Leader Iga Swiatek and No.7 Coco Gauff both lose at the Australian Open

Leader Iga Swiatek and No.7 Coco Gauff both lose at the Australian Open

Everything seemed so easy for Iga Swiatek last season – two Grand Slam trophies, eight titles in total, a 37-game winning streak, a long stint at No. 1 in the rankings.

These achievements made everyone else expect constant greatness from Swiatek, which they can do nothing about. They also changed their approach to big moments, and a 6-4, 6-4 loss to Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina in the fourth round of the Australian Open on Sunday left Swiatek wondering if she needs to reconsider her prospects.

“I felt like I took a step back in terms of my approach to these tournaments and maybe I wanted it a bit too hard. So I’ll try to relax a bit more,” Swiatek said.

“I felt the pressure and I felt like ‘I don’t want to lose’ instead of ‘I want to win’.”

So there is no showdown between Swiatek and number 7 seeded Coco Gauff in the quarter-finals at Melbourne Park. Instead, Rybakina takes on 2017 French Open winner Jelena Ostapenko, a 7-5, 6-3 winner over Gauff, with a semifinal spot at stake.

“I kept them under so much pressure,” Ostapenko said.

Add Swiatek’s defeat to Week 1 exits at the hands of Ons Jabeur, Rafael Nadal and Casper Ruud and this Australian Open marks the first Grand Slam tournament of the Open era – which began in 1968 – with the top two seeded women and the top two seeded men ahead of the quarterfinals.

Both 22nd-seeded Rybakina, a 23-year-old representing Kazakhstan, and 17th-seeded Ostapenko, a 25-year-old from Latvia, made it that far in Melbourne for the first time.

“There were moments in the game where I got frustrated because I can usually solve problems, but today I feel like I didn’t have a lot of answers for what she was doing,” said Gauff, an 18-year-old from Florida , who finished second to Swiatek at the French Open last June.

“There were balls that I hit deep and she hit them on the line and hit them back deep, over and over again,” said Gauff, wiping tears during her press conference. “It’s just one of those days that just didn’t go my way and went hers.”

One key: Ostapenko converted their break chances at 3 for 3, and Gauff was only 1 for 8 in such situations.

Rybakina, on the other hand, used her big serve to produce half a dozen aces, part of a 24-15 overall advantage in the overall winners against Swiatek.

The women’s fourth round rounds scheduled for later Sunday were: No.3 Jessica Pegula versus 2021 French Open winner Barbora Krejcikova and two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka versus unseeded Zhu Lin.

In the men’s, 13th-ranked Karen Khachanov advanced to the quarterfinals by defeating No. 31 Yoshihito Nishioka 6-0, 6-0, 7-6 (4), setting a duel against No. 10 Hubert Hurkacz, or Sebastian Korda, No. 29, who played in the afternoon.

Other men’s games on Sunday: No. 3 Stefanos Tsitsipas against No. 15 Jannik Sinner and No. 6 Felix Auger-Aliassime against unseeded Jiri Lehecka.

A tennis player pumps her left fist in celebration while holding a racquet in her right hand.
Elena Rybakina celebrates the match point during her fourth round win over Iga Swiatek in Melbourne on Sunday. (Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

Up until Sunday, both Swiatek and Gauff looked pretty dominant for a week, winning every set they contested. Swiatek lost only 15 games in three games, Gauff only 19.

β€œSure, if you play No 1 you really have nothing to lose in my opinion. I knew I had to be aggressive from the first ball because she has great movement and defends very well,” Rybakina said. β€œSo I tried to attack them from the first ball and that worked really well.

Her 25th place finish does not properly reflect her ability or results as her championship at the All England Club in July yielded no ranking points. The WTA and ATP tours withheld all points at Wimbledon 2022 after the All England Club banned players from Russia and Belarus from participating over the invasion of Ukraine.

Rybakina – who was born in Moscow but has been playing for Kazakhstan since 2018 when that country offered her funds to support her tennis career – said her current standing “doesn’t bother me because it’s been six months already,” but she also admitted it provides some motivation.

Despite her status as a major champion, Rybakina hasn’t been in the spotlight: her first-round match at Melbourne Park was played on the tiny Court 13 last Monday; Her match against two-time Slam champion Garbine Muguruza took place on at least Court 4 at the US Open.

But her game deserves much more attention as she defeated Swiatek, a game after defeating 2022 Australian Open runner-up Danielle Collins.

Swiatek wasn’t at his best and Rybakina had a lot to do with that. In the opening game, Swiatek led 40-Love but got broken. In the next game, Swiatek held two break points at 15-40 but failed to convert either. So early on, even though it ended 2-2, it could very well have been 4-0 to Swiatek and she described that sequence as “a bit worrying”.

Rybakina served that set with a 183km/h ace at the end and capped it with a 183km/h ace, and her dangerous backhand was quite a help too: she produced six winners on this wing in the first set, compared with zero for Swiatek.

In the second set, Swiatek appeared to be back on track and took a 3-0 lead. But this surge didn’t last long and Rybakina won six of the game’s last seven games.

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