AUS OPEN 2023: Rublev saves match points vs. Rune, Djokovic dismantles de Minaur and more on Day 8

Andrey Rublev of Russia celebrates after winning his match during Round 4 of the 2023 Australian Open on January 23 2023, at Melbourne Park in...

Andrey Rublev twice recovered from the brink to avenge his Paris Masters defeat by Holger Rune in a deciding set tiebreak, earning another Major quarter-final berth in the process. He’ll face the tournament’s nine-time champion Novak Djokovic on Wednesday, after the Serb was supreme as he purred to victory against Australia’s remaining hope Alex de Minaur. Elsewhere, Aryna Sabalenka and Magda Linette were big winners and more on an early-ending Day 8.

Sabalenka vs. Vekic, Linette vs. Pliskova quarters set

Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus shakes hands at the net after winning in the fourth round singles match against Belinda Bencic of Switzerland during day...

Sabalenka and Bencic shake hands after the former’s straight-sets win in their last-16 clash

It was a tense first set, but straightforward second: Aryna Sabalenka is into her first Australian Open quarter-final after earning a 7-5, 6-2 win over Olympic champion Belinda Bencic.

Neither served particularly well, but the Belarusian was better and frequent pressure on the Swiss’ service games ultimately told.

The fifth seed scored 32 winners and 18 unforced errors, +14 differential – while Bencic had one more error (15-14), which doesn’t bode well especially considering both spoke about the importance of aggression in first-strike tennis on Saturday.

She’ll play Croatia’s Donna Vekic, into her second Major quarter-final and first in Melbourne after edging past Czech teenage talent Linda Fruhvirtova in three sets: 6-2, 1-6, 6-3.

The 26-year-old had double the Chennai champ’s unforced errors (40-20), but almost double her winners too (42-22) in a closely-contested battle proved by the total points won (80-77 Vekic).

Magda Linette of Poland celebrates victory after winning her fourth round match against Caroline Garcia of France at the Australian Open grand slam...

Poland’s Magda Linette admitted she was in disbelief afterwards, having earned her first Major quarterfinal – after 30 main draw appearances – with a straight-sets win over WTA Finals champion Caroline Garcia: 7-6 (7-3), 6-4 in just shy of two hours on court.

Her serving consistency was maintained throughout (75% first serve), had better overall ball-striking and considerably less unforced errors (14-33) than the Frenchwoman, who couldn’t recover like she had done against Laura Siegemund in R3.

After beating Anett Kontaveit and Ekaterina Alexandrova, Linette has now KO’d three seeds already but will need to prevail against another on Tuesday in two-time Grand Slam champion and former world no. 1 Karolina Pliskova, who won 6-0, 6-4 against China’s Shuai Zhang.


Rublev resilience key against Rune

Andrey Rublev of Russia reacts during his fourth round match against Holger Rune of Denmark at the Australian Open grand slam tennis tournament at...

Rublev reacts, then instinctively apologises after his net cord winner settled a five-set clash vs. Rune

Andrey Rublev is a multi-time Major quarterfinalist and needed every bit of his experience, as well as some gutsy hitting down double match point, to eventually overcome Holger Rune in a deciding set tiebreak – settled 11-9 with an inadvertent forehand net cord winner.

Rune, who twice rallied from a set down to take it into a fifth set, served for the match at 5-3.

Rublev saved two match points to take their encounter into a tiebreak, where the Russian’s comments on Saturday rung true: the onus was on Holger to hold firm and beat him again, as he did back in Paris last November.

Holger Rune of Denmark celebrates in the fourth round singles match against Andrey Rublev of Russia during day eight of the 2023 Australian Open at...

5-0, and later 7-3 down in the tiebreak, Rublev had no right to win from that position. He then won six consecutive points to set up two match points himself, one saved with a big serve and punished for misdirecting a follow-up shot with a down-the-line winner on the second.

Rublev was brave to repeat the same sequence, and win the very next point, after forcing the Dane out wide with a drive volley – and a net cord winner was a cruel but fitting way to finish.

In his post-match interview, he was refreshingly honest: “After being broken in the fourth, I was already thinking it was gonna be tough. He started to hit full power in the fifth, felt a lot of pressure and thought it’s over. Thinking this way relieved me, playing focused and he got a bit tight – that’s normal. I was thinking I will make it [saving match points], go to the tiebreak.

At 5-0 down: I thought it’s over, I don’t want a repeat of what happened against Marin Cilic at Roland Garros, so at least try to win more than two points. Was playing point-by-point… 9-7 and 9-8 I missed the drive forehand, played to him and he passed me.

Something like this [on the net cord winner] has never happened to me in my life, a present from the Gods or I don’t know who, Christmas at 25.”

When asked about whether he’s aware of his bracket, he said facing Djokovic next didn’t make him happy – before the Serbian’s night session match against Alex de Minaur: “If Novak wins, I have the toughest quarterfinal… I don’t know if the lessons [learned in the past] help..”


Djokovic eases past disappointed de Minaur

Novak Djokovic of Serbia celebrates during Round 4 of the 2023 Australian Open on January 23 2023, at Melbourne Park in Melbourne, Australia.

Djokovic celebrates as the match clock barely ticked over two hours against de Minaur

Djokovic [4] bt. de Minaur [22] 6-2, 6-1, 6-2

  • de Minaur concedes Djokovic’s ‘faultless’ display was probably best he’s faced in his career in post-match press conference, questions ongoing talk of his hamstring injury
  • “If that’s the level, he’s definitely the guy that will take the title. How solid he is, movement, end-range gets, what he’s able to do – keeping depth – it felt like constant pressure today, every single service game I had no free points. An uphill battle from the start,” he continues
  • “Best match of the year so far. Tonight it wasn’t obvious I’m carrying an injury, don’t wanna celebrate too early, things can change really quickly. I’ve been taking a lot of anti-inflammatory pills which I don’t like taking, to mask the pain, day-by-day,” Djokovic says

Spare a thought for Alex de Minaur. He was playing and competing well early on Rod Laver Arena in precisely the sort of big-match opportunity he longs for. A graphic soon showed up on screen: the 23-year-old had already completed 47 sprints, to his opponent’s 18, through four games.

They were level on serve at 2-2 and both were displaying their readiness for intense ball-striking rallies. For all of the talk about the dangers of a first H2H meeting against Novak Djokovic, this felt good. Then, the 21-time Major champion was virtually imperious from that point onwards.

de Minaur hasn’t got the weapons many of his agemates are blessed with, like Stefanos Tsitsipas’ forehand or Felix Auger-Aliassime’s serve, but one thing he does have is the ability to cover ground with ease and quickly earned a reputation as the fastest on the ATP tour.

That didn’t matter here. Mats Wilander’s deep dive on Eurosport, covering Djokovic’s match stats: hitting harder and shortening points this season – compared to 2021 – is another insight into how the Serbian evolve with the times, against an ever-growing pool of younger players.

Although he served well early and it tapered off afterwards (76% first serve in set one, 60% on average in sets 2-3), the 35-year-old made de Minaur work for every point when returning serve as the overwhelming pressure quickly told against a player who was being blitzed on home soil.

He pulled up once, late in the first set, and declared afterwards his injured left hamstring was feeling the best it has on this occasion. No wonder Rublev was worried.

Elsewhere…

Tommy Paul of the United States celebrates in the fourth round singles match against Roberto Bautista Agut of Spain during day eight of the 2023...

Tommy Paul is into his first Major quarterfinal, where he’ll play 20-year-old compatriot Ben Shelton after edging past Roberto Bautista Agut in four sets and three hours: 6-2, 4-6, 6-2, 7-5.

“It was really physical, tough battle – anytime we play I know it’s gonna be a war. I was prepared and felt I executed really well today, always a blast on this court. Ben was down 2-1 when I came on court, happy to play an American… there’s gonna be one in the semis for sure.”

Rising youngster Shelton recovered from two sets to one down, winning the all-American clash against JJ Wolf in five sets: 6-7 (5-7), 6-2, 6-7 (4-7), 7-6 (7-4), 6-2.

It means he’s the first from his country to reach a major quarterfinal before turning 21 since Andy Roddick at Wimbledon 2003.


singles Quarter-finals, are as follows

Tuesday
Elena Rybakina [22] vs. Jelena Ostapenko [17]
Jessica Pegula [3] vs. Victoria Azarenka [24]
Karen Khachanov [18] vs. Sebastian Korda [29]
Stefanos Tsitsipas [3] vs. Jiri Lehecka
Wednesday
Karolina Pliskova [30] vs. Magda Linette
Aryna Sabalenka [5] vs. Donna Vekic
Ben Shelton vs. Tommy Paul
Novak Djokovic [4] vs. Andrey Rublev [5]

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

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