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Sinner v Rublev; Sabalenka, Djokovic and Gauff through: Australian Open quarter-finals – live | Australian Open 2024


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I wonder about Sinner. Obviously he’s superb, and when Djokovic goes there’ll be opportunities, but does his game have enough to it to win Slams? His serve is fantastic, likewise his temperament, but my sense is he needs to get better at curtailing points against the better players. It’s rare he does something to take your breath away, and generally, that quality unites all major winners in the men’s game. Anyroad, he makes hard work of this latest service-game, from 40-15 up finding himself at deuce thanks to a Rublev winner and an unforced error. Eeesh, he’s holding his stomach – I hope that’s not a muscular thing – then slams a forehand down the line that lands fractionally outside of it. Break-point down, he fingers his tummy again then wallops down an ace. meaning Rublev is now 0/5 and, perhaps stung by that, the Russian again loses patience, swiping wide, before directing a return into the net. Still, though, Sinner touches his stomach gingerly – geddit! – so though he leads 6-4 3-3, it might be that the match is changing/

My coverage cuts out, returning for me to see we’re at deuce on the Rublev serve – no great surprise as last time he missed break points, he was then broken. But he serves his way out of this through deuce, and leads 3-2 in the second.

Good work from Rublev, his forehand carrying two decent rallies that give him 30-all. Sinner, though, is unfazed, quickly winning the next point, but again Rublev sticks about for long enough to make deuce when his opponent errs. He’s not been to the bog, no, but perhaps his coaches are checking in with us because he’s now following our advice, staying patient before sticking a forehand on to the line; an ace and Sinner has deuce. So far, he’s sort of doing to Rublev what Rublev did to D-Min on Sunday, winning enough of the big points to always stay in front, but a double means he’s faced with another break point, Rublev again biding his time before ulnoading the suitcase on a pair of forehands, the second dropping fractionally wide. This is a much better match now and this is the longest game of it – we’re up at around eight minutes when a wrong-footing backhand gives Sinner advantage – and a service winner takes him to 6-4 2-2. Rublev is now 0/4 on break points.

Sinner attacks a second serve, landing a backhand return on to the line, then Rublev shanks a forehand wide – a dreadful shot in the circumstances. But he hangs in the next rally well, not going for too much, making 15-30 when his opponent nets. Problem being he then does the same and Sinner, without doing all that much, has two break points; a service-winner saves the first … then another the second, which makes deuce. Excellent from Rublev then, after a cunning drop, the ball is there for Sinner who, with a big gap down the line, directs ball into net, then again with his next return, and that is a colossal hold for the Russian, who might’ve detonated had the game gone against him. His knees and racket are grateful and he leads 2-1 trailing 1-0.

Up 30-0, Sinner, who’s looked close to impregnable on serve since saving break points in game two, nets, then clouts wide with the rally seemingly won. Naturally, an ace follows, making 40-30, then high-kicking second-serve expletive secures the hold and 1-1 in the second. Rublev isn’t that angry, but an explosion could be imminent.

Rublev will be relieved to know I’ve a plan for him, so all he needs to do is take a slash and check the GBG. Anyway, rather than go for lines, he needs to bring his sight in just a little, aiming to take the ball early and keep Sinner moving so he can’t plant feet and thrash away. Real talk, to win the first set he didn’t have to, he just had to be solid, knowing that Rublev is the better shot-maker without being a good enough shot-maker to override the misses. Still, he holds to 15 in the first game of set two, and is playing better now than at the start. Sinner 6-4 0-1 Rublev

Andrey Rublev in action.
Andrey Rublev in action. Photograph: Edgar Su/Reuters

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Jannik Sinner takes the first set against Andrey Rublev 6-4

Sinner has been really consistent here; perhaps he knows that Rublev will go for loads, so if he’s solid, he should win unless his opponent has a worldie. He makes 15-0 when a return loops long – Rublev has to do better with that – then dominates a rally for 30-0 and raises three set points when a return hits the net. Another big serve does the rest, and Rublev needs to rethink, because unless he hits a Stanimal in a major final kind of seam, he can’t win playing as he is.

Up 30-0, Rublev unleashes an inside-out monster, follows it with a service winner, and he’s playing a little better now. But is he too late to rescue this set? Sinner will shortly serve for it at 5-4.

A long rally and Rublev nets, so attacks his knees with his racket, which should teach them. That’s not the first time he’s done that and again, as in Turin, he draws blood … then makes his way to 30-all which, in the context, represents a chance. But a body-serve forces him to float a return long, then again on the second delivery – that’s excellent from Sinner, who’s a game away from set one at 5-3 and generally looks the more together human.

Down 0-15, Rublev monsters a forehand winner, but a double puts him under pressure; a service-winner alleviates it, and from there he closes out to trail 3-4.

Rublev has dipped, his forehand not finding its range, and that’s the thing with him: he goes for so much, that when it doesn’t work, games can disappear quickly. So he’s soon down 30-0, before a Sinner drop drifts wide, giving him a sniff and his first point in 12. But when another error gives him 40-30, an ace down the T secures the hold and a 4-2 lead. Neither man is playing that well yet, so the one who makes fewer erros leads.

Now then. Four points on the spin is soon six on the spin, Sinner making 0-30, then Rublev slaps a forehand into the net and must now save three break points. He cannot, netting another, and Sinner did not have work hard for that, eight points in a row giving him control of set one at 3-2.

Sinner nets a forehand for 15-all, then a backhand following what I think is the longest rally of the match so far; if he can keep wining those, he’s a good chance of progressing. And when he clouts a backhand close to the sideline, the wide riposte raises two break-points, and already this is a big moment because there probably won’t be many of them. But a long forehand burns the first and a colossal serve extinguishes the second, then an ace down the T secures the game from advantage; decent statement from Sinner. We’re 2-2 in the first.

Service winner, ace, big serve and clean-up forehand; Rublev quickly makes 40-0, but two errors then invite Sinner into the game. And when Sinner forces him to play a volley to win a point he’s dominated, he nets and out of nowhere, we’re at deuce. No matter, he closes out with another barrage of serves and forehands, so leads 2-1.

My file is lagging because of how many posts are in it, so please bear with me, but Sinner rushes through a love-hold secured with an ace down the T.

Rublev’s first serve is a helluva stroke; the problem comes when he misses, because his second is far less so. But he holds to 15 for a 1-0 lead.

Right, away we go.

Rublev has made the quarters of every Slam, but is 0-9 from those matches – a weight he carries on to court with him. He’ll be desperate to win this.

Here come Sinner and Rublev. These two are pretty similar players, both of them powerful hitters from the back. But Sinner just does it all a little bit better, is in better form having played less, and has a more equanimous demeanour. Rublev’s serve and forehand can take any match away from anyone, but he’s never reached the semis of a Slam and the reason is an inability to beat players ranked above him when he really needs to.

Back to Sabalenka, what stood out was her power because it always does, but otherwise it was her touch – at least in the first set. I’m sure that’s partly because she didn’t think Krejcikova could hurt her and that won’t be as much the case against Gauff, who can return power with power and perhaps keep her moving more. But it also reflects the work she’s done, her growing confidence on it, and how comfy she feels on Laver. If her level stays roughly the same, she’s going to retain her title and there’s nothing anyone can do about it. But playing at her peak when under pressure is something with which she’s struggled previously, so let’s see.

Coming up next: Jannik Sinner (4) v Andrey Rublev (5)

Sabalenka thanks the crowd, saying it reminded her of last year’s final, and asked why she’s playing so well here – she’s yet to lose more than three games in a set, never mind lose a set – says she’s lots of Aussies in her team and also name-checks the crowd. Explaining her recent consistency – she’s 8 and 0 in Slam quarters, and has made at least the semis in the last five – she says she’s worked hard, then off she goes. Good luck, Coco old mate.

Aryna Sabalenka (2) beats Barbora Krejcikova (9) 6-2 6-3

A booming return is too good, giving Sabalenka 0-15, then she asks a ball kid to remove an insect from the court. Another weapons-grade return follows, Krejcikova unable to respond, and when a backhand loops wide, ending another rally dominated by the champ, she has three match points. Ands she only needs one, a brutal backhand return seizing control of a rally eventually finished with a difficult volley made to look easy. A stunningly, terrifyingly good performance from the champ, making a fellow major winner look like a child, and if she maintains that level – one I’ve never seen in the women’s game – she’s near enough unbeatable.

Belarus' Aryna Sabalenka reacts during her win.
Belarus’ Aryna Sabalenka reacts during her win. Photograph: Anthony Wallace/AFP/Getty Images

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Krejcikova gets Sabalenka on her bike, making 15-30 with a decent forehand to the corner. So Sabalenka dematerialises a forehand down the line, a service winner down the T … and another out wide. At 6-2 5-3, she’s game away from the semis.

As Iron Mike said later on…

And here we are again at 0-30, whereupon Sabalenka goes long on the forehand then nets a backhand return … and another backhand. An ace out wide follows, Krejcikova’s second of the match, and the shriek of celebration tells us she’s still fighting and still believes. Sabalenka leads 6-2 4-3, with a break.

Krejcikova, racing in as soon as she can, picks out Sabalenka with two overheads but makes 0-15 nonetheless, then a netted backhand gives her a sniff of taking back one break; a netted forehand and she’s two points to keep the match alive. An ace follows, then Krejcikova stretches desperately to get something on a mahoosive serve down the T … and Sabalenka nets the overhead putaway! When this happened in set one, she remonstrated by winning the next two games, and no one would be surprised to see that happen again. Sabalenka leads 6-2 4-2.

Barbora Krejcikova of the Czech Republic.
Barbora Krejcikova of the Czech Republic. Photograph: Lukas Coch/AAP

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Sabalenka is relentless and she makes 0-30 when she stays in the point with fine defence and Krejcikova wilts under the abuse, netting the kind of forehand putaway she dispatches as a matter of routine. A humungous forehand-overhand winner follows, raising two points for the double-break, the first saved via cunning drop … but the second taken when a swiped backhand falls wide. Sabalenka leads 6-2 4-1 and Krejcikova is powerless against an onslaught of this ferocity. It must be frustrating – and painful and embarrassing – because she’s a top player and tactician, but as Mike Tyson famously said, “Everyone has a plan till they get hit in the face.”

Down 0-15, Sabalenka devastates an overhead from on top of the net that bounces right close to it on the other side, flying off into the crowd; she apologises, but clearly knew what she was doing. An ace follows, but when she slices into the foot of the net, Krejcikova has a sniff at 30-all … but not for long, Sabalenka extinguishing hope in short, violent order. She leads 6-2 3-1.

My system crashes, returning in time for me to see that Sabalenka has broken for 6-2 2-1, and Krejcikova is not long for this match.





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