Top seed Swiatek crashes out, Gauff exits Australian Open in tears

Reigning Wimbledon champions Rybakina sent Swiatek crashing as a pair of underestimated Grand Slam champions tore open the women's draw
Published : 22 Jan 2023, 12:32 PM
Updated : 22 Jan 2023, 12:32 PM

Top seed Iga Swiatek was bundled out of the Australian Open fourth round on Sunday, with title threat Coco Gauff also exiting in tears, as a pair of underestimated Grand Slam champions tore open the women's draw.

World number one Swiatek was sent packing by Elena Rybakina in the early match at Rod Laver Arena, the Pole falling 6-4, 6-4 to the Kazak Wimbledon winner who started her tournament in the Melbourne Park wilderness of Court 13.

Rybakina shrugged off the scheduling snub before the fourth round showdown but used it as fuel in her first appearance on centre court as a tightly wound Swiatek slowly unravelled.

"I felt the pressure, and I felt that I don't want to lose instead of I want to win," said Swiatek, who dominated last season with two Grand Slam wins.

"I felt like I took a step back in terms of how I approach these tournaments, and I maybe wanted it a little bit too hard."

Rybakina, the 22nd seed, might have expected to face Gauff in the quarter-finals but the much-hyped American teen was upset 7-5, 6-3 by Jelena Ostapenko, the forgotten Grand Slam winner of women's tennis.

The 2017 French Open champion thrashed 30 winners past Gauff on Margaret Court Arena, her last two sealing the match in style to leave the 18-year-old in tears at her post-match media conference.

"I feel like it was rough," Gauff told reporters, before breaking down with emotion.

"When you play a player like her and she plays really well, it's like, you know, there's nothing you can do."

The win secured a first Australian Open quarter-final for hard-hitting Ostapenko, as well as the first at a Grand Slam since her run to the Wimbledon semi-finals in 2018.

Latvia's first - and only - Grand Slam champion stunned the world when she hoisted the trophy at Roland Garros as an unseeded 20-year-old.

She has had mostly lean years since but never doubted she would return to the spotlight again.

"My life changed a lot (after the 2017 French Open), so I needed a few years to really get used to what happened because I was really young," she said.

"I always knew and believed in my game. If I play well, I can beat almost anyone."

At a tournament fast running out of star power, unheralded Czech Jiri Lehecka landed another blow for the lesser lights as he toppled Canadian sixth seed Felix Auger-Aliassime 4-6, 6-3, 7-6(2), 7-6(3) in the men's tournament.

The 21-year-old will play the winner of Stefanos Tsitsipas and Jannik Sinner, who battle in the evening session.

While Lehecka was a bolt from the blue, big things have been expected of Sebastian Korda for some time and the young American is finally delivering on expectations at Melbourne Park.

He took another step toward emulating his Australian Open-winning father Petr by booking his first Grand Slam quarter-final with a see-sawing 3-6, 6-3, 6-2, 1-6, 7-6 (10-7) win over Hubert Hurkacz at Rod Laver Arena.

Korda, whose father won the 1998 title under the Czech flag, showed impressive composure as Polish 10th seed Hurkacz roared back to level the fifth set tiebreak at 7-7 by winning four consecutive points.

Korda held firm, closing it out with a backhand winner to set up a clash with Russian 18th seed Karen Khachanov.

"It feels awesome. I was not feeling too much energy towards the fourth and fifth sets but you guys picked me up," the 29th seed told the crowd.

Khachanov had a much easier passage, hammering Japan's Yoshihito Nishioka 6-0. 6-0, 7-6(4) at John Cain Arena.

The Russian has now reached the quarter-finals at all four Grand Slams.

"Obviously, yeah, that gives me some kind of compliments on what I achieve so far, and I'm just happy to do it. Hopefully I can continue even further on even bigger things," he said.

While the high seeds have tumbled, American Jessica Pegula has been rock solid, and she reached her third consecutive quarter-final at Melbourne Park by beating Czech 20th seed Barbora Krejcikova 7-5, 6-2.

Third seed Pegula will face the winner of Victoria Azarenka and China's Zhu Lin for a place in the semi-finals.

Toufique Imrose Khalidi
Editor-in-Chief and Publisher