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Rublev rallies to deny De Minaur's dream

  • Lee Goodall

Andrey Rublev spoiled the party late on Sunday night when he hit back to take out Australian No.1 Alex de Minaur in a dramatic five-set thriller inside a raucous Rod Laver Arena.

MORE: All the scores from Day 8 at AO 2024

De Minaur looked on track to move into his first Australian Open quarterfinal when he won the third-set tiebreak, but Rublev stayed calm enough to finish a 6-4 6-7(5) 6-7(4) 6-3 6-0 victory after four hours and 14 minutes.

Down two sets to one, the world No.5 didn’t panic, breaking early in the fourth and fifth sets to quieten the crowd and wrestle back the momentum.

Even though Rublev appeared to be fading physically over the closing stages there was no stopping him, ripping 42 winners by the time the two shook hands. 

Rublev steeled himself and swung harder after losing the third-set tiebreak

Once he’s recovered, the 26-year-old’s next task will be to beat in-form Italian and fourth seed Jannik Sinner when they square off in the last eight.

MORE: AO 2024 men's singles draw

Sinner hammered his way past last year’s AO semifinalist Karen Khachanov in straight sets earlier on Day 8, and is the only man left in the draw yet to drop a set.

“I started to say to myself ‘No, you’re gonna die today but you will do everything’,” Rublev told the crowd after the gruelling encounter.

“Somehow I started to play better and better and I found more energy and I was able to win.

“We’ve played a couple of times and all of them were dramatic like now. He’s one of the fastest players, the way he moves with the legs and he takes the speed, it’s crazy.

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“When you play four hours, long rallies and you try to stretch … I start to feel a bit of pain but it’s normal after four hours with intensity like this. I was just trying not to think about it, just trying to push myself to do everything I could.

“Don't cry, don’t start to feel sorry for yourself … just keep fighting and we’ll see what’s going to happen.”

On-court interviewer Jim Courier asked what it’s like to experience this kind of battle first hand.

“Better not to be inside my head at this time,” Rublev replied laughing. “It’s like a scary movie.” 

A packed house inside RLA that included the man himself, Rod Laver, and even Hollywood actress, tennis fan and Sydneysider Rebel Wilson were hoping they might witness a bit of Aussie sporting history.

De Minaur was aiming to become the first Australian to reach the men’s last eight in Melbourne since Nick Kyrgios in 2015. Ultimately it wasn’t to be despite periods of mind-boggling ball-striking, court coverage and defensive skills from the world No.10.

Rublev came close to going up two sets to love when De Minaur was serving at 4-5 30-all in the second set, only for the Australian to take control of the match by holding and playing a brilliant tiebreak. 

As the third set began, Rublev looked as flat as a pancake. A flurry of unforced errors allowed De Minaur to break early to sprint into a 3-0 lead.

Rublev eventually regained his composure though, and recovered from 2-5 in that third set to force another breaker.

An outrageous bit of luck on the seventh point turned the shootout in De Minaur’s favour when the Aussie’s volley dribbled onto Rublev’s side of the court after hitting the top of the net not once, but twice.

He snatched the next two points quickly to move into a 6-3 lead, and when he converted his second set point with a backhand pass the noise was deafening.

De Minaur had the momentum, but lost control of the match after the third set

This time though, Rublev responded brilliantly. After swapping early breaks in the fourth the world No.5 made another move to go out in front 4-2, and that proved enough for him to force a decider.

Two unforced errors from De Minaur to open the fifth set put him in immediate trouble on serve, and Rublev gobbled up the chance to break serve to take the sting out of the Australian’s challenge.

He raced into a 5-0 lead only for his body to start to let him down, his legs visibly weakening. But Rublev kept his composure long enough to fire a few more winners to secure a spot in his 10th Grand Slam quarterfinal with his 300th tour-level win.

The result means Rublev will get another chance to improve on his 0-9 record in major quarterfinals, and he will need to be fresh and at his best to get past the fast-improving Sinner.