Unseeded Russian Anna Blinkova shocked last year’s runner-up Elena Rybakina at the Australian Open on Thursday, winning the longest tie-break in Grand Slam history as world number one Iga Swiatek came back from the brink.
On a day of striking second-round upsets, women’s fifth seed Jessica Pegula also crashed out, along with men’s eighth seed Holger Rune.
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But the biggest drama was saved until late into the cool, breezy night in Melbourne, when Blinkova converted her 10th match point to beat third-ranked Rybakina 6-4, 4-6, 7-6 (22/20).
The first two sets were completely forgotten in an astonishing 42-point tie-break that lasted more than half an hour.
The previous tie-break record at a Grand Slam was 38 points, which happened on two occasions — at the 2007 Australian Open and at last year’s Wimbledon.
Blinkova, 25, who saved six match points, said it was the “best day of my life so far”.
“I had so many match points and I tried to be aggressive in these moments, but my hands were shaking, my legs too. I tried to be calm as far as I could and I am super happy to win.
“I was telling myself ‘go for it’. I was also telling myself ‘just stay solid, stay solid, solid, solid, and just putting the ball in the court, into the court, in the court’, and finally it worked out.”
She will face 26th-seeded Italian Jasmine Paolini in the third round.
– Swiatek fightback –
The astonishing scenes on Rod Laver Arena overshadowed a remarkable comeback earlier in the day by women’s world number one Swiatek.
The Polish player was cruising at a set and a break up against Danielle Collins before faltering badly and slipping to a 4-1 deficit in the deciding set.
But just as she appeared to be heading home, she reeled off five straight games to win 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 and extend her winning run to 18 matches.
“Oh my God, I was at the airport already,” joked Swiatek, who has never won the Australian Open.
“It wasn’t easy. I felt like I had the momentum going and then she started playing suddenly two times faster and I had no idea how to react to that for a couple of games. I came back, and I thought the only thing I could focus on was myself.”
The four-time Grand Slam champion will face unseeded Czech player Linda Noskova next.
Spanish world number two Carlos Alcaraz matched his best Melbourne result by reaching the third round with a 6-4, 6-7 (3/7), 6-3, 7-6 (7/3) win against Italy’s unseeded Lorenzo Sonego.
The two-time major champion, who struck 43 winners, found himself all square at one set apiece despite not facing any break points in the first two sets.
But he brushed off the loss of the second set, breaking early in the third set, and came out on top in the fourth-set tie-break in windy conditions.
Alcaraz will meet Chinese wildcard Shang Juncheng next as he ramps up his drive towards a maiden title in Melbourne.
“Even if I lost the second set, I think I played a good game,” said the 20-year-old. “We put on a show, both of us, making good points and some hot shots as well. It was a great match.”
Alcaraz, who missed the 2023 Australian Open due to injury, is aiming to become the third man in the Open Era to win three Grand Slams before the age of 21, after Bjorn Borg and Mats Wilander.
He also has the chance to supplant Novak Djokovic as world number one.
Pegula was ousted 6-4, 6-2 by young French star Clara Burel and former US Open winner Emma Raducanu also crashed out.
Denmark’s Rune went down in four sets to French wildcard Arthur Cazaux.
Sixth-ranked Alexander Zverev and Casper Rudd, the 11th seed, were pushed to the brink before both came through their matches in fifth-set tie-breaks.