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Tsitsipas wins five-set thriller to reach quarter-final, second seed Sabalenka crashes out

Sabalenka lost an epic fourth-round clash to veteran Kaia Kanepi.

Stefanos Tsitsipas. (file photo)
Stefanos Tsitsipas. (file photo)
Image: Alamy Stock Photo

GREEK FOURTH SEED Stefanos Tsitsipas won a titanic five-set duel with American Taylor Fritz to advance to the quarter-finals of the Australian Open on Monday.

But there was a shock in the women’s draw as world number two Aryna Sabalenka was sent crashing out of in an epic fourth-round clash by veteran Kaia Kanepi.

Tsitsipas was staring at defeat trailing two sets to one before he fought back to beat the 20th seed Fritz 4-6, 6-4, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 in 3hr 23min of classic late-night tennis on Rod Laver Arena.

The Greek world number four has now reached the quarter-finals for the third time and will face Italy’s 11th seed Jannik Sinner, who accounted for Australia’s Alex De Minaur in straight sets.

Tsitsipas is a two-time semi-finalist in Melbourne but is yet to win a Grand Slam title.

“It was an epic match. I gave everything out on the court today, I am very proud of myself with the way I fought and the way I stayed consistent in the moments that were close and crucial,” Tsitsipas said.

“I am overwhelmed, it’s too much, the stadium was on fire, it’s too good to be true.

“I knew it was going to get physical and I kept reminding myself to get in there and do the work, don’t give up, give it a little bit more patience and in the end it paid off.”

Tsitsipas served 19 aces and broke Fritz’s serve three times, the last time in the ninth game of the final set when he forced the American to net a close-range volley.

Tsitsipas and Fritz renewed their rivalry from their junior days and Tsitsipas has now won all their three encounters on the tour.

Tsitsipas became the first Greek player to reach a Grand Slam final when he lost to Novak Djokovic in last year’s French Open final after leading by two sets.

He also holds the distinction of beating both Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer on his way to his two previous semi-final appearances at the Australian Open.

Meanwhile Sabalenka saw her hopes of a maiden Grand Slam title ended.

The Belarusian saved four match points before losing 5-7, 6-2, 7-6 (10/7), sending down 15 double faults as the problem that has plagued her all tournament reared its head again.

melbourne-australia-22nd-jan-2022-aryna-sabalenka-of-belarus-in-action-against-marketa-vondrousova-of-the-czech-republic-during-the-third-round-at-the-2022-australian-open-wta-grand-slam-tennis-t Aryna Sabalenka. (file photo) Source: Alamy Stock Photo

The unseeded Kanepi, 36, made it to last eight in Melbourne for the first time, a stage she has reached at every other major over a Grand Slam career dating back to 2006.

The Estonian’s reward is a clash with Polish seventh seed Iga Swiatek who battled into her third Grand Slam quarter-final and first at the Australian Open by beating Romanian Sorana Cirstea 5-7, 6-3, 6-3.

“It was a really tough match,” said Kanepi, who defeated three-time major champion Angelique Kerber in the opening round.

Actually I thought I was going to lose after the match points I had on my serve were saved. I don’t know how I won.

“The Australian Open is the only Grand Slam where I hadn’t made the quarter-finals and I didn’t believe I could do it at my age,” added Kanepi, a four-time champion on the WTA Tour, but not since Brussels in 2013.

She had played Sabalenka once before, at the Gippsland Trophy in Melbourne last year and won.

There was little between them in the opening set as they traded baseline blows until Sabalenka stepped up to earn three break points at 6-5 and converted when Kanepi hit a forehand wide.

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Kanepi responded in the best way possible, breaking Sabalenka immediately in the second set and made it 3-0 with her powerful groundstrokes creating chances, and errors from the Belarusian.

She had all the momentum and accelerated to easily take the set then broke for 2-0 in the decider as Sabalenka, who made the semi-finals at Wimbledon and the US Open last year, struggled to find a way back.

But just as all seemed lost Sabalenka struck back at Kanepi was serving to go 5-3 ahead, digging deep to keep herself in the hunt.

Once more her double-fault problem reared its head and Kanepi broke straight back, only for more drama as the Estonian served for the match.

She was up 40-0 with three match points but they were all saved by a battling Sabalenka, who then saved a fourth before breaking.

It went to a seesawing tiebreak with Kanepi finally triumphing to make her first quarter-final at Melbourne Park in 13 attempts.

– © AFP 2022

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