Australian Open: Noskova Stuns Swiatek In Melbourne

Linda Noskova (photo: Australian Open video)

MELBOURNE/WASHINGTON, January 20, 2024 (by Michael Dickens)

As Linda Noskova secured the biggest victory of her nascent career, a 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 upset of World No. 1 and top seed Iga Swiatek at the Australian Open Saturday night in Melbourne, it left her momentarily speechless.

The 19-year-old Czech teenager can be forgiven. Instead, after shaking Swiatek’s hand at the net, in front of 15,000 fans that filled Rod Laver Arena and a worldwide TV audience abroad, she retired to her bench and enjoyed a good cry hiding under her towel. Happy tears, no doubt, at the Happy Slam.

“It was an unbelievable match for me,” the 50th-ranked Noskova said in her post-match news conference. “Playing on such a court for a first time, playing with Iga for a second time, I really wanted to win this, so I’m just glad that I did it.”

With her easy power, Noskova beat Swiatek with 10 aces and 35 winners overall. She won 71 percent of her first-serve points, converted three of seven break points and outpointed the Polish star 95-91.

Noskova is through to the fourth round of a major for the first time after stopping Swiatek’s 18-match winning streak dating back to September of last year. It’s only the second loss the 22-year-old Swiatek has incurred before the fourth round in her past 14 Grand Slam events, and just the second time that she has lost to a player younger than her at tour level.

Meanwhile, after a semifinal run earlier this month in Brisbane, Noskova has achieved her fourth career victory over a Top 10 player – first at a major – and it’s the first time she’s beaten a reigning World No. 1 player.

“A lot of times I have played, like, a Top 10 player, it was – let’s say 100 percent of the time – I have actually nothing to lose and I’m just going to go there and try to play my best and we’ll see how it goes,” Noskova said. “A few times I have beaten a great player, but it was maybe like a fluke or something like that, let’s say, especially in my head.

“Actually, I didn’t go on court with 1000 percent trust and belief I can win the match. I just played good that day and I it went my way.

“I felt like tonight I was really actually a little stressed from the morning, which doesn’t really happen to me much often. I knew that it means a lot to me.”

In her post-match news conference, Swiatek tried to put into words what happened.

“I don’t know. I felt like I had everything under control until she broke me in the second set. But, yeah, well, I had couple of chances to break her in second set and I didn’t use them. So that’s a shame,” she said.

“But when she broke me, she was kind of proactive. I wanted to do that as well later in the next games. Sometimes, yeah, I was rushing it. I just wasn’t playing kind of with my intuition and naturally.

“I guess I’ll have to work on stuff to feel more comfortable next year.”

With the earliest loss by a No. 1 seed at the Australian Open since Virginia Ruzici in 1979, the upper half of the women’s draw is wide open.

Next, Noskova will play No. 19 seed Elina Svitolina of Ukraine, ranked 23rd, in Monday’s fourth round. It will be their first meeting. Svitolina advanced with a 64-minute 6-2, 6-3 win over No. 85 Viktorija Golubic of Switzerland by striking 19 winners. The victory improved Svitolina’s win-loss record this season to 7-1 and marks the fourth time she’s into the second week in Melbourne and first since 2021.

Svitolina’s triumph also means there will be three Ukrainians among the last 16 in the women’s draw of a major for the first time. She joins 93rd-ranked qualifier Dayana Yastremska and No. 37 Marta Kostyuk. Earlier Saturday, Yastremska took out No. 27 seed Emma Navarro of the United States, 6-2, 2-6, 6-1.

Other Saturday winners include: No. 12 seed Zheng Qinwen of China, two-time AO champ and current No. 18 seed Victoria Azarenka of Belarus, No. 26 seed Jasmine Paolini of Italy, No. 95 Oceane Dodin of France and No. 75 Anna Kalinskaya of Russia.

Alcaraz reaches AO fourth round for the first time

In his 201st ATP Tour-level match, World No. 2 and second seed Carlos Alcaraz, 20, faced a younger opponent. He won by retirement over 19-year-old Chinese star Shang Juncheng, leading 6-1, 6-1, 1-0, on Rod Laver Arena. The 140th-ranked Shang played with his upper right thigh heavily wrapped.

Alcaraz had won 86 percent of his first-serve points – dropping just three points – and faced no break points. A

“I’m feeling great,” Alcaraz said afterward. “Probably a seven or eight [out of 10]. It’s a high note. But that’s how I feel. I think I’m improving every day. Every match that I’m playing, I’m feeling better and better. Moving, hitting the ball, and, of course, I’m getting used to this court as well.

“I didn’t play so much on this court. I think everything is good. I am taking good things from the court, from the level that I’m playing. Hopefully it’s going to be better and better.”

Alcaraz’s next opponent will be No. 60 Miomir Kecmanovic of Serbia, who saved two match points for the second straight match and beat 2023 semifinalist and current 14th seed Tommy Paul of the United States, 6-4, 3-6, 2-6, 7-6 (7), 6-0, in just under four hours on Margaret Court Arena.

Elsewhere, World No. 3 Daniil Medvedev opened the night session on Margaret Court Arena and beat No. 27 seed Felix Auger-Aliassime, 6-3, 6-4, 6-3, benefiting from 43 unforced errors by the Canadian. Unlike the last round, when Medvedev finished at 3:40 a.m., this time the Russian was off the court by 9:20 p.m. much to his relief.

“It was tough for me, especially after the last match I had,” Medvedev said in an on-court interview. “It felt tough when I ran so I tried to give him a tough shot so he couldn’t run me so much. … I wasn’t feeling 100 per cent but I tried to make my best work possible.”

Medvedev’s next opponent will be 69th-ranked Nuno Borges of Portugal, who shocked No. 13 seed Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria, 6-7 (3), 6-4, 6-2, 7-6 (6).

“I still can’t believe it, what a match,” Borges said.  “I never expected to be here in the second week of the Australian Open, who would have thought!

“Maybe in the third set when I got the break I thought, ‘Holy crap, I can actually win this’. I was testing my limits, testing him. Anything can happen in a tennis match and today was a true example of that.”

Cazaux continues to amaze everyone, including himself

French wild card Arthur Cazaux continues to amaze Down Under, making believers of everyone in his AO debut. On Saturday, the 122nd-ranked Cazaux upset No. 28 seed Tallon Griekspoor of the Netherlands, 6-3, 6-3, 6-1.

I knew I could play this kind of level, but I had never proven it in a real match,” Cazaux said. “Proving it in the first round gave me even more confidence and now I know I can beat this kind of player during a real match.

“Now I’m not feeling any pressure. I’ve worked very hard on my mentality and I’m ready to fight everyone; I’m ready to fight in every match and to give everything on the court.”

Next, Cazaux will play No. 9 seed Hubert Hurkacz, who recovered from a set down to beat No. 21 seed Ugo Humbert of France, 3-6, 6-1, 7-6 (4), 6-3 in two hours and 47 minutes. It equals his best showing in Melbourne.

Meanwhile, Great Britain’s Cameron Norrie, a winner of just four of his last 16 matches at the end of last season, reached the fourth round with an upset of No. 11 seed Casper Ruud from Norway, 6-4, 6-7 (7), 6-4, 6-3,  in three hours and three minutes on John Cain Arena behind 63 winners.

“I’ve been working really hard in the off season to be more aggressive and I freed up in the match today and let go,” Norrie said. “I came forward, volleyed well and finished a lot of points at the net. … I had to be brave. I stuck to the game plan and got through.”

The 19th seed Norrie’s next opponent will be No. 6 seed Alexander Zverev of Germany, who eliminated 19-year-old American Alex Michelsen, 6-2, 7-6 (4), 6-2.

Around Melbourne Park

Saturday’s Australian Open results

Sunday’s Australian Open order of play

By the numbers

A total of 93,723 were on hand for Saturday’s Day 7 of Australian Open 2024 at Melbourne. Day session attendance totaled 60,413 and 33,310 were on hand for the night session.

“Quotable …”

“Yeah, it was not an easy round, for sure. Jelena is a great player. She’s very dangerous.

“Great champion. Grand Slam champion. I knew she’s coming off of a really good form. We just played couple weeks ago in Brisbane. It was a really tough battle.

“I knew I had to start my match strong and try to put as much pressure as I can to not let her dictate the play. I think I’ve done that really well in the first set.

“Of course, she was kind of able to step up a little bit in the second set. But I felt like I kept going to try to create my opportunities. When I did, I felt like I’ve done really well to convert them.

“Happy to be through in two sets.”

— No. 18 seed Victoria Azarenka of Belarus, during her post-match news conference, after defeating No. 11 seed Jelena Ostapenko, 6-1,7-5, to advance to the fourth round.