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Day 5 women's wrap: Blinkova wins tiebreak for the ages

  • Gill Tan

Courage is defined as the mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear or difficulty.

MORE: All the scores from Day 5 at AO 2024

It's also the trait that Anna Blinkova says helped her secure the biggest upset of Australian Open 2024: a 6-4 4-6 7-6 [22-20] history-making victory over third seed and last year’s runner-up Elena Rybakina.

In a night session thriller, the 25-year-old saved six match points before finally converting her 10th match point to win the longest-ever women’s tiebreak in Grand Slam history. The breathtaking 30-minute tussle usurped the 20-18 record set by Lesia Tsurenko in her victory over Ana Bogdan at Wimbledon last year.

MORE: AO 2024 women's singles draw

Tenacious Blinkova and unflappable Rybakina, the Wimbledon 2022 champion, both struck the ball fearlessly for much of the tiebreak, during which they hit a combined 14 winners and forced nine errors with relentless, gasp-inducing shotmaking.

Blinkova and Rybakina shared a moment after their record-setting tiebreak

“It took me a lot of courage,” said Blinkova, revealing that her hand and legs were shaking as she fought for her first win over a top-three player.

“I was going for it, I was trying to find the balance between being aggressive and being solid, not rushing, but trying to make her play one more shot."

Blinkova credited her mental fortitude and ability to shake off the disappointment of squandered opportunities.

“I was telling myself … to go more for it, to hit harder, to make her move more,” she said.

“I was doing a lot of mental work, a lot of self-talk to just stay positive, and telling myself that I still can win the match until the very end.

“I had negative thoughts coming to my head, especially when I could not convert my match points and I was match point down on the return. I had a lot of thoughts [like] ‘What if she serves well? What if she hits [a] big first serve? It's going to be over'.

“I tried to push these thoughts away. I was telling myself to cut the trajectory, accelerate on the return. I was telling myself to stay solid all the time, just to keep running everywhere and put all the balls in the court.”

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The rollercoaster encounter lefts jaws agape at Rod Laver Arena and in living rooms across the world.

Blinkova collapsed to her knees after sealing the win and earning a maiden berth in the AO third round, where she’ll tackle 26th seed Jasmine Paolini. 

“This day I will remember for the rest of my life, especially on this court, with this crowd, I will never forget it,” she said.

“It’s the best day of my life so far."

The moment when it all sunk in for Blinkova ...

Earlier, Sloane Stephens was elated after posting a 4-6 6-3 6-3 upset over 14th seed Daria Kasatkina at John Cain Arena. The 2017 US Open champion is back in the round of 32 at Melbourne Park for the first time since 2019.

“Happy to be out here, happy to be playing, happy to be competing and playing the tennis that feels good to me … there's a lot of emotion behind that, I think now it's just coming out a little bit more,” said the former world No.3.

Elsewhere, Clara Burel stunned fifth seed Jessica Pegula 6-4 6-2 to earn her first top 10 win, while 19th seed Elina Svitolina eased past Viktoriya Tomova 6-1 6-3.

With the exits of Rybakina and Pegula on Thursday, a maximum of three top-eight seeds can reach the round of 32, the lowest tally in the Open Era.

At John Cain Arena, 11th seed Jelena Ostapenko secured a 6-0 3-6 6-4 win against Ajla Tomljanovic, and hopes to keep the wins coming during what has proven to be a successful trip Down Under.

“Australia [is] good so far, winning doubles title in Brisbane, winning singles title in Adelaide,” she smiled.

The Latvian faces a tantalising third-round clash against 18th seed Victoria Azarenka, after the two-time Australian Open champion converted her fifth match point to complete a 6-4 3-6 6-2 win over Clara Tauson in the early hours of Friday morning.

The Dane struck 39 winners to the world No.22’s 25 and saved nine of 14 break points, but still came up short.

It wasn't always pretty for Azarenka, but it was effective

“I’m very happy that I was able to fight through … today was, I would say, a bit of an ugly win,” said Azarenka, who sprayed 30 unforced errors off her racquet.

“Sometimes, you have to do whatever it takes to get over that line.

“She’s a very good player, very talented, still young so I’m sure she’s going to improve … definitely has a great future.”