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Spectacular six: The best matches of AO 2023

  • Gill Tan

Record-breaking five-set marathons, net-cord winners in deciding match tiebreaks, a springboard for breakout stars and the world's best in action – Australian Open 2023 had it all.

With our champions having secured their silverware, we reflect on six matches that captivated our hearts and minds during an unforgettable fortnight at Melbourne Park.

Aryna Sabalenka [5] def. Elena Rybakina [22]

Women's singles final: 4-6 6-3 6-4

A championship fight for the ages, this title bout redefined 'thrilling' and uplifted fans in Rod Laver Arena and across the globe with its unforgettable quality. 

A composed Rybakina, the reigning Wimbledon champion, snatched command early against an opponent she had never beaten in three prior meetings. But Sabalenka's self-belief and fighting spirit came to the fore as the fifth seed levelled up to wrest the match from Rybakina's grasp.

With the performance of a lifetime, an impressive Sabalenka stuck to her game plan, striking an incredible 51 winners during the two hour and 28-minute battle, and was able to drown out her emotions to stay cool under pressure during a gut-wrenching final game. 

Serving for a maiden Grand Slam title, the 24-year-old sealed a deserved victory on her fourth championship point before collapsing to the court in glee.

"[It] is the best day of my life right now," said a euphoric Sabalenka, whose triumph rounds out a full-circle journey.

"I'm super happy that I was able to handle all those emotions and win this one."

As the second seed at AO 2022, Sabalenka crashed out in the fourth round after averaging over a dozen double faults per match. The issue plagued her throughout most of the season, but that after working with a biomechanic coach, she has successfully put those demons to rest.

The powerful baseliner described the unforgettable final as the best match of her career. 

"She played unbelievable tennis. I fought so hard to win this one, I think tennis was great," Sabalenka beamed.

"I'm really happy that it wasn't [an] easy match. I really enjoyed this battle."

Andy Murray def. Thanasi Kokkinakis

Men's singles second round: 4-6 6-7(4) 7-6(5) 6-3 7-5

The most-hyped match of the tournament pitted the three-time Grand Slam champion, fresh from saving match point in his opening round five-set upset of AO 2022 semifinalist Matteo Berrettini, against a home-crowd favourite with something to prove.

Kokkinakis led with a margin of 5-2 in the third set, and was two points away from victory as he served for the match at 5-4.

But in classic Murray style, the 35-year-old came back from two-sets-to-love for the 11th time, setting a new record among his peers. The Brit saved 10 of 14 break points during the encounter, which took five hours and 45 minutes, making it the longest match of his career.

"It was unbelievable that I managed to turn that round," said the five-time AO finalist after earning a third round berth to mark his deepest AO run in six years.

"Thanasi was playing, I mean, serving unbelievable, hitting his forehand huge and I don't know how I managed to get through it," added the lion-hearted Murray, who struck just 69 winners to the Australian's 102 in the match that finished after 4am local time.

Jelena Ostapenko [17] def. Coco Gauff [7]

Women's singles fourth round: 7-5 6-3

Startlingly impressive tennis from the Latvian powerhouse earned the 2017 Roland Garros champion one of her best wins in recent memory.

The right-hander painted the lines to secure an upset over the highly-rated American, vaulting Ostapenko into her first Grand Slam quarterfinal in five years.

"I really had nothing to lose so I just went there and tried to show my best, tried to fight for every point and to make it hard for her," said Ostapenko, who seized all three break opportunities that she created and slammed 30 winners off her racquet, nine more than her teenage foe.
"She played really aggressive," acknowledged Gauff. "When you play a player like her and she plays really well, it's like, there's nothing you can do."

Andrey Rublev [5] def. Holger Rune [9]

Men's singles fourth round: 6-3 3-6 6-3 4-6 7-6 [11-9]

Talk about drama.  

In one of the most epic battles to have ever played out on Rod Laver Arena, Rublev saved two match points before snatching victory from the mouth of his Danish rival with a soul-crushing net cord winner.

"I was 5-2 down in the fifth set, 6-5 down two match points, then 5-0 (and) 7-2 down in the super tiebreak. In my life I've never been able to win matches like this," said the likeable 25-year-old.

"Especially to do it in a very special tournament like the Australian Open, to be in the quarterfinals is something I will remember for sure all my life. I have no words, I'm shaking!"

But one player's ecstasy is another's agony. "This one hurts a lot. It was super close. I had my chances," said Rune, who led 5-2 in the fifth set. "When I'm playing the next Grand Slam, this won't happen again, hopefully."

Victoria Azarenka [24] def. Zhu Lin

Women's singles fourth round: 4-6 6-1 6-4

In the words of two-time AO champion Azarenka, "it was hell of a match."

The powerful 33-year-old was forced to earn a comeback win in a physical two hour and 40 minute encounter, the longest of her six AO 2023 matches.

"Today I felt like the bullets were coming from every angle, on the run, off the run, on the line, touch the net," said the 24th seed. "I can't control her making winners, I can't control her hitting lines or playing amazing tennis. I can play a part in not letting her play such good tennis," added Azarenka, explaining her lightbulb moment that contributed to her improved focus.

The right-hander's self-professed "brave" tennis propelled her to victory. She struck 41 winners during the match, her tournament best, and saved nine of 14 break points.

Zhu, who reached a career-best final 16 at a major at age 29, said she was proud of herself for leaving everything on court. The loss, she said, taught her that she needs to improve her consistency.

Stefanos Tsitsipas [3] def. Jannik Sinner [15]

Men's singles fourth round: 6-4 6-4 3-6 4-6 6-3

The popular Greek was forced to produce some of his best tennis to shut down a comeback from his resurgent Italian adversary in this gritty five-setter.  

In a four hour tussle featuring gasp-inducing exchanges of dazzling groundstrokes, Tsitsipas saw off 22 of 26 break points, showcasing remarkable mental resilience.

"I felt like I spent an entire century on this court playing," joked the 24-year-old after earning his hard-fought win. "I had an unbelievable opponent on the other side of the court playing incredible tennis in the third and fourth set.

"I made a few technical adjustments on the fifth, gave myself an opportunity to play a bit more loose," added Tsitsipas, noting that those changes enabled him to assert himself into return games. 

That turned out to be the key to securing victory over Sinner, and to Tsitsipas extending his head-to-head advantage over the 21-year-old to 5-1.