Anna Blinkova pulled off a huge upset at the 2024 Australian Open on Thursday, defeating 3rd-seeded Elena Rybakina in a wild three-set match that included the longest tiebreaker in women’s Grand Slam history. Blinkova, ranked 63rd in the world, outlasted last year’s Wimbledon champion and 2023 Australian Open finalist by a score of 3-6, 6-2, 10-8 in an epic clash on Rod Laver Arena.
Lead-Up to the Blockbuster Clash
Rybakina entered the tournament seeded 3rd and seen by many as one of the top contenders for the title. The 23-year-old Kazakh had a breakthrough 2022 season, capturing her first Grand Slam title at Wimbledon in July. She then carried that momentum into 2023, starting the year off strongly by reaching the final of the Australian Open last week before falling to Aryna Sabalenka.
Blinkova, a 25-year-old Russian, came into Melbourne ranked 63rd in the world. While she had yet to make a major statement on tour, the Moscow native proved she could handle top players. Last summer, Blinkova scored an impressive win over current world #2 Ons Jabeur at Wimbledon.
Given Rybakina’s recent Grand Slam pedigree and vast edge in experience, she was a heavy favorite heading into the second-round clash with Blinkova. However, from the start it was clear the underdog was ready to put up a fight.
Back-and-Forth Battle Goes the Distance
Rybakina used her powerful serve and penetrating groundstrokes to grab the early lead, taking the opening set 6-3. But Blinkova refused to go away. She elevated her aggression and accuracy in the second set to put Rybakina under pressure, evening the match with a commanding 6-2 set win.
The third set saw multiple twists and turns. Rybakina twice went ahead by a break only for Blinkova to show resilience in breaking back each time. With Blinkova serving at 6-7, Rybakina had her first chance to close out the match but again failed to consolidate the break.
At 7-7 in the final set, the epic showdown would come down to a decisive tiebreaker.
Play Suspended as Epic Tiebreaker Unfolds
As the tiebreaker began, no one could have predicted what was about to transpire. Back and forth the two competitors traded blows in a stunning display of power and mental fortitude. Spectators around Rod Laver Arena looked on in awe as the tiebreaker stretched to unthinkable lengths.
At 9-8 with Blinkova leading, the 25-point mark was reached, meaning the players would now have to win by 2 points. The Australian Open had never seen a tiebreaker reach such lengths in the women’s championship. At 30-30 and with Blinkova at match point for the fourth time, the chair umpire made the extraordinary decision to halt play momentarily, allowing the combatants a brief respite after nearly 3 hours of intense battle.
“I just wanted to give both players a chance to mentally reset before we continued,” explained the umpire. “They were clearly getting fatigued.”
After a 7-minute intermission, one of the greatest tiebreakers ever witnessed was set for a dramatic conclusion.
Longest Tiebreakers in Women’s Major History
|Blinkova d. Rybakina
|Cornet d. Ostapenko
|Hsieh d. Konta
|Pironkova d. Muguruza
Blinkova Battles to Finish off Stunning Upset
The unexpected stoppage didn’t deter Blinkova. After play resumed, she confidently slammed a backhand winner to reach match point for the fifth time. Even with the finish line in sight, closing out the reigning Wimbledon champ would prove challenging.
Rybakina continued battling, saving a fifth match point with a blistering forehand winner. Blinkova then shanked a ball wide to make it 10-10 and bring gasps from the Rod Laver crowds. Rybakina garnered her own match point next when Blinkova double faulted at 10-11, but Blinkova erased it with clutch serving to get back to deuce.
After yet another deuce point, Blinkova finally capitalized at 12-11, forcing Rybakina into a backhand error to clinch the remarkable victory. The Russian had saved six match points in total over the course of the 3-hour, 4-minute war of attrition.
When the last ball landed out, Blinkova collapsed to the court in exhaustion and relief. She had just authored one of the greatest upsets in Australian Open history.
Social Media Explodes Over Instant Classic
As the stats rolled in, it became clear fans had witnessed an all-time epic Grand Slam thriller. The 42-point tiebreaker smashed the previous Australian Open record of 22 points, set by Chanda Rubin vs. Sandrine Testud in 1996.
The tennis world immediately took to social media to react to the stunning match’s conclusion:
“Are you not entertained?!?! Unbelievable effort by both ladies! That’s why we play!!” tweeted former World #4 James Blake.
“One of the best matches I’ve ever seen. The grit, the mental toughness – just incredible,” noted tennis analyst Brad Gilbert.
Even the great Billie Jean King chimed in with praise: “Amazing poise and nerves of steel displayed today. Congrats to both competitors on an all-time #AusOpen classic!”
Clearly fans far and wide realized they had witnessed an extraordinary piece of Grand Slam history. While Rybakina falling short again in Melbourne was the dominant storyline, Blinkova’s gutsy stand against the odds captured hearts around the globe.
Implications Moving Forward
For Rybakina, the difficult loss now creates uncertainty about her ability to make that next step to Grand Slam glory. Last year saw her break through at Wimbledon, but she has stumbled twice now with major titles on the line in Melbourne. Despite possessing one of the most dangerous games on tour, questions will persist about Rybakina’s mental game and decision making.
As for Cinderella story Blinkova, pulling off the biggest win of her career in such dramatic fashion could be a real turning point. The tennis world has now seen her potential against the elite. She will face a tough test in the next round against an ascending Clara Burel, but suddenly seems capable of making a surprise deep run.
Above all, these two weary combatants will forever share the bond from having participated in one of tennis’ most extraordinary matches. Fans will be reflecting on this classic Australian Open tiebreaker for decades to come. After such a physically and mentally draining experience though, recovery has to be the priority for both women at the moment.
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