Melbourne | Rybakina upsets Swiatek as Ostapenko ousts Gauff

Elena Rybakina feels she has a lot to prove, the reigning Wimbledon champion stripped of her rightful place among the Top 10, slighted by being relegated to an outside court at Melbourne Park at the start of the Australian Open, and scheduled outside of prime time on her first visit to Rod Laver Arena this year, so, on Sunday, she overpowered the World No 1 Iga Swiatek in straight sets to reach the quarter-finals where she will meet, not Coco Gauff, but Jelena Ostapenko, another Grand Slam champion.

I felt the pressure, and I felt that I don’t want to lose instead of I want to win. So that’s a base of what I should focus on in the next couple of weeks. Rybakina’s ranking should be better, but we all know what happened at Wimbledon. She was just better today, honestly, and she played in a really solid way. I think, tactically, she was, kind of, composed and just able to stay focused. She was a better player today. I don’t know what to tell you in terms of analysing the match. On the other hand, if you want to win a tournament, you have to, kind of, be better than everybody. Iga Świątek

The blockbuster encounter between the Wimbledon champion and the French and US Open champion should have been the popcorn match to start the night session but, instead, it began in the middle of the day when Rybakina gave notice.

She upset Swiatek, 6-4 6-4, in an hour and 29 minutes, while Ostapenko, the 2017 French Open champion, upended 7th-seeded Gauff, 7-5 6-3, next door in the Margaret Court Arena.

Both the 22nd-seeded Rybakina, a 23-year-old who represents Kazakhstan, and the 17th-seeded Ostapenko, a 25-year-old from Latvia, earned their spots in the quarter-finals at Melbourne Park for the first time.

“I played well in the important moments,” said Rybakina, who used her big serve to unsettle Swiatek, and got the better of most of their baseline exchanges. “Of course I’m nervous every time I go on the court, I think, like everybody, but I’m calm, always.

“At least I’m trying not to show too much emotions. My coach says I actually need to show sometimes, so I’m also learning.”

Swiatek’s hopes of a second straight hard-court major were dashed and, later, she admitted that, perhaps, she had wanted it too much.

“I felt like I took a step back in terms of how I approach these tournaments, and I, maybe, wanted it a little bit too hard,” she told reporters. “So I’m going to try to chill out a little bit more. That’s all.”

Swiatek, who struggled with her first-serve as she lost for just the 3rd time in her last 27 Grand Slam matches, said that the stress had proven difficult.

“For sure, past two weeks have been pretty hard for me,” the 21-year-old admitted. “So I felt, today, that I don’t have that much to take from myself to fight even more.”

Iga Swiatek was kept on the stretch by the power of Elena Rybakina at Melbourne Park

© Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

She certainly faced a tough opponent in Rybakina, whose ranking at No 25 does not reflect her accomplishment in winning at Wimbledon in July, when the WTA and ATP tours withheld all points at The Championships after the All England Club barred players from Russia and Belarus from participating because of the invasion of Ukraine.

Although Rybakina was born in Moscow, she has played for Kazakhstan since 2018, when that country offered her funding to support her tennis career.

Despite her status as a major champion, Rybakina has been kept out of the spotlight, with her 1st-round match played on outside Court 13 last Monday, while her match against two-time Slam champ Garbiñe Muguruza at least year’s US Open was out on Court 4.

It was an inauspicious start to their Sunday encounter because, before the first ball had even been struck on Rod Laver Arena, Swiatek was handed a code violation warning for taking too long.

It set the tone for a slow start to proceedings, and Swiatek never found her best form, mainly because of Rybakina’s fire-power, with the Kazakh firing 6 aces and compiling a 24-15 edge in winners against the 21-year-old from Poland, who was a semi-finalist here a year ago.

At the outset, Swiatek led 40-love but got broken and although she held 2 break points at 15-40 in the next game, she failed to convert either.

The score ended up at 2-2, but it could well have been 4-0 in Swiatek’s favour, and Rybakina eventually served the first set out to love after 42 minutes, capping it with a 113 mph (183 kph) ace, having been aided by her dangerous backhand, which produced 6 winners, compared with zero by the top seed.

Rybakina is among a very select group who can push the Pole around the court, and she found tremendous success clobbering hard and flat into her opponent’s forehand.

Struggling with such depth and pace on the shots headed her way, Swiatek needed to orchestrate quite a turnaround if she was to survive the onslaught and, in the second set, she appeared to get herself back on track, looking very much like the player who put together a 37-match winning streak last year.

It was not to last long, however, as Rybakina took 6 of the match’s last 7 games and Swiatek found it hard to drag her heavy-striking opponent out of her hitting zone.

She wilted under Rybakina’s attack and serve and the 22nd seed advanced to her maiden Australian Open quarter-final with a 6th ace and 7th forehand winner in succession.

Elena Rybakina has now reached the quarters at 3 of the 4 majors following her defeat of Iga Swiatek on Sunday

The magnitude of the upset on Sunday was not lost on the softly spoken 23-year-old: “It was a really tough match,” she said. “I really respect Iga because the [streak] she has, and her Grand Slams.

“She’s a young player and, I think, she plays really well and, today, I think, I was serving also good, just struggling a bit on one side but in the end in the important moments I played really well so it made the difference.”

Rybakina has now reached the quarters at 3 of the 4 majors, having first done so at Roland Garros in 2021, where she defeated Serena Williams.

She next faces Ostapenko for a semi-final berth, an opponent she has not found success against in two prior meetings.

Swiatek was consigned to her 3rd 4th-round defeat at Melbourne Park in 4 years after her 11-match winning streak at the majors was broken.

It marks only the 7th time in the Open Era that the top seed has failed to reach the quarter-finals at the Australian Open, and the first since Simona Halep 4 years ago.

Swiatek, though, already is taking the message to heart and in her stride.

“I felt the pressure, and I felt that I don’t want to lose instead of I want to win,” she admitted. “So that’s a base of what I should focus on in the next couple of weeks.

“Rybakina’s ranking should be better, but we all know what happened at Wimbledon. She was just better today, honestly, and she played in a really solid way.

“I think, tactically, she was, kind of, composed and just able to stay focused. She was a better player today. I don’t know what to tell you in terms of analysing the match.

“On the other hand, if you want to win a tournament, you have to, kind of, be better than everybody.”

The 3-time major champion, including titles at the French Open and US Open last season, beat 18-year-old American Gauff in the final at Roland Garros last June and, up until now, they both had looked dominant in this event, winning every set they contested, with Swiatek dropping a total of just 15 games and Gauff 19 through 3 matches.

Jelena Ostapenko had too much fire-power for Coco Gauff and won in straight sets on Sunday

© William West/AFP via Getty Images

Ostapenko put paid to Gauff’s ambition of winning her first Grand Slam title here in Melbourne, shocking the young American 7th seed, 7-5 6-3, after an hour and 33 minutes.

“I’m really happy with the win,” Ostapenko said, smiling. “Of course, I knew she’s such a great player, super young, she’s playing really well and was fighting until the very last point.”

“I really had nothing to lose, so I just went there and tried to show my best, tried to fight for every point and to make it hard for her.”

Gauff, who had defeated the Latvian in their only previous meeting, started the season by winning the title in Auckland, and had not dropped a set all this week.

Thriving under pressure is a trademark of Ostapenko, one of 5 former Grand Slam champions in the draw, and she has 16 Top 10 wins to her credit, including 4 at majors, the most memorable of which was a 3-set upset over Halep to claim the Roland Garros 2017 title.

She has not reached a major quarter-final since Wimbledon 2018, though, and has found momentous wins in Melbourne elusive.

A clinical backhand winner earned Gauff an early break, before Ostapenko immediately reeled back the advantage and, after the World No 17 saved 4 break points in the 7th game, the American shrugged her shoulders and gestured to her team as if to ask ‘What more can I do?’

A barrage of heavy groundstrokes from the Latvian’s racket drew gasps of appreciation from the Margaret Court Arena crowd as both players found their rhythm.

Serving at 5-6, Gauff was a point away from forcing a tiebreak before Ostapenko clinched 4 points in a row to break, and the 17th seed then nabbed the set with a ferocious backhand that landed well out of Gauff’s reach.

Ostapenko continued to apply pressure on the teenager’s serve in the second, but it was not until the 8th game that the former World No 5 orchestrated the solitary break point chance, and Gauff conceded it with a long forehand, putting the Latvian within 4 points of victory.

Without hesitation, Ostapenko delivered yet another crisp forehand winner to seal her place in the final eight.

“Even [if] I miss some balls, I knew If I do everything right, I’m going to put the same balls in the court and at the end I think I kept her under so much pressure and it brought me a win,” said Ostapenko, who struck 30 winners to Gauff’s 21, and crucially converted each of the 3 break points that she created.

Gauff, on the other hand, converted just 1 of her 8 break point chances.

“I was just trying to stay positive all the time, and I knew I have to play aggressive to beat her, so I was trying to stay up in the court,” explained Ostapenko.

She put 64 per cent of her returns in play, albeit lower than Gauff’s 71 per cent.

The loss is a major disappointment for Coco Gauff, but she is still in the doubles with Jessica Pegula

© William West/AFP via Getty Images

Considering her next opponent, Rybakina, Ostapenko said: “She serves well. The most important [thing], probably, is to play my game again, aggressive to keep her under the pressure.

“I’ll just try to enjoy it as much as possible.”

As for Gauff, she was unable to cope with the power of Ostapenko, and her emotions boiled over afterwards as tears began to fall.

“I think it’s because I worked really hard, and I felt really good coming into the tournament, and I still feel good,” Gauff said. “I still feel like I’ve improved a lot.

“But when you play a player like her, and she plays really well, there’s nothing you can do.

“Every match you play a part in, but I feel like it was rough. So it’s a little bit frustrating on that part.”

Although her run in Melbourne was abbreviated, Gauff is poised to climb in the rankings, and she is still competing in the women’s doubles, with Jessica Pegula.

“It gives me a chance to still be around, and I definitely enjoy just competing in general,” Gauff said. “I think doubles has taught me how to play, after losing, how to play with frustration, and that’s what I felt like today. I was frustrated.

“So I feel like it will help me in the future. Bouncing back from a loss is difficult in a grand slam, but I’m looking forward to tomorrow.

“I hope that I can help her, and I hope that she [Pegula] continues well in the tournament now that I’m out. I hope she wins it. I knew we would probably face each other if we both kept winning.”

Gauff also knows that she will return home with more singles history as the American is only the 3rd woman this century to reach 7 or more Grand Slam 4th-rounds before turning 19, and she is the first to be added to that prestigious list since Nicole Vaidisova in 2007.



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