Iga Swiatek survives scare and Elena Rybakina loses longest Grand Slam tie-break

By Sports Desk January 18, 2024

An emotional Iga Swiatek survived a major scare to reach the third round of the Australian Open but Elena Rybakina was beaten by Anna Blinkova in a record-breaking encounter.

Swiatek lost to Danielle Collins in the semi-finals in Melbourne two years ago and it appeared history was about to repeat itself when the American took a 4-1 lead over the world number one in the deciding set under the roof on Rod Laver Arena.

But Swiatek responded with five games in a row to claim a 6-4 3-6 6-4 victory and set up a clash with Czech teenager Linda Noskova.

The Pole sobbed into her towel at the end of the match and she said with a relieved smile: “I was at the airport already.

“I wanted to fight until the end. She played perfectly so I knew it would be hard for anybody to maintain that level. I waited for the mistakes to come. I’m really proud of myself because it wasn’t easy.”

Rybakina, the third seed and last year’s beaten finalist, also appeared like she might escape after saving two match points to force a tie-break against 57th-ranked Blinkova.

But, more than half an hour later, Blinkova finally clinched a 6-4 4-6 7-6 (22/20) victory on her 10th match point, with Rybakina having seen six opportunities go begging.

It was the longest tie-break in a singles match in grand slam history.

For Blinkova, it is also the biggest win of her career, and she said: “I don’t know what to say. It was super tough. I just tried to stay focused on every point.

“I had so many match points. I tried to be aggressive at these moments but my hand was shaking and my legs too. I tried to be calm as hard as I could and I’m super happy to win in the end.

“This day I will remember for the rest of my life. Especially on this court, with this crowd. I will never forget it. It’s the best day of my life so far.”

After her defeat by Swiatek, Collins walked straight off court into the press room, where she revealed this will be her final season.

“I don’t really know exactly when (I will stop) but this will be my last season and I’m really looking forward to that,” said the 30-year-old, who also made the semi-finals in Melbourne in 2019 and reached a career-high ranking of seven.

“I have other things that I’d like to accomplish in my life outside of tennis and would like to be able to have the time to be able to do that. Obviously having kids is a big priority for me.”

Swiatek edged a tight first set disrupted by a brief rain break but the aggression of Collins was troubling the top seed and the American, who also made the semi-finals here in 2019, won five games in a row to take a 5-1 lead in the second set.

She showed nerves, hitting four double faults as she failed to serve it out at the first time of asking, but she was rock solid on her second opportunity.

Swiatek found returns drilled back at her feet and she was staring at the exit door when Collins broke serve twice in succession to lead 4-1 in the deciding set.

However, the American tightened up with the finish line in sight and Swiatek came roaring back, clinching victory on her third match point with a backhand into the corner.

Swiatek applied strapping under her left knee at the start of the third set, but she played down concerns, saying: “I’ve been struggling a little bit with my knee since (the WTA Finals in) Cancun. I have ups and downs but it’s not like it affects my game. You don’t have to be worried.”

On a day of high drama at Melbourne Park, fifth seed Jessica Pegula was also ousted, going down 6-4 6-2 to France’s Clara Burel, while former finalist Sloane Stephens beat 14th seed Daria Kasatkina 4-6 6-3 6-3.

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