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Kanepi's 'crazy' win sets up Swiatek quarterfinal

  • Alex Sharp

World No.115 Kaia Kanepi conjured a "crazy" 5-7 6-2 7-6[10-7] triumph over second seed Aryna Sabalenka to inch into the Australian Open 2022 quarterfinals on Monday night. 

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The Estonian stalwart relinquished four match points at the tail-end of the third set and celebrated her landmark victory a point too early in the match tiebreak, before closing out the sizeable shock on Margaret Court Arena. 

The 36-year-old will duel with world No.9 Iga Swiatek in the last eight, who had tears of relief and joy combined after battling past Romania's Sorana Cirstea 5-7 6-3 6-3 to launch into unchartered territory in Melbourne. 

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"Actually, I thought I was going to lose it after the match points I had on my serve. It was really difficult to come back. I don't know how I managed to do it," Kanepi admitted. 

"Australian Open was the only quarterfinal Grand Slam that I'm missing. My age … I didn't actually believe I will do it. I'm really happy." 

Sabalenka has suffered on serve Down Under this January, but the Belarusian has used all her fierce fighting qualities to recover from a set down in each round. 
The action was compelling viewing with drilled groundstrokes, chances going begging and a fluctuating scoreboard. The first two sets were intriguing, but weren't a patch on the decider. 

Sabalenka was forced to dig herself out of a hole one too many times

Up until 4-2 in the third set, the Estonian, who last won back-to-back Tour level matches at Australian Open 2021 prior to this fortnight, was unblemished on serve in the decider, winning every single point. 
Sabalenka saved four break points, digging incredibly deep with gutsy reaction play and, following an interruption for low-flying seagulls, managed to level. A trio of double faults came back to haunt the 23-year-old, and Kanepi was serving for her first major last eight since the 2017 US Open. 

It didn't quite go to plan. From 40-0 up, three unforced errors and a double fault left the door ajar for Sabalenka. 

"I was really tight. My hand was shaking when I started serving. I didn't make any first serves in, and that added to the pressure," continued the Estonian, escaping in the match tiebreak with braver strokes. 
"It was quite crazy … I think I would be more happy if I won after two, three match points. It was really close that I lost the match. I feel a bit exhausted right now. It was really difficult." 
Kanepi, having completed the set of Grand Slam quarterfinals, is crossing her fingers "adrenaline will help" her past Swiatek on Wednesday.  

Roland Garros 2020 winner Swiatek clinched a first last-eight spot in a major away from Paris courtesy of 29 winners in the high-octane two-and-a-half hour battle.  
"I think it started with being a little bit off rhythm. And then after the first set, I was a little bit shaking," admitted the ninth seed, wearing her heart on her sleeve. 
"I feel like during this whole match my stress level was higher than the previous ones. That's why at the end all these emotions came up. 
"This match got so much energy, it was pretty hard to stay calm. For me a week without crying is not a week, so I cry when I lose, I cry when I win."  

Cirstea, who scored two victories over top-20 seeds Petra Kvitova (20) and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (10) to reach the last 16, made a confident start. 
The world No.38 was rushing the former Roland Garros champion and striking on the front foot to lead 2-0. A couple of drive volleys restored parity for the seventh seed, but Cirstea pounced on some hesitant play to steal away the break at 5-5. 

Swiatek was overcome with emotion after her comeback win

Swiatek was struggling to string together combinations of points, but sprinted 2-0 ahead in the second set. The Romanian scurried along the baseline to connect with a lasered backhand down the line to rub out that lead. 

However, a 22-shot computer-game rally was topped with some immense court-screeching sliding out wide as Swiatek pinged a booming backhand, then a disguised forehand put-away, for the telling 4-2 advantage.  

Swiatek, seeking her personal best run at Melbourne Park, was being pushed to the limit, forced to fend off four break points in a mammoth 10-minute hold at 1-2 in the decider. 

A tramline-skimming backhand proved the Pole was finding her groove. But every time Swiatek looked to be gaining control, Cirstea would snatch back the initiative.  

This time, an 18-shot rally was toasted by Swiatek ducking low and rifling a bowling-ball backhand down the line for a 3-2 lead. Cirstea punched one more break onto the scoreboard, before Swiatek demonstrated her major credentials by winning 12 of the final 14 points.  

"These kind of matches are going to give me a lot of confidence for the future," added the Pole. 

"It means a lot. Two years ago I felt like on hard court I'm not able to play my game, and I was always adjusting to what my opponents were doing.  

"Right now is different, because I feel like I really developed and I can play more on hard court and I can be more free. I'm pretty proud of that."