Daniil Medvedev looked down and out, but saved a match point to reel in Felix Auger-Aliassime over five thrilling sets to return to the Australian Open semifinals on Wednesday.
The world No.2, runner-up in Australia last summer, prevailed 6-7(4) 3-6 7-6(2) 7-5 6-4 over four hours and 42 minutes in a mesmerising Melbourne midnight marathon.
The US Open champion advances to meet fourth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas in a final-four rematch from AO 2021.
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"I have no idea – talking about the match point, I managed to serve well," said Medvedev, who sounded bamboozled by his escape and was short of fresh clothes due to the intensity and work rate required to win the match.
Desperate times called on thinking like a 'Big Three' gladiator, he said.
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"I was not playing my best and Felix was playing unbelievable. Serving unbelievable. He was all over me to be honest," continued the 25-year-old, surviving in five from two sets down for just the second time in his career.
"I told myself 'what Novak (Djokovic) would do?' Because he's one of the greatest champions. Or Roger (Federer) or Rafa (Nadal), they have won so many matches like this.
"I just thought, 'Okay, I'm gonna make him work. If he wants to win it, he needs to fight to the last point. It worked, I managed to raise my level, especially in the (third set) tiebreak."
The Canadian was off to a flyer as the first set commenced, dictating play with a catalogue of rumbling arched forehands.
Locked at 4-4, Auger-Aliassime proved he was up for the fight, capping a 20-shot rally of pure athleticism and cat-and-mouse play with a rocket backhand down the line.
It was a warning sign; at 5-5, the 21-year-old broke, scurrying along the baseline to launch a backhand through the centre. Medvedev left it, misjudging the flight as the ball skidded off the baseline.
Champions have that break-back ability. The Russian did just that, teasing four errors from Auger-Aliassime to force a tiebreak.
However, the Canadian didn't blink, rattling another forehand winner and grasping the vital points after an untimely Medvedev double fault.
The second seed was Medvedev very much playing second-fiddle, offering up a loose game to enable Auger-Aliassime to race 3-0 in front.
The world No.9 gained plenty of air time a la Gael Monfils for an overhead, then held to love to close out a commanding two-set scoreboard advantage, raising his fist defiantly towards a buoyant Canadian contingent of fans.
Auger-Aliassime had a chance to stamp his authority at 1-1 in the third, only for Medvedev to hook a last-ditch forehand winner.
The world No.2 just about edged a thrilling pinball net exchange; Medvedev was building momentum, finally imposing himself on points. The 25-year-old showed some illuminating skill to connect with a serve and half volley combination to inch 6-5 ahead.
Auger-Aliassime was brave, taking a forehand drive volley well above shoulder height en route to a dramatic tiebreak. The second seed was 2-1 up ahead of a rain delay as the roof was closed.
The elements, the vocal Canadian strong crowd, his opponent … nothing was halting the Russian when play resumed, as Medvedev rattled through a clutch of lightning points to keep his title tilt alive.
A scorching Auger-Aliassime ace denied Medvedev a lead at 4-4 in the fourth set, and suddenly the Canadian's precision earned match point.
Heavy serving enabled the second seed to escape and Medvedev then flicked the switch, reaction volleys ramping up the heat. Three games in a row saw the match fittingly headed to a one-set shootout.
Auger-Aliassime surrendered a 2-0 sets lead to Aslan Karatsev at Melbourne Park last year in the fourth round, and a similar outcome looked likely when Medvedev's elastic defence dismissed three break points.
Chances were coming thick and fast, and with four hours on the clock a double fault gifted the US Open champion a 2-1 edge. The Canadian was holding on but couldn't convert any opportunities, with Medvedev's defence reaching its impenetrable best.
Serving for the match, the Russian pinged two forehand errors to offer up hope, but once again proved his champion credentials to book the semifinal rematch with Tsitsipas.
"Stefanos is a tough player. We had a lot of matches already. A lot of tough ones," Medvedev said of his semifinal opponent, who he beat in straight sets at Rod Laver Arena 11 months ago.
"Last year I managed to play pretty well, so I just hope that I'm gonna serve well and show my best tennis and that's how we can have a good match.
"It's a semifinal of a Grand Slam. So even if I'm in the worst shape of my life, I'm gonna fight my best and try to make it tough on my opponent."