MELBOURNE, January 21, 2019 (by Michael Dickens)
Talk about how a single set turned things around for No. 6 seed Elina Svitolina of Ukraine during her fourth-round match against Madison Keys on Day 8 at the Australian Open Monday.
Fortunately for Svitolina, after splitting the first two sets – both by lopsided scores – she found her way in the third set and advanced to the quarterfinal round for the second straight year following a 6-2, 1-6, 6-1 win over Keys, the No. 17 seed from the United States, who was a 2015 Australian Open semifinalist. It was Svitolina’s first triumph over Keys in three head-to-head meetings.
Svitolina, ranked 6th in the world, is the highest ranked woman not to reach a Grand Slam final. However, round by round, the reigning WTA Finals champion is gaining confidence in her abilities.
The first two sets on Margaret Court Arena represented a microcosm of Svitolina’s promising career: an ability to hit any opponent off a tennis court or to hit herself off the court.
After Svitolina dominated the first set through her intensity and smart play, Keys regained her confidence in the second set and raised the level of her own game following a disastrous opening, in which the American’s service was broken twice and she faced a 4-0 deficit before realizing what hit her. It was the first set of the tournament that Keys had lost. Next, Keys won the second set handily after jumping out to a 5-0 lead.
Then, at 1-1 in the final set, both players punched and counterpunched their way through a 28-point third game, which included 11 deuce points, as Svitolina survived five break points and more than 17 minutes – longer then the length of the entire second set – to hold her serve. The momentum had swung in Svitolina’s favor. Immediately, she broke Keys for a 3-1 advantage and consolidated the break to open a 4-1 lead with the finish line in sight. Following another break of Keys, Svitolina wasted little time in closing out the victory. She won on her first match point try with a nifty volley winner. The loss denied Keys of reaching her seventh career Grand Slam quarterfinal.
Asked by Tennis Channel’s Jon Wertheim after her 96-minute victory to make sense of her final score, Svitolina said, “In the end, it was a very tough match. Everything went for me in the first and for Madison in the second. We (both) played well in the third. It was very tough. I was pleased to win the third game of the last set.
“I wanted to hold that service game – I knew I had to stay strong, to put everything into that game and maybe get a chance to play well again.”
Svitolina won 70 percent of her first-point opportunities, hit 22 winners, and won 16 of 19 net points. Also, she broke Keys four times in five tries. Although Keys hit 37 winners, her 34 unforced errors, including eight on her returns, were a major difference in the outcome. For Svitolina, Iike the tattoo she bears on her right wrist that says “Carpe Diem,” it was her chance to seize the day – and, now, she’s advanced to the Final Eight.
Osaka rallies past Sevastova
Next, Svitolina will face No. 4 seed Naomi Osaka of Japan, who reached her first Australian Open quarterfinal. Against a quality opponent in No. 13 seed Anastasija Sevastova of Latvia, Osaka came from a set behind to pull out a 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 win in one hour and 47 minutes on Rod Laver Arena. It was Osaka’s 11th straight Grand Slam victory and, it seemed, she had all the right answers. Osaka put away the victory over Sevastova on her second match-point opportunity with a scorching forehand winner.
Osaka is playing herself into top form – and just in time. She remains in the running to be the 10th woman to win the U.S. Open and Australian Open back-to-back. The last to do it was Serena Williams in 2015.
Against Sevastova, whom she defeated earlier this month during a tune-up in Brisbane, Osaka struck 51 winners, including seven aces, to offset her 43 unforced errors, and she converted three of four break-point opportunities against the Latvian.
Asked what made a difference for her today, Osaka said in an on-court interview with Australian TV, “I think the fact I didn’t give up. … I’ve been in this position before.” She went on to suggest that after watching Stefanos Tsitsipas beat Roger Federer on Sunday night, “I decided I wanted to win, too. It’s everyone’s dream.”
Biggest career win for Stefanos Tsitsipas
Some are seeing defending champion Roger Federer’s exit from this year’s Australian Open, after the losing in the fourth round to 20-year-old Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece on Sunday night in Melbourne, as a changing of the guard in men’s tennis.
Is there a generational shift going on? Perhaps.
Consider this, No. 14 seed Tsitsipas is the youngest player left in the men’s draw after defeating the 37-year-old Swiss maestro in four tense-filled sets, 6-7 (11), 7-6 (3), 7-5, 7-6 (5). The final eight players battling for the year’s first Grand Slam title also includes 21-year-old American Frances Tiafoe, ranked 39th, whose upset of Bulgarian No. 20 seed Grigor Dimitrov to reach the quarterfinals was a big breakthrough win.
“I’m the happiest man on earth right now,” said Tsitsipas during his on-court interview with Hall of Famer John McEnroe that came after three hours and 45 minutes of battle with No. 3 seed Federer, who was bidding to win his third consecutive Australian Open crown and seven men’s singles title in Melbourne.
“Roger is a legend of our sport, so much respect for him. He showed such good tennis over the years. I’ve been analyzing him since the age of six, and it was a dream come true for me just being on Rod Laver Arena facing him. Winning at the end, I cannot describe it.”
Hall of Famer player and analyst Martina Navratilova, appearing Monday on “Tennis Channel Live at the Australian Open,” said, “I don’t think Roger Federer is ready to step aside just yet, but I think last night we saw the arrival of Stefanos Tsitsipas.”
Next, Tsitsipas will face No. 22 seed Roberto Bautista Agut on Tuesday for a place in the semifinals after the Spaniard advanced over last year’s finalist, No. 6 seed Marin Cilic of Croatia, while Tiafoe opposes World No. 2 Rafael Nadal of Spain for the first time.
By the numbers
With victories by Stefanos Tsitsipas, Frances Tiafoe, Roberto Bautista Agut, Ashleigh Barty and Danielle Collins on Sunday, it meant that five different players reached their first Grand Slam quarterfinal on the same day.
What they’re saying
• “I have massive regrets tonight. I might not look the part, but I am.” – Roger Federer, during his post-match press conference following his fourth-round loss to Stefanos Tsitsipas Sunday night.
More Federer, Part 1: “I loved the crowd. I think they were fantastic. That there was an occasional excited guy screaming in the rally, that’s okay. I’d rather have it that way than the silent guys who don’t make a sound. It was good fun. I enjoyed it.”
👍😀@rogerfederer just announced in Melbourne that he will be competing at Roland Garros ! “It’s a bit of a desire. I’m in a phase where I want to have fun and I’ve missed not doing it. I don’t feel it is necessary to have a big break again”. #RG19
📷©@corinnedubreuil / FFT pic.twitter.com/ocREQuk6lp
— Roland-Garros (@rolandgarros) 20. Januar 2019
More Federer, Part 2, on announcing in Melbourne that he will compete at Roland Garros this year: “It’s a bit of a desire. I’m in a phase where I want to have fun and I’ve missed not doing it. I don’t feel it is necessary to have a big break again.”
• “It was actually very mental, I would say. I could have cracked at any moment, but I didn’t because I really wanted it bad. I showed it on the court.” – Stefanos Tsitsipas onsaving all 12 break points against Roger Federer.
• “I love making it kind of a war. If somebody wants to get in my face on my unforced errors, I have no problem getting right back at them and making it a feisty match.” – Danielle Collins, ranked No. 35, after her stunning upset of World No. 2 Angelique Kerber on Sunday.
What they’re tweeting
• Charlie Eccleshare (@CDEccleshare), Daily Telegraph tennis writer: “If the tennis gods were coming up with a new megastar, they’d surely struggle to do better than Stefanos Tsitsipas. Beautiful game, three-dimensional personality, great look. A star is born.”
• Christopher Clarey (@christophclarey), New York Times tennis columnist: “Post-defeat, Federer says he intends to play on clay again this season after a two-year break. Good news for fans at Roland Garros, who haven’t seen him since 2015, but not sure that’s good news for Federer’s prospects on grass.”
• Chris Fowler (@cbfowler), ESPN tennis commentator: “I get it: @rogerfederer faithful will dissect/analyze this L and offer a myriad of explanations. But IMO @StefTsitipas forced the issue, charged the net, held all 24 service games, kept cool, showed huge cajones, earned every bit of it. A star arrived tonight.”
• Reem Abulleil (@ReemAbulleil), Egyptian freelance tennis journalist and contributor to Sport360.com: “Tsitsipas: Today my idol became, pretty much, my rival.”
• Kelsey Anderson (@KelseyOAnderson), wife of World No. 6 Kevin Anderson: “If you weren’t already on the @FTiafoe fan bandwagon, please hop aboard. … Impossible not to love this guy, and take my word that he’s even greater in person 🙌 Couldn’t be happier for you Frances! Congrats on your first major quarterfinal 💪”