World No 1 Iga Swiatek was dumped out of the Australian Open by Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina, while Coco Gauff suffered defeat to a resurgent Jelena Ostapenko.
Rybakina produced a big-stage performance on Rod Laver Arena, winning 6-4 6-4 to set up a meeting against former French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko, who powered her way to a 7-5 6-3 victory over seventh seed Coco Gauff.
“For sure the past two weeks have been pretty hard for me,” said Swiatek.
“So I felt today that I don’t have that much to take from myself to fight even more. 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. So I’m going to try to chill out a little bit more.
“I felt the pressure, and I felt that I don’t want to lose instead of I want to win. So that’s, I think, a base of what I should focus on in the next couple of weeks.”
Rybakina dropped only six points on her first serve during the match and recovered from 3-0 down against a frustrated Swiatek.
The Russian-turned-Kazakh said: “It was a really tough match. I really respect Iga. She’s a young player and I think she plays really well. Today I think I was serving good. In the important moments I played really well so it made the difference.”
Although it is a big shock, Swiatek is not as dominant on hard courts as she is on clay and, although she has talked here of not expecting herself to win every match, it is clear the Pole finds it difficult to temper those expectations.
This was a meeting between the only two current active female Grand Slam champions, and Rybakina made the perfect start by breaking French and US Open winner Swiatek’s serve from 40-0.
Wide open in Melbourne?
With Elena Rybakina defeating No 1 seed Iga Swiatek, this year’s Australian Open will be the first Grand Slam tournament in the Open Era where the Top 2 seeds in both the men’s and women’s singles draws have lost prior to the quarter-finals.
Swiatek, who had received a warning before the start for taking too long to be ready to play, pulled back to 2-2 but the flatter hitting of Rybakina was paying dividends on a warm, sunny day in Melbourne and she forged ahead again to lead 4-3 and took the opening set.
The Pole looked set to mount a comeback when she broke the Rybakina serve in the second game of the second but back came the 22nd seed.
Swiatek had never quite looked comfortable and she was unable to withstand the pressure in the ninth game, with Rybakina breaking and then serving out the match to love to reach the quarter-finals at Melbourne Park for the first time.
“Usually when I come back from being down, I’m able to hold that momentum,” said Swiatek. “Today I lost it. For sure she forced that as well, so congrats to her.
“I think it’s going to be motivating for me, and I’m pretty sure that I’m going to play the next tournaments with something to focus on, something to work on, and I think I’m going to go forward. So I think it’s OK.”
Ostapenko stuns tearful Gauff
A surprise winner of the French Open in 2017 aged 20, Ostapenko has struggled in recent years but last season saw her climb back up the rankings and she is through to this stage of a grand slam for the first time since reaching the Wimbledon semi-finals in 2018.
Ostapenko simply had too much power for Gauff, who is one of the best defenders on tour but was unable to land her big first serve as often as she needed and paid the price.
The Latvian had the crowd laughing with her answer to a question on whether she trusted the automatic line-calling system in use at Melbourne Park.
“To be honest? No,” said Ostapenko. “I mean honestly, this live electronic system, sometimes it feels like it makes mistakes. I look at my team because I know sometimes I’m wrong, but I feel some balls are pretty close.”
It was a first defeat of the season for the 18-year-old following her title in Auckland and Gauff, who is still playing in doubles, shed tears of disappointment in her press conference.
“I think it’s because I worked really hard, and I felt really good coming into the tournament, and I still feel good,” she said. “I feel like I’ve improved a lot. But, when you play a player like her and she plays really well, it’s like there’s nothing you can do.”