Super six: The best matches from AO 2021

  • Dan Imhoff

From match-point-saving feats to big names riding out an onslaught or coming up short with the finish line in sight, AO2021 delivered big on highlights.

Now that the final champions of the fortnight have been crowned, these are six of the matches which captured an Australian Open that was like never before.

(5) Stefanos Tsitsipas d (2) Rafael Nadal, Quarterfinals

3-6 2-6 7-6(4) 6-4 7-5

Just twice in Rafael Nadal’s career had he fallen after taking the opening two sets – to Roger Federer in the 2005 Miami final and to Fabio Fognini in the US Open third round in 2015.

On the same arena and under lights where he first signalled his major credentials with victory over Federer at AO2019, 22-year-old Stefanos Tsitsipas became the third to achieve the feat over Nadal.

Against one of the greatest fighters on the Grand Slam stage, the fifth seed showed extraordinary resolve to keep pressing from a seemingly impossible position, to seal only his second victory from eight showdowns with the 20-time major champion.

“It was epic,” said Tsitsipas of the four-hour, five-minute encounter. “It was everything I ever dreamed of, and I’m glad that I am where I am today. There is obviously light ahead at the end of the tunnel, and there is plenty more to go.”

(3) Naomi Osaka d (14) Garbine Muguruza, Fourth Round

4-6 6-4 7-5

Their resumes made this fourth-round meeting worthy of a major final – a career Grand Slam had been checked off between the two.

The standard Osaka and Murguruza subsequently produced only vindicated the hype.

Down a set and a break in the second, a break in the third and staring down match points at 4-5, Japanese third seed Osaka flicked a switch to engineer an impressive 4-6 6-4 7-5 triumph.

It extended her unbeaten run to 18 matches dating back to last February and she would go on to claim another three wins to take the Open title over Jennifer Brady.

“I think maybe a year ago – definitely a year ago – I probably wouldn't have won this match,” Osaka said. “There are so many things that I was thinking about on the court that just would have blocked me from trying to win the match or trying to problem solve.”

(3) Dominic Thiem d Nick Kyrgios, Third Round

4-6 4-6 6-3 6-4 6-4

Reigning US Open champion Thiem looked completely shell-shocked and with nowhere to hide trailing two sets to love and 15-40 on serve in the house of Nick Kyrgios, John Cain Arena.

Few trigger the wild, even unconventional, crowd responses that Kyrgios manages. The Australian was playing fearless, near flawless tennis and a cheeky underarm ace to seal the second set only compounded Thiem’s woes.

The Austrian, though, was prepared to ride out the emotional and physical rollercoaster to extoll the virtues of a five-set battle as he prevailed after three hours and 21 minutes.

“Giving up is never an option,” Thiem said. “I also got used better to his game, to the court, to the great atmosphere, so the longer the match got, the more comfortable I felt.”

(10) Serena Williams d (7) Aryna Sabalenka, Fourth Round

6-4 2-6 6-4

It is rare that Serena finds herself being outmuscled at her own game. Against the boisterous and imposing Belarusian seventh seed, however, she needed every ounce of composure to withstand the onslaught and keep alive her hopes of Grand Slam title No.24. Arms thrown up in disbelief as Sabalenka began to peg back a 1-4 deficit in the third, the seven-time Australian Open champion drew on ample big-match experience in a clutch final two games.

“It was definitely a lot of power. I think, if anything, it was definitely power, but I’m used to it in practice. I know how to get them,” Williams said. “I was OK with it, really. If she wants to play power, let’s go.”

Marton Fucsovics d (17) Stan Wawrinka, Second Round

7-5 6-1 4-6 2-6 7-6(9)

Hungarian world No.55 Marton Fucsovics had beaten AO2014 champion Stan Wawrinka en route to his sole career title in Geneva two years ago, but the Swiss former No.3 had prevailed in their three remaining clashes and had vastly more experience on this stage as a three-time major champion.

Fucsovics needed five sets to get past Australian wild card Marc Polmans in the opening round and after peeling off the first two sets, only to have Wawrinka reel in his lead, back-to-back five-setters looked to be catching up with him.

Wawrinka had broken the 29-year-old when he served for the match in the fifth, but in the match tie-break admitted to becoming uncharacteristically hesitant as he failed to convert three match points.

“I just wanted to survive somehow, put every ball back, fight until the end,” Fucsovics said. “Against Stan, it is not easy. He is a very experienced player. He won three Grand Slams, but today I was the stronger mentally.”

(2) Simona Halep d Ajla Tomljanovic, Second Round

4-6 6-4 7-5

Australia's Tomljanovic conceded this loss would sting longer than most. Roared on by a parochial crowd on Margaret Court Arena, the world No.72 had second seed Halep seriously on the ropes as she relentlessly peppered the lines in a high-quality showdown under lights.

The 27-year-old had never passed the second round at Melbourne Park, while her best run at a major came with a fourth-round finish at the French Open seven years ago.

Serving for the match at 5-3 in the third, though, she was on the cusp of landing her biggest career victory, only for the two-time major champion to show her mettle from the brink of defeat to reel off the final four games.

“I was not that positive [at 5-2], but I think mentally I was a little bit stronger than her,” Halep said. "I had the desire to win the match and didn't want to give up."