Adelaide 1 finalist and 29th seed Sebastian Korda produced some brilliant ball-striking as he stunned two-time finalist Daniil Medvedev in straight-sets to steal the show on an eventful Day 5 at this year’s Australian Open, with Jiri Lehecka a big winner after some tasty fourth-round ties on the women’s side were confirmed, including Swiatek-Rybakina and Pegula-Krejcikova.
KORDA inflicts more woe for medvedev
2018 Australian Open junior champion Sebastian Korda produced a coming-of-age display to beat Daniil Medvedev: 7-6 (9-7), 6-3, 7-6 (7-4) — holding his nerve in two tiebreaks which could’ve gone against him, while recovering from a horror service game late on to finish in three.
Excellent ball-striking, gutsy drop shots and astute tactics were the name of the game for the American, who rises to a career-high world no. 28 with this victory, and he’ll now look to avenge his 2021 Delray Beach final defeat by Hubert Hurkacz in the fourth-round later this weekend.
Medvedev certainly played his part and received treatment for a wrist injury, but this tournament’s runner-up in the last two editions won’t be going any further after being outmanoevured and sufficiently stifled by a savvy rising star who rose to the task – beating him in a best-of-five format.
Although bullish about his chances before the tournament, his admission afterwards was telling: the bulk of their longer rallies and bigger points were won by the 22-year-old – something you’re not used to hearing from the former world no. 1, given his well-documented strengths.
The defeat means the Russian will drop outside the world’s top 10 too, by virtue of losing more than 1000 ranking points he was still defending after coming agonisingly close in last year’s final.
“Thanks guys for the atmosphere and support, you were amazing. It was an unbelievable match, knew what I had to do and stuck with it. Thrilled, up-and-down emotions, just had to go for it. I’ve got Andre Agassi, the Stepanek brothers behind me… a pretty good team.”
Doubt me at your peril
Felix Auger-Aliassime had to navigate through some adversity, but at least the Canadian star wasn’t in a losing position like his previous two victories against Vasek Pospisil and Alex Molcan.
He was a 6-1, 3-6, 6-1, 6-4 winner against Argentina’s Francisco Cerundolo, who did all the hard work to get himself back level before suddenly undoing it during a 31-minute third set.
After a quick three service games between them, the 28th seed picked the wrong time for his first serve percentage to dip – 70% to 53% – and Felix’s aggression was rewarded with 10 winners.
Seven of the 22-year-old’s nine aces were reeled off in set four, as Cerundolo fought back but couldn’t fashion a break point opportunity on his serve. On the fifth match point, Auger-Aliassime punched his ticket into the fourth round.
There, he’ll play Cameron Norrie’s conqueror Jiri Lehecka, after the Czech talent twice recovered from a set behind and played the bigger points better to oust the British number one in five sets.
Putting his victory into context, Lehecka – a runner-up at the Next Gen Finals in Milan last November – had never been past the first round at a Major before. Now, he’s into the last-16.
Norrie appeared physically compromised in set four, receiving a medical timeout and treatment for a knee injury, but predictably raised his level again in the decider. It wasn’t enough.
“I can play these matches, I knew and felt I could finally beat him. This was a great match, Cameron is playing incredibly, I enjoyed your [crowd] support the most.
It’s tough to find tactics on him, only thing I learned from that match [Auckland last-16] is to fight for every ball, grind as much as I can… happy that I’m through. I’m ready for the next round, last year was tough for me, we’re not at the end [yet].”
Contrasting American emotions
On a mixed day for Americans, Rafael Nadal’s conqueror Mackenzie McDonald couldn’t back up a career-best scalp and was brought down to earth by Japan’s Yoshihito Nishioka.
This matchup was a compelling contest for the first hour or so, but after the 31st seed won their set one tiebreak, his agemate’s resolve dwindled drastically.
They both had 28 winners, but McDonald coughed up 20 more unforced errors (53) over three sets – just not a comfortable number, aiming to manage the match’s peaks and troughs.
He was quickly down a double break in set two and Nishioka now finds himself in the last-16 of a Major for the first time in his career. He’ll play Karen Khachanov next… thankful to escape at the end of an enthralling-but-exhausting fourth set against birthday boy Frances Tiafoe.
In the battle of two 2022 US Open semifinalists, Tiafoe saw six set points evaporate at the apex of their back-and-forth tussle and will wonder why he couldn’t convert at least one chance in those moments, as the Russian served well and forced him into errors during a telling tiebreak.
“If you [the crowd] want to boo me missing serves, okay you can, I was lonely during COVID so negative energy is better than none. What can I do? First I beat an Australian [Jason Kubler], now a birthday boy… I don’t wanna talk about it, I want to do it [another deep Major run].”
Fresh after their first-round doubles victory yesterday, both Jessica Pegula and Coco Gauff earned straight-set victories to set up a pair of intriguing last-16 ties.
It wasn’t as straightforward as the scoreline suggested, but Gauff won 6-3, 6-2 against Bernarda Pera and will now face 2017 French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko on Sunday. The Latvian – into round four for the first time here – won 6-3, 6-0 against Ukraine’s Kateryna Baindl.
Much like some of her teammates did in their post-match press conferences earlier this week, Pegula spoke glowingly to BBC Radio 5 Live about how the collective American team spirit has only intensified and motivated one another since the United Cup triumph a few weeks ago.
She won 21 of 27 points behind her first serve, and let Baindl’s compatriot Marta Kostyuk do the rest – 39 unforced errors – in a commanding 6-0, 6-2 win lasting a little over an hour on court.
Keeping the theme with Ukrainian opponents… the opening game was the joint-longest and rather told the story, as 2021 French Open champion Barbora Krejcikova intensified her pressure on Anhelina Kalinina en route to a 6-2, 6-3 win in just under 90 minutes against the world no. 39.
Pegula-Krejcikova, their first ever H2H meeting, will take place this weekend.
World no. 1 Iga Swiatek led 4-0 in 14 minutes, eventually racing through to win in 55 against Bianca Andreescu slayer Cristina Bucsa. That one-sided outcome (6-0, 6-1) was harsh on the Spanish qualifier, but she was swiftly punished for being tentative and error-prone from the off.
She’ll now play reigning Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina, after the hard-hitting Kazakh beat last year’s runner-up Danielle Collins for the second time in three weeks – during another three-set encounter – 6-2, 5-7, 6-2 the final score, before a compelling clash on paper.
Getting it done, one way or another
Jannik Sinner recovered from two sets down to eventually overcome Hungary’s Marton Fucsovics: 4-6, 4-6, 6-1, 6-2, 6-0 – though the one-sided comeback scoreline was deceptive.
The 21-year-old had to fend off break points in his first two service games during a 49-minute third set, as well as four break points to halve the deficit.
Fucsovics’ error count increased as time continued, Sinner’s serving percentage dwindled yet he frequently found headway on the 30-year-old’s serve and that was the motivation he needed.
However, a sense of deja vu awaits him in the last-16 – he can’t afford to start slowly against last year’s semifinalist Stefanos Tsitsipas on Sunday.
The new world no. 3 had his longest match of the tournament, just over two hours, but notched another straight-sets victory: 6-2, 7-6 (7-5), 6-3 against Pune champion Tallon Griekspoor.
He didn’t serve as well as against home wildcard Rinky Hijikata midweek, but didn’t need to. Six more winners, 11 less unforced errors and assertiveness at the net – 21 of 25 points won – saw him progress past the Dutchman in their first H2H meeting.
Poland’s Hubert Hurkacz again had to do it the hard way, but improved his H2H record to 4-1 against last year’s quarterfinalist Denis Shapovalov in five sets: 7-6 (7-3), 6-4, 1-6, 4-6, 6-3.
Shapovalov can only have himself to blame, as he spluttered an eyewatering 16 double-faults – Hurkacz had that many aces – that many free points equates four service games.
Against someone as dangerous as Hubi once he’s in a groove, that’s never a good sign. It’ll be interesting to see how he handles that aforementioned Korda challenge, though.
It wasn’t straightforward, but two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka rallied from a slow start to overwhelm what quickly became an error-strewn Madison Keys display: 1-6, 6-2, 6-1 in an hour 40 minutes to dispatch last year’s semifinalist. – who had 39 unforced errors.
Keys started well enough but her H2H hoodoo (0-4 against Azarenka) continues, against an experienced Belarusian admitting that it was far from plain sailing against an in-form American.
“She’s been playing really well, semi-final last year and came out firing from all corners. I felt like I was rushing too much and couldn’t get into a rhythm — had to fight every point, she’s a great player and friend, I’m sure we’re gonna play some more matches, it’s never easy.
My serve wasn’t working, she stepped in and crushed the ball… had to change my positioning, add some pace to my shots, take momentum into my hands because she was going for everything, I started serving smarter, use my second shot better.”
Azarenka said she didn’t know much about China’s Lin Zhu but will have to do her homework before a first-ever meeting later this weekend, after the 28-year-old’s excellent tournament continued: she started well and finished stronger in a three-set tussle against Maria Sakkari.
Zhu’s court coverage and deep groundstrokes were a persistent problem for Sakkari, who did well taking it into a deciding set but pressure eventually told.
She served four of six double-faults in the final set and while she saved two break points at 4-4, Zhu kept her playing one extra shot.
Some spectacular shot defence and forehand winners, most notably on her third break point opportunity of the game, encapsulated her relentlessness – something Sakkari couldn’t match.
I’ll be producing daily round-ups with the latest results, game reports and news at this year’s Australian Open, so be sure to stay tuned — moandsports.com for the latest coverage.
Picture source: Getty Images, quotes via Eurosport broadcast unless stated otherwise