The first Top 10 matchup of the 2023 Australian Open exceeded its blockbuster billing as Andrey Rublev edged Holger Rune 6-3, 3-6, 6-3, 4-6, 7-6(11-9) on Monday in Rod Laver Arena.
In a scarcely believable fifth set, Rublev fought back from 2-5, saved two match points on serve at 5-6, then clawed back from a 0/5 hole in the decisive tie-break. On his third match point, he clinched victory in the cruelest of ways from the Dane’s perspective, when a net cord dribbled over the net.
“I never in my life was able to win matches like this,” Rublev said post-match. “This is the first ever time that I won something like this, especially in a very special tournament, the Australian Open, to be in the quarter-finals. So it’s something I will remember for sure all my life. I have no words, I am shaking and happy.”
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Over the course of three hours, 37 minutes, the twists and turns started early and began to build toward the climax early in the fourth set. Rune was struggling physically as he saved two break points in its first game, but after a visit from the trainer, he found and stole the set — but only after failing to serve it out at 5-3.
The Dane was at his best early in set five, combining big hitting with athletic defending, ultimately converting on his fourth break chance of the set to lead 3-1. But once again, he could not serve out the set — and this time, what would have been the match — as Rublev won 12 of 13 points to roar back from 2-5.
It was far from the last time the fifth seed would have his back to the wall, but he answered the call again to book his place in the Melbourne quarter-finals, where he will play Novak Djokovic or Alex de Minaur. It is Rublev’s seventh Grand Slam quarter-final, and his second at the Australian Open, though he has yet to advance beyond that stage at a major.
Both Rublev and Rune entertained the Laver crowd with big hitting and clever shotmaking, but they could not seem to find their best tennis at the same time. With the pressure ratcheted up in the final-set tie-break, Rune found early success as he frustrated his opponent with a steady baseline strategy, baiting him into errors.
With the match once again slipping away, Rublev turned up the heat as he imposed his will down the stretch, flipping the tie-break with a run of six straight points to lead 9/7. After Rune showed his fighting spirit by saving two match points — one of them with a brilliant backhand pass after desperate defending — Rublev landed the softest of final blows with the friendly net cord.
“When I hit it in the beginning, I saw how the ball clearly hit the net and was on my side,” he said of the moment time stood still as the ball hung in the air. “Sometimes it can be a bit higher, and then maybe [it goes over]. But that ball was exactly on my side and I don’t know how [it] went over.”
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