'Lucky' Rublev wins five-set epic to make Australian Open quarters, Latest Tennis News - The New Paper

'Lucky' Rublev wins five-set epic to make Australian Open quarters

MELBOURNE – Never-say-die fifth seed Andrey Rublev admitted on Monday he was “lucky” after saving two match points to topple Danish teen Holger Rune in a roller-coaster five sets and book a place in the Australian Open quarter-finals.

In a battle of two former junior world No. 1s, the Russian broke when Rune was serving for the match, then saved match points before winning 6-3, 3-6, 6-3, 4-6, 7-6 (11-9) in sapping heat at Rod Laver Arena.

He will face nine-time champion Novak Djokovic for a place in the semi-finals after the Serbian fourth seed crushed Australia’s Alex de Minaur in straight sets 6-2, 6-1, 6-2.

“I cannot say I’m sorry that you haven’t watched a longer match,” Djokovic joked to the crowd. “I really wanted to win in straight sets.”

It was trickier for his last-eight opponent.

“Today mentally was out of control, I was struggling a lot,” said Rublev.

“Yeah, was lucky. I don’t know if it was a present. Especially from 5-2 (down in the fifth), somehow I was able to win. I started to think it was over.”

“Now I can go to the casino, for sure I’m going to win,” he added, laughing.

Victory put the 25-year-old into the Melbourne quarter-finals for a second time and the last eight for a seventh occasion at Grand Slams.

Despite being world No. 6 Rublev, who has won 13 ATP titles, has never been able to go further.

He described beating Rune as “not like a roller coaster, it’s like they put a gun to your head. A roller coaster is easier”.

“I was never able to win matches like this,” he said.

With both players less than clinical on serve, Rublev broke the Dane with a forehand winner to take a 4-2 grip in the first set.

But Rune’s returns helped create chances and he broke straight back when Rublev played into the net from the baseline.

A Rune double fault immediately handed the advantage back to his opponent, and this time Rublev made no mistake in serving out the set in 37 minutes.

Undaunted, Rune clung on in a see-sawing 12-minute opening game in set two and turned the tables to break Rublev for a 3-1 lead, which he never relinquished.

With the sun blazing down, Rublev pounced in the sixth game of the next set, opening up three break point opportunities and making the most of them.

Down two sets to one, Rune called a trainer for what appeared to be a blood pressure test. Unperturbed, he got back to work and broke for 4-2 and took it to a fifth.

In a battle of attrition, Rune ground down Rublev to move to 5-2 in the decider, but he failed to serve out for the match.

Rublev then saved two match points to take it to the 10-point tiebreak, where he bounced back from 7-3 down for a gutsy win.

“This one hurts a lot,” said a disappointed Rune. “It was super close. I had my chances. He played well.”

With young gun Ben Shelton winning a five-set battle against compatriot J. J. Wolf, and Sebastian Korda advancing on Sunday, Tommy Paul ensured three American men will contest the quarter-finals for the first time since 2000.

The unseeded Paul beat 24th seeded Spaniard Roberto Bautista Agut 6-2, 4-6, 6-2, 7-5 in the evening at Margaret Court Arena to book a matchup with 20-year-old Shelton, whose dream run continued with a 6-7 (5-7), 6-2, 6-7 (4-7), 7-6 (7-4), 6-2 win over Wolf.

“Any time you play Bautista it’s going to be a war,” said a beaming Paul after reaching his first Grand Slam quarter-final.

“I’m really happy playing an American in the quarters, there’s going to be an American in the semis.”

Meanwhile, Indian Wells tournament director Tommy Haas says it will be “a disgrace” if Djokovic continues to be barred from the United States because of his stance on Covid vaccines.

The Serb is set to miss prestigious Indian Wells and Miami events in the spring after US authorities extended until April their requirement for international visitors to be vaccinated.

The 21-time Grand Slam champion Djokovic missed last year’s US Open for the same reason. AFP, REUTERS