The second day of quarterfinal action at the Australian Open saw the downfall of the tournament's top overall seed.
In a sloppy match, world No. 1 Ashleigh Barty fell to 25th seed Karolina Muchova, 1-6, 6-3, 6-2 on Wednesday.
While Barty dominated early, her fortunes reversed after Muchova took an injury timeout when down 2-1 in the second set. Muchova won five of the next six games from there, then broke Barty early in the third set and held serve for a stunning comeback win.
That timeout created a fair amount of controversy, with some speculating it was rooted more in gamesmanship than a legitimate medical concern. The break at least heralded a tactical shift for Muchova, working to shorten rallies and disrupt Barty's rhythm.
"Ash started very good, she played almost no mistakes, it was very tough," Muchova said after the match. "I was a bit lost on the court and my head was spinning, so I took a break. It helped me. I tried to get back, play faster rallies so we don't play the long ones from the first set. It worked well."
Muchova had withdrawn from a tournament earlier this month due to an abdominal injury, but she denied that was the reason for this timeout. Instead, she said she was treated with ice to cool down.
It's only the second time this tournament Muchova has erased a significant lead from one of the tournament favorites, as she also won seven straight games to stun Karolina Pliskova in the third round.
Rafael Nadal falls to Stefanos Tsitsipas
Wednesday was the day for top seeds to fall. Rafael Nadal, the No. 2 ranked men's tennis player in the world, fell to Greece's Stefanos Tsitsipas, ranked No. 5. Tsitsipas beat Nadal 3-6, 2-6, 7-6 (4), 6-4, 7-5, rallying from two sets down to end Nadal's quest for a record 21st Grand Slam title.
The match took four hours, but initially it looked like it would be much shorter. Nadal jumped out early, leading Tsitsipas two sets to love, and it seemed like Nadal would cruise into the semifinals. But then Tsitsipas woke up, forcing a tiebreak after a back-and-forth third set. Tsitsipas won when Nadal made an unforced error on a backhand, and just like that, Tsitsipas had life.
You can't mention Tsitsipas' win without mentioning his Round 4 match, which wasn't even a match. He won on a walkover when Matteo Berrettini pulled out with an injury, while Nadal spent two hours and 16 minutes on a straight sets win against Fabio Fognini. Tsitsipas was working on fresher legs, and you could tell when Nadal began to tire in the third set, making sloppy mistakes while Tsitsipas had the energy to stay relentless. (The 12-year age difference probably didn't hurt either — Nadal is 34, Tsitsipas is a sprightly 22.)
As the game wore on and Nadal grew more tired, Tsitsipas actually started getting better. He made shots he'd missed in the first two sets, and had the energy to reach for balls when he needed to. His serve began to gain more power, too. Down 3-2 in the the sixth game of the fifth set, Tsitsipas smashed four straight aces to win the game and tie the match. Nadal never even touched the ball.
Even then, Nadal kept fighting back. He won two of the next three games, and it looked like he might be able to eke out a win. Then Tsitsipas stormed back and won the next three games, giving him the set and the match.
MASSIVE COMEBACK STEF
Stefanos Tsitsipas becomes the second player to beat Rafael Nadal from 0-2 down at Slams with a 3-6, 2-6, 7-6, 6-4, 7-5! Tremendous battle... 👏👏 #Ausopen pic.twitter.com/9avGqwvhmd
— くれふぁ@暫定垢 (@umbre_sports532) February 17, 2021
How rare is it for Nadal to get beat after jumping out to a two-set lead? Only two men in history have rallied from two sets down to beat him at a Grand Slam: Fabio Fognini at the 2015 US Open, and now Tsitsipas. (Roger Federer also did it in 2005, but not at a Grand Slam.)
In his post-match interview on the court, Tsitsipas could barely find the words to describe his performance. "I fly like a little bird, everything was working for me," is how he described his play in the final three sets.
— 🇬🇷 𝗧𝘀𝗶𝘁𝘀𝗶𝗽𝗮𝘀 𝗙𝗮𝗺𝗶𝗹𝘆 🇬🇷 (@Tsitsifam) February 17, 2021
Tsitsipas now advances to the semifinals to face No. 4 Daniil Medvedev.
Jennifer Brady reaches second Grand Slam semifinal
A battle of American women — one ranked 24th in the world, the other 62nd — ended with Jennifer Brady reaching her second straight Grand Slam hardcourt semifinal.
Brady defeated her friend Jessica Pegula 4-6, 6-2, 6-1, ending a Cinderella story (or as much as a person can be a Cinderella when their parents have a net worth of $5 billion) that took down the tournament's fifth and 12th seed. Even with the loss, Pegula had advanced farther than she ever had in a Grand Slam in her career.
— Buffalo Bills (@BuffaloBills) February 17, 2021
A close but brisk first set was decided when Brady dropped a service game after being tied 4-4, but she soon pulled things together to book a match against Muchova with a trip to the final on the line.
Tournament to re-open after COVID-19 lockdown
Five days after local COVID-19 outbreaks triggered a snap lockdown in Melbourne and the surrounding area, the Australian Open is set to re-open its doors to fans on Thursday, according to ESPN.
The tournament closed its doors after 13 cases of the highly infectious UK strain of the coronavirus were discovered at a Holiday Inn near the Melbourne Airport. Since then, 12 more cases have been discovered in Melbourne to bring the count up to 25, but no new cases have been discovered in the last 24 hours. Matches were played in a bubble format, with players only moving between their places of residence and the tournament grounds.
Spectators will arrive just in time for the semifinals, highlighted by a showdown between Naomi Osaka and Serena Williams.
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