Tsitsipas Outlasts Fritz, Kanepi KO’s Sabalenka In Melbourne

Stefanos Tsitsipas (photo: Australian Open video)

MELBOURNE/WASHINGTON, January 24, 2022 (by Michael Dickens)

Within minutes of each other, as the clock approached midnight in Melbourne, both Stefanos Tsitsipas and Kaia Kanepi advanced to the quarterfinals of the Australian Open. One was expected to be among the final eight, the other was not – but Kanepi has always been a giant slayer on major stages. Monday night, she did it, again.

The fourth-seeded Tsitsipas from Greece outlasted an inspired American Taylor Fritz, 4-6, 6-4, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4, to win their fourth-round tussle on Rod Laver Arena, while the 115th-ranked Kanepi, a 36-year-old Estonian who squandered four match points as she served for the match in the third set, rallied to beat No. 2 seed Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus, 5-7, 6-2, 7-6 (7), to reach the Australian Open quarterfinals for the first time.

Day Eight was filled with long matches, especially on Rod Laver Arena, Melbourne Park’s biggest stage, which pushed the Sabalenka-Kanepi fourth-round match off to Margaret Court Arena because of a late-finishing day session.

At last, the former World No. 15 Kanepi had finally completed a Grand Slam set after twice advancing to the quarterfinals at the other three Grand Slam tournaments. The triumph, achieved in back of hitting 30 winners, represented Kanepi’s 14th career Top 10 win and it was her ninth in a Grand Slam setting. Although Sabalenka hit 36 winners, she also committed 46 unforced errors and double-faulted 15 times during the two-hour and 19-minute match.

Thank you for the support, it was great. It helped a lot,” Kanepi said in her on-court interview. “It was a very tough match. I thought I was going to lose it after the match points I had on my serve. It was difficult to come back.

“I don’t know how I managed to win, but I got the win and that’s alright.”

Meanwhile, Tsitsipas has now achieved back-to-back quarterfinals Down Under. Last year, after rallying from two sets down to beat Rafael Nadal, he’s pull out a five-setter against the 20th-seeded Fritz, ranked first among the U.S. men. The Southern California native had shown some of his best tennis en route to playing Tsitsipas in the fourth-round, which represented his best result at a major. The 22nd-ranked Fritz arrived in search of his first victory over a Top 5 layer at a Grand Slam and almost pulled it off.

Instead, Tsitsipas blasted 19 aces and racked up 53 winners to 44 unforced errors, which proved just enough to beat Fritz. He did it by saving 13 of 15 break points he faced. Fritz, who was playing in his second straight five-set match after overcoming Roberto Bautista Agut a round earlier, countered with 13 aces and 52 winners but also made 37 unforced errors. Tsitsipas improved to 3-0 lifetime against Fritz.

“An epic match, that’s all I can say,” Tsitsipas said during an on-court interview. “I gave everything out on the court today. I’m very proud of myself and the way I fought and stayed consistent in the moments that were close and crucial.

“I’m overwhelmed. [It was] just too much. The stadium was on fire, it was five sets. … It was too good to be true.”

Later, Tsitsipas added: “I knew it was gong to get physical and I kept reminding myself to get in there, do the work and not give up Just a title more patience and at the end it paid off. It was good to have the crowd with me.”

Sinner remains undefeated in Australia

By the end of the three-hour and 24-minute skirmish, Tsitsipas outpointed Fritz 151-144 to advance against No. 11 seed Jannik Sinner for a berth in his third Australian Open semifinal. The 20-year-old Italian defeated No. 32 seed Alex de Minaur of Australia, 7-6 (3), 6-3, 6-4, in two hours and 36 minutes, aided by 35 winners and three breaks of de Minaur’s serve. The win enabled Sinner to remain undefeated in 2022 and he’s yet to drop a set in Melbourne.

“Last year was a long year for me,” Sinner said during his on-court interview. “[I played] many tournaments for the first time. I’ve gained a lot of experience in the past few months. I’ve grown as a player and also as a person. At 20, you can only grow. I’m very happy to be here in the quarterfinals.”

With Sinner’s victory, coupled with Matteo Berrettini‘s win over Pablo Carreño Busta on Sunday, it ensured there’s two Italians in the men’s quarterfinals of a major for just the second time in the Open Era – and first since the 1973 French Open when Adriano Panatta and Paolo Bertolucci represented Italy in the Roland Garros final eight.

Journey goes on for Cornet, reaches first major quarterfinal

Alizé Cornet‘s reaction after she defeated two-time Grand Slam champion Simona Halep in their fourth-round match at the Australian Open Monday afternoon was one of both joy and disbelief. Maybe, a touch of amazement, too.

Two days after celebrating her 32nd birthday, Cornet in her 17th Australian Open and 63rd appearance at a Grand Slam finally reached the quarterfinals at a major. To put in context, Coco Gauff was just one years-old when Cornet played in her first Grand Slam singles main draw, as a wild-card entry in the 2005 French Open. Her previous best run in Melbourne had been a fourth-round finish in 2009.

Through perseverance and, maybe, just with a bit of luck, the 61st-ranked Cornet advanced to this year’s final eight with a 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 win over the 14th-seeded Halep from Romania under the hot sun that baked Rod Laver Arena, in which the Frenchwoman draped cold towels over her neck during changeovers and also used bags of ice to cool down her head.

“It’s never too late to try again!” Cornet expressed during her on-court interview. She got emotional talking about it. “To be in my first quarterfinal, it’s a dream come true.

“The journey goes on. I still can’t believe it.”

After Cornet jumped out to a set and 3-1 lead against Halep, she promptly lost five consecutive games and 16 straight points, which gave her opponent plenty of momentum heading into the deciding set.

“I just stopped thinking after … 30 minutes of playing. My brain was already like, overloaded,” Cornet said. “My vision was not clear anymore. My hands were shaking.”

Yet, Cornet realized, Halep was going through the same agony as she was on a Monday in which temperatures eclipsed 34 Celsius (93 Fahrenheit).. “I thought on the other side of the court, she was not feeling much better than me,” she said.

Cornet broke Halep’s serve for a 4-3 lead and steadied herself to the finish line. After securing match point, she dropped to her knees and covered her face with her hands and allowed the joy of the moment settle in.

Collins is third American woman to reach quarterfinals

In the quarterfinal round, Cornet will oppose No. 27 seed Danielle Collins of the United States, who beat No. 19 seed Elise Mertens of Belgium, 4-6, 6-4, 6-4 in a nearly-three-hour match that began the day on Rod Laver Arena. She became the third American to reach the quarterfinals of this year’s Melbourne fortnight (Madison Keys and Jessica Pegula are the others) after Mertens’ double fault on match point ended the fourth-round match. It’s the second straight year that three Americans have made it into the quarterfinal round.

Collins, 28, rallied from a set down in back-to-back matches at a Grand Slam for the first time and now she’s into her second Australian Open quarterfinal.

“The last couple of years after I made semis, I think I lost like second round each year, so to be back in the quarters means a lot,” Collins said. “It’s taken a lot to get to the quarters, some really tough battles and tough opponents.”

Swiatek reaches AO final eight for first time

Also, advancing to the quarterfinals was 2020 French Open champion Iga Swiatek. The No. 7 seed from Poland defeated No. 38 Sorana Cirstea of Romania, 5-7, 6-3, 6-3, in two hours and 28 minutes. After dropping her first set of the tournament, Swiatek is now into her first Melbourne quarterfinal – the youngest remaining in the draw at age 20. She will face the oldest in 36-year-old Kaia Kanepi of Estonia.

Swiatek struck 29 winners and made 36 unforced errors. Her serve was broken four times but she countered with six breaks of Cirstea’s serve and outpointed the Romanian 105-95.

“For sure, [Sorana] put a lot of pressure on me,” Swiatek said in press. “I just had to overcome some doubts that I had. I did that pretty well, because I don’t have a good statistic in terms of coming back after losing first sets. So, it’s still something I’m working on.”

Medvedev now three wins of winning back-to-back majors

Second-ranked Daniil Medvedev beat No. 70 Maxime Cressy, 6-2, 7-6 (4), 6-7 (4), 7-5, to move to within three wins of garnering back-to-back major titles.

The No. 2 seed from Moscow, who won the US Open last year, is attempting to become the first man in the Open Era (since 1968) to win his second Grand Slam singles title in the next major event.

While Medvedev labeled the three hour, 30 minute experience of playing against the serve-and-volley style of Cressy on Margaret Court Arena as the “most unlucky day I’ve ever had in my life,” he pulled together in the final set and broke Cressy after the French-born American saved eight break points and served out the win at love.

“He really did [serve and volley] well,” Medvedev said of Cressy. “First set, I had control, but the second set I didn’t manage to break him but won the tie-break and just wanted to continue this way.”

Cressy won 89 of 135 net points but was outdone by Medvedev’s 15 aces and 58 winners. Medvedev saved the only break point he faced.

“When I lost the third [set] and when I had eight break points in the fourth set, I was like come on,” Medvedev said. “Some of them I could have won, but he played well, but on the last one I played well.”

Auger-Aliassime reaches third straight major quarterfinal

Next, Medvedev will play ninth-seeded Felix Auger-Aliassime of Canada, who defeated 2014 US Open champion and current No. 27 seed Marin Cilic of Croatia, 2-6, 7-6 (7), 6-2, 7-6 (4), in three hours and 39 minutes on John Cain Arena.

The 21-year-old from Montreal is into his third straight Grand Slam quarterfinal. The victory improve Auger-Aliassime’s win-loss record this season to 7-2. It was his first win against Cilic in four tries.

“It puts my self-belief even higher,” Auger-Aliassime said on court after his win, which was highlighted by his 22 service aces and 37 winners. “This was my first win against him, at an important moment like this. I told him at the end of the match, he’s a champion, the way he handles himself, the way he plays, so he’s going to come out with his best leve and test me and make me earn my win. I’m really relieved and happy to get through this, especially the way I did it.”

Monday’s Australian Open results

Tuesday’s Australian Open order of play

By the numbers

• Monday’s Day Eight attendance at Melbourne Park reached 19,598.

Kaia Kanepi‘s first quarterfinal appearance in a major came at the French Open in 2008. Since then, the Estonian has also made the final eight at Wimbledon in 2010, at the US Open in 2010, at Roland Garros in 2012, at Wimbledon in 2013 and at the US Open in 2017. Until Monday night, the furthest she had reached at the Australian Open had been the third round. Now, she’s completed a career set of Grand Slam quarterfinals and is the 15thactive player to achieved the feat.

“Quotable …”

“These kinds of matches are going to give me a lot of confidence for the future, because coming back from losing in the first set against a player who’s constantly going forward, it’s pretty hard, and I did that. I feel like I can approach these different scenarios on court, and at the end it’s pretty positive.”

– No. 7 seed Iga Swiatek of Poland, who dropped her first set of the tournament before coming back to beat Sorana Cirstea in three sets.