French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko’s Australian Open hopes ended on Friday as the seventh seed was beaten, 6-3 1-6 6-3, by Anett Kontaveit in a battle of the Baltic.
After a blistering day session in extreme heat, conditions improved with a drop of some 10 degrees or so for night play on Friday at the Australian Open.
Officials will review the extreme heat policy at the end of the tournament but insisted they take player welfare very seriously.
It’s definitely amazing to be in the fourth round for the first time here at the Australian Open. I’m super-happy. I played a great first and third set – my energy dropped in the second, but she played a really great set too. Anett Kontaveit
A two-day heatwave has seen matches at Melbourne Park played in soaring temperatures, which peaked on Friday at 40.2C, but they were not deemed extreme enough for the tournament to implement its policy, which can see matches on open courts postponed and those on the show courts played with the roof closed.
By the time Latvia’s Ostapenko and her opponent from nearby Estonia, Kontaveit, met on Margaret Court Arena, conditions were comfortable enough for a sparkling match between two precocious talents.
Ostapenko, at the tender age of 20, is ranked 9 in the world, while Kontaveit, the 32nd seed is just two years older.
The Estonian has worked her way up the rankings, ending the year at 34 after having won her first title at the grass-court Wimbledon warm-up in Den Bosch in the Netherlands this last season, signalling her arrival on the scene.
Ostapenko is among the six athletes nominated for the Laureus World Breakthrough of the Year award, a remarkable achievement in itself.
It was Kontaveit, however, who was quickest out of the blocks, breaking in the first game and storming to a 4-1 lead before over-cooking things a bit to allow the Latvian a break back to narrow the gap.
Undeterred, Kontaveit used her powerful groundies to keep Ostapenko on the back foot, breaking again on her second chance to go up 5-2.
The Latvian broke back to love, signalling that she too can hit winners off weak serves, but she had yet to hold a service game of her own and, despite going up 30-0, Kontaveit struck out and gained three set point chances, converting finally on the last one to take the set, 6-3, after 37 minutes.
On the sit-down, Ostanpenko called for the trainer for a left thigh injury and took a medical timeout to have the quads taped.
If Kontaveit’s momentum was affected by the delay, she counteracted it by serving an opening ace but Ostapenko managed to break her with little sign of her movement being impaired.
In the second game, however, she flinched visibly and limped between points, clearly hurt, but held to love for the first time in the match.
The injury seemed to energise the Latvian, who struck two winners in a row on her way to orchestrating another break to go up 3-0 with a scream of ‘come on’.
Although she faced a break point in her next service game, Ostapenko held with ace for 4-0 and eventually broke the Estonian again when she double-faulted.
As the set slipped away, Kontaveit’s level dropped, offering opportunity to her hobbling opponent, whose own game had visibly sharpened despite the discomfort of serving off her injured leg.
Although break points gave Kontaveit a lifeline and she avoided the bagel, Ostapenko moved her opponent around enough to muster up her first set point and converted when the Estonian struck wide to level proceedings after 72 minutes.
A hold to love opened the decider to Ostapenko’s credit and the momentum appeared to have shifted in her favour, but Kontaveit responded in equal measure and the stage was set for a thriller.
Both players have their measure of true grit and were now evenly balanced as Kontaveit fought to break and went up 2-1, only for Ostapenko to level again.
By the all-important seventh game, both were fighting hard, using every inch of the court as Ostapenko struggled to hold.
Kontaveit squandered her fourth break point with a netted backhand and Ostapenko drove long to bring up a fifth after seven deuces. The Estonian pounced on the softer second serve to convert and move ahead.
The quality of play was exceptional as Kontaveit held to 15 to lead 5-3 as Ostapenko served to stay in the match.
Kontaveit punished any short delivery and held two match points at 15-40, winning through as Ostapenko netted her forehand, 6-3 1-6 6-3, in an hour and fifty-three minutes of enthralling play.
“She’s very tough. She plays so aggressive,” Kontaveit said of her opponent.
“It’s definitely amazing to be in the fourth round for the first time here at the Australian Open. I’m super-happy.
“I played a great first and third set – my energy dropped in the second, but she played a really great set too.
“She’s very tough, she plays so aggressive. I was trying to stay with her in that third set – I got the break and that gave me confidence, and I think that was the difference tonight.”
Up next for the No 32 seed is a showdown with Carla Suarez Navarro, who got the better of Kaia Kanepi in three sets, with a place in her first Grand Slam quarter-final up for grabs, Kontaveit’s first shot at the last-eight club at a major since her US Open debut in 2015.
In the last match of Day 5, Caroline Wozniacki, the World No 2, had a somewhat easier time of it than in her last round, when she stared down match points and made a remarkable Lazurus-like comeback.
On Road Laver Arena, she moved through to the Australian Open Round of 16 by beating Kiki Bertens from the Netherlands, 6-4 6-3, and will face Magdalena Rybarikova next.
The Slovakian took three sets to see off the challenge from Kateryna Bondarenko from the Ukraine.
“Right now I’m playing with house money, nothing to lose,” Wozniacki said, referring to her previous match after coming back from 1-5 down in the final set.
“Good forehand, good serve,” she said of Rybarikova. “Be ready for everything.”
The former World No 1 was fast quick to stamp her authority, breaking Bertens’ opening service game.
Apart from one dropped serve of her own in the first set and a row with the umpire over a slippery patch on the court, Wozniacki remained composed and in control throughout, taking the opener in 41 minutes.
Unlike her previous match, she kept the unforced errors to a minimum, committing just 12, while forcing her opponent into making 34.
The Dane, who is drawn to face fourth seed Elina Svitolina in the semi-final, raced into a 4-0 lead in the second.
She had a brief moment of anxiety at 0-30 when leading 4-2, but banged down two unreturned first serves to quell any nerves.
Serving for the match, however, Wozniacki wobbled again and she had to save four break points, at one point slamming her racquet to the ground after another altercation with the umpire about an overrule.
“It’s ridiculous how many bad, terrible calls you’ve made today,” she told the chair.
Eventually she secured victory on her fourth match point after 86 minutes.
“I end last season strong, I had a great off season and it’s great to be back here and playing these night session matches, it’s awesome,” added Wozniacki, who marches on to meet the World No 20 Rybarikova in the last 16.
“I’ll expect a similar type of match. She has a huge serve and forehand, so I need to be ready for everything. I need to be able to change the directions and get deep returns. That will be my focus.”
Wozniacki has a great chance to go the distance in Melbourne because she now won’t have to face Ostapenko, who beat her four times in four matches, in the quarter-finals.
She keeps alive her quest to regain the top spot in the world rankings too.