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Russia’s Anna Blinkova is overjoyed after winning her second-round match against Kazakhstan’s Elena Rybakina in the Australian Open at Melbourne Park on Thursday. Picture: ELOISA LOPEZ/REUTERS
Russia’s Anna Blinkova is overjoyed after winning her second-round match against Kazakhstan’s Elena Rybakina in the Australian Open at Melbourne Park on Thursday. Picture: ELOISA LOPEZ/REUTERS

Third-seed Elena Rybakina’s bid to reach back-to-back Australian Open finals ended in disappointment as she crashed to a 6-4 4-6 7-6(20) defeat by unseeded Russian Anna Blinkova after a wild deciding tiebreak in the second round on Thursday.

A dramatic decider saw both players break three times before Blinkova came out on top in a tiebreak lasting over 30 minutes.

The big-hitting former Wimbledon champion, who lost to Aryna Sabalenka in the 2023 title clash, began the match sluggishly as her former doubles partner capitalised with an early break which proved enough for her to go on and wrap up the opening set.

The 25-year-old Blinkova built up the pressure and pounced on her opponent’s serve again in the second set to take a 2-1 lead, but Russian-born Kazakh Rybakina responded with one of her own as the powerful duo were evenly matched after eight games.

Brisbane champion Rybakina shifted up a gear and drew level at one set apiece before the players traded breaks freely in a dramatic decider that saw both players break three times before Blinkova came out on top in a tiebreak lasting over 30 minutes.

Iga Swiatek and Alexander Zverev both had to fight their way back from the brink of defeat to reach the third round on a day of close shaves and tight matches.

Carlos Alcaraz had a less fraught outing on the Rod Laver Arena but the 20-year-old was tested as he matched his best previous performance at the year’s opening Grand Slam by getting past the second round.

Women’s top seed Swiatek had earlier shown all the fight of a four-time Grand Slam champion as she rallied from two breaks down in the final set to beat Danielle Collins 6-4 3-6 6-4.

Swiatek knew she was in for a potentially tricky contest in the opening match on the Rod Laver Arena as Collins had beaten her in the Melbourne Park semifinals in 2022.

The 30-year-old American, who said after the match that she would be retiring this season, came out firing after losing the opening set and Swiatek needed her best tennis to overhaul a 4-1 deficit by rattling off the last five games in the third set.

Men’s sixth-seed Zverev admitted he was fortunate to prevail 7-5 3-6 4-6 7-6(5) 7-6(7) over Slovakian world No 163 Lukas Klein, whose iron grip on their 4½-hour contest had the German plotting his journey back to Monte Carlo.

Rain showers disrupted play on the outer courts for the second successive day but it was the wind and sunshine that Alcaraz felt had threatened the quality of his contest against Italian Lorenzo Sonego. The Spanish second seed felt both players managed to conquer the challenge as he gave up the second set but ran out a 6-4 6-7(3) 6-3 7-6(3) winner.

Women’s fifth-seed Jessica Pegula was unable to find a way past France’s Clare Burel and crashed out 6-4 6-2, while fellow American Sloane Stephens accounted for 14th-seed Daria Kasatkina 4-6 6-3 6-3.

Reuters

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