3rd-round in 9 of 11 Australian Open appearances, with her best showings being a pair of quarter-finals in 2018 and 2019.

It was the lowest-ranked of the quartet who sealed the historic record, though, with No 93-ranked qualifier Dayana Yastremska, striking 22 winners en route to defeating Varvara Gracheva from France, 6-3 6-2 in just 66 minutes.

The 23-year-old had struggled in qualifying, needing 3 sets in each of her matches against Lea Boskovic, Valentini Grammatikopoulou and Maya Joint, but she upset No 7 seed Marketa Vondrousova in the 1st-round to notch her first Grand Slam main draw win since the 2020 US Open, and has only lost 8 games in 2 main-draw matches.

Svitolina next faces Viktorija Golubic, whom she defeated 6-1 6-2 in the 1st-round here in 2019 in their only previous meeting, while Yastremska will take on No 27 seed Emma Navarro for the first time.




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