Fourteen days into 2022, we already have contenders for match of the season.
Two top-10 talents and two contenders to annex the Australian Open, Barbora Krejcikova and Anett Kontaveit, put on a semifinal show at the Sydney Tennis Classic on Friday.
Reigning Roland Garros champion Krejcikova fended off seven match points to inch past world No.7 Kontaveit 0-6 6-4 7-6(12) to move into Saturday's final against Paula Badosa.
Over to the men’s draw, and top seed Aslan Karatsev and Dan Evans provided a herculean effort in a three-hour feast of variation.
Karatsev prevailed 6-3 6-7(13) 6-3 to advance to a decider against Andy Murray, whose renaissance notched up another milestone by earning his first final in three years.
Earlier on Friday, Krejcikova embraced the undulations and intensity of her high-quality clash with Kontaveit, which sparkled for two-and-a-half hours.
"I was just enjoying the match, because I was expecting it was going to be really difficult, and I know that Anett, she is playing really great tennis and she's very aggressive," stated the resilient Czech.
"I was just trying to fight for every single ball. When I had those match points down, I was just trying to figure out how to build up the point and how to win the point, and that was everything that I was focusing on."
Kontaveit, one of the form players of 2021 to make a late surge to qualify for the WTA Finals, was in a similar groove on Friday, blazing through a 29-minute opener with full-throttle tennis.
Krejcikova was forced to ramp up the aggression and clattered a brace of return winners to snatch away a crucial break at 4-4 to then level.
It was all down to the decider as the riveting rallies kept coming, the top-drawer ball striking making for an extensive highlight reel.
The Estonian earned three match points at 6-5 on the Krejcikova delivery, before a dramatic tiebreak was required. By 12-12, Kontaveit had seen seven chances to close out victory go begging, Krejcikova had lost four, but they weren't wasted – they were dissolved by their opponent.
"I think we played wonderful tennis," added Krejcikova, sealing the memorable win after a Kontaveit forehand return sailed inches long.
"It was very, very tight, and I'm really happy that I was able to hold the nerves better and that I won this match."
Earlier this week, former world No.1 Murray claimed one of his remaining career goals is to reach 50 singles titles.
The relentless three-time Grand Slam champion has a chance to fire to title number 47 this weekend, having secured his first final showing since Antwerp 2019, 27 months ago.
Murray compiled an absorbing 6-7(6) 6-4 6-4 comeback to combat the firepower of world No.25 Reilly Opelka.
"I love competing. You want to win as quick as you can, but I lost a tight first set. Not easy to come back against someone who serves and plays like that. I kept fighting, created opportunities. I think overall played a pretty smart match," said Murray, withstanding 20 booming aces from the towering American.
"It would be amazing to start the year with a win. It's already been a great week for me, big progress from anything I've done in the last year or so. I'll go for 47, hopefully I step it up again tomorrow."
Murray will have to be sharp to outmanoeuvre 'the lion', Karatsev. The world No.135 might not have stayed up to midnight to witness the end of Karatsev's enthralling triumph over his fellow Brit Evans, but he'll know the challenge the Russian will represent.
Third seed Evans saved three match points during the tiebreak in the 84-minute second set at the heart of a match basking in variety and scorching shot-making, before Karatsev eventually crushed his resolve.
"I have never played against him. He's obviously a huge, huge ball striker. Really strong guy. Huge pair of calves on him," said Murray of Karatsev.
Earlier, fifth seed Badosa bombarded world No.26 Daria Kasatkina 6-2 6-2 to fuel her Grand Slam-winning credentials.
The Spaniard executed an "aggressive game plan perfectly" to book a clash with Krejcikova, leading their head-to-head 2-0 courtesy of victories in 2021.
"It's amazing to start the year like this, I'm really motivated for the Australian Open," said the 24-year-old, who was absorbed in the first women's semifinal between Krejcikova and Kontaveit.
"It was impossible not to watch the match. They're amazing players, it was an amazing performance. Tomorrow is going to be another tough one, but I’m looking forward to it."