Tennis: Swiatek storms back in Australian Open thriller, Alcaraz in action

AFP , Thursday 18 Jan 2024

Iga Swiatek admitted she was mentally "at the airport" before staging an astonishing comeback against Danielle Collins to stay alive in the Australian Open on Thursday as Carlos Alcaraz returned to action.

Poland's Iga Swiatek celebrates victory against USA's Danielle Collins during their women's singles match on day five of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on January 18, 2024. Photo: AFP


The Polish world number one was up a set and a break in her second-round match before faltering badly and slipping to a 4-1 deficit in the deciding set.

But just as she appeared to be heading home, she reeled off five straight games to win 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 and extend her winning run to 18 matches.

"Oh my God, I was at the airport already," joked Swiatek, who has never won the Australian Open.

"I wanted to fight until the end. I knew she played perfectly but it would be hard for anybody to keep that level, so I wanted to be ready for if the mistakes would come from the other side.

"It wasn't easy. I felt like I had the momentum going and then she started playing suddenly two times faster and I had no idea how to react to that for a couple of games. I came back, and I thought the only thing I could focus on was myself."

Four-time Grand Slam champion Swiatek, who will face unseeded Czech player Linda Noskova in the third round, reeled off 36 winners against 35 unforced errors.

Despite her dazzling comeback, she will know that she has to move up a gear and find more consistency if she is to progress further.

Five-set classics

On a dramatic day at Melbourne Park, sixth-ranked Alexander Zverev and Casper Rudd, the 11th seed, were pushed to the brink before both came through their matches in fifth-set tie-breaks.

Facing a second consecutive second-round exit in Melbourne, Germany's Zverev came back to win 7-5, 3-6, 4-6, 7-6 (7/5), 7-6 (10/7) after a gripping contest lasting four-and-a-half hours on Margaret Court Arena.

"A lot of the times I was a spectator in the match," said Zverev. "I was just, you know, witnessing whether he's going to hit a winner or miss.

"That's not a nice feeling to be in, especially in the important moments, but I'm happy that I managed to win."

Zverev faces Alex Michelsen next after the unseeded American teenager upset Czech 32nd seed Jiri Lehecka.

It was a similar story for three-time Grand Slam finalist Ruud, who was taken to a deciding set by Australia's Max Purcell, which he won 10-7.

The Norwegian will next meet British 19th seed Cameron Norrie, who came back from two sets down to beat Italian qualifier Giulio Zeppieri.

Alcaraz will aim to entertain his fans again as he takes on Italy's Lorenzo Sonego on centre court.

The Spanish world number two was in scintillating form as he blew away veteran Richard Gasquet in his opening match, unleashing 53 winners.

The 20-year-old showman admitted after his straight-sets win that he sometimes tries to play "impossible shots", including volleys and dropshots, to please his supporters.

Alcaraz, who missed the 2023 Australian Open due to injury, is aiming to become the third man in the Open Era to win three Grand Slams before the age of 21, after Bjorn Borg and Mats Wilander.

He also has the chance to supplant Novak Djokovic as world number one.

The two-time Grand Slam champion, who has never been beyond the third round in Melbourne, lost to Sonego in their only previous encounter, in 2021.

But Sonego said Alcaraz was now a different beast.

"He's aggressive on court. He stays near to the baseline, and he wants to be aggressive. He has a good touch, good volley, good return."

Women's fifth seed Jessica Pegula faces France's Clara Burel while in the evening session, Kazakh third seed Elena Rybakina, last year's defeated finalist, takes on unseeded Russian Anna Blinkov.

World number three Daniil Medvedev is also in action later against Finland's Emil Ruusuvuori.

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