There is a Pole in the quarter-finals of the Australian Open, but it is not Iga Swiatek, rather it is 30-year old Magda Linette, who stunned World No 4 Caroline Garcia, 7-6(3) 6-4, on Rod Laver Arena on Monday.
It's very difficult. I’m [nearly] 31 and I'm just getting it right, so obviously it was one of the toughest things for me. But I'm happy. I'm happy that I have this opportunity, that actually I tapped into something that finally I'm breaking something that you can't really measure in any way. Magda Linette
Joining her in the Last 8 are Aryna Sabalenka, a straight sets winner over Belinda Bencic, Karolina Pliskova, who dismissed Zhang Shuai, and Donna Vekic, after a battle with Linda Fruhvirtova.
It is Linette’s finest win of her career, improving her record against top-5 players to 3-9 as she reached her first major quarter-final in Melbourne.
“I’m speechless!” she said. “I don’t really believe it. I don’t know, I still can’t believe it really. I don’t know what happened.
“I don’t want to say I didn’t expect it, because coming on the court I was confident in how I’m playing.
“Obviously she’s such an amazing opponent, and such a tough one, especially on a big stage, so I knew it’s going to be super tough, and I’m just glad I stay[ed] composed throughout the whole first set,” she added.
Sitting in her Player Box was her compatriot and two-time AO semi-finalist Agnieszka Radwanska, who has been mentoring the Polish team that competed at the recent United Cup, where Linette bore the weight of playing two crucial matches, securing the tie against Switzerland with a win over Jil Teichmann, and winning a must-win match over Lucia Bronzetti to give Swiatek and Hubert Hurkacz the chance to seal the win for Poland over Italy in mixed doubles.
“I wasn’t that completely far away [from the second week of Grand Slams],” Linette told reporters. “In Wimbledon, I was quite close one year to get through to the second week when I was, kind of, having a break up in the third set against Paula [Badosa].
“When I was at the Roland Garros, I was set up against Ons [Jabeur]. I’ve been in the third rounds for so many times that I knew I’m capable.
“Then when I start beating players like Ash Barty and then Ons, that kind of gave me an extra kick that really showed me that I can really go far in those tournaments.”
Nearly 6 years had passed since Garcia and Linette last played each other, and the Frenchwoman won in straight sets.
Going into the match, Garcia knew her opponent could be dangerous: “I will have to be aggressive. I will have to be really focus[ed on] myself, and be ready for what comes, and fight,” said the 29-year-old.
The Polish World No 45 was in uncharted territory, having never advanced past the 3rd-round of a major in 29 attempts, but she has dispatched 16th seed Anett Kontaveit and 19th seed Ekaterina Alexandrova this fortnight, giving notice of her blossoming form.
Attacking from the get-go, Garcia, who is the WTA Finals champion, raced out to a 3-0 lead, courtesy of a double break before Linette reeled one back, keeping herself in the rallies with deep groundstrokes.
Serving for the opening set at 5-4, Garcia saved a break point with a magnificent backhand winner before misfiring from that same wing to concede the game.
Then, an ill-timed double-fault from the Frenchwoman gave the Pole an advantage in the tiebreak and, moments later, Linette snatched the first set with a blistering forehand that drew an error from Garcia at the net.
Garcia saved a break point early in the second, but the 4th seed’s returns began to lose their sting, enabling Linette to hold to love in a game spanning just 96 seconds.
With steely determination, the Frenchwoman saved 3 break points in a marathon 7th game, but she was unable to adjust to the intense, relentless pressure from Linette’s groundies and, facing break point at 4-4, Garcia flung a forehand wide, gifting the Pole the chance to serve for the match.
On match point, Linette confidently served down the T, resulting a forehand sent long by Garcia.
Linette landed 75% of her first serves, outpacing Garcia’s underwhelming 49%, and, more Importantly, she won 69% of second serve points, far outweighing the Frenchwoman’s 39% success rate.
“I knew I had to serve pretty well,” Linette said later. “I was taking my time to make sure that the quality of my serve is there, otherwise she was really punishing me, especially you could see at the beginning.
“Once I picked up a little bit on my serve, then I was just really focusing to stay really composed in my service games, and just wait for my opportunities on her return games.”
The Pole made just 14 unforced errors, less than half her opponent’s 33, and she won 61% of points against Garcia’s second serve, significantly more than the Frenchwoman’s 31%.
Linette’s first trip to the final 8 at Melbourne Park pits her against Pliskova, the 30th seed from the Czech Republic, who blasted past 23rd seed Zhang, 6-0 6-4, lifting her unbeaten streak against the Chinese right-hander to 8-0.
The former World No 1 has been flying under the radar, virtually unnoticed through the draw, having missed her first Grand Slam since the US Open in 2012 here last year after breaking her arm.
“Of course it’s amazing just to be here because I was really, really sad last year that I missed especially this part of the season,” Pliskova said. “It just took me some while because I also started, pretty much, still with the pain.
“I felt like lately I was finding my game. Now I continue playing how I was playing in the US swing. Happy again to be in the quarter-finals second slam in a row.”
Pliskova has reunited this season with her former coach Sascha Bajin, who helped her to the Wimbledon final and number three in the world in 2021.
While she holds a track record against Linette of 7-2, but the Pole earned a straight-sets victory during their most recent encounter at last year’s Billie Jean King Cup Finals, 6-4 6-1, and will be hoping their quarter-final plays out with a similar scoreline.
“It’s very difficult. I’m [nearly] 31 and I’m just getting it right, so obviously it was one of the toughest things for me,” Linette said. “But I’m happy. I’m happy that I have this opportunity, that actually I tapped into something that finally I’m breaking something that you can’t really measure in any way.
“For me, it was something really difficult to change. I’m really trying to take it one match at a time. I’m happy that I’m managing to do that. I’m trying to break it down during the match in the same way: one point at a time.”
It is certainly working as Linette unexpectedly has gone further than her compatriots Swiatek and Hurkacz, to make the first Grand Slam quarter-final of her career.