For the second year running, Sofia Kenin pulled off a Houdini act in her second match of the season. The No.6 seed battled back from a set and 5-3 down and saved three match points serving at 5-6 to beat Ajla Tomljanovic 3-6, 7-6(5), 6-3 in 2 hours and 30 minutes exactly to reach the Adelaide International quarterfinals.
This time last year, Kenin also saved a match point trailing 6-3, 6-5 before overcoming Yulia Putintseva 3-6, 7-6(5), 6-4 in the third round of Abu Dhabi. It was at the same juncture of the match that she came up with two brave forehands to deny Tomljanovic, before the Australian netted a makeable counter-drop on her third match point.
Kenin is contesting her first tournament since Wimbledon last year, and as in her first-round victory over qualifier Lucia Bronzetti, she showed both vintage form and significant rust. The 2020 Australian Open champion's in-and-out form made any given passage of play unpredictable, and even when she had seized the momentum in the deciding set she still conceded two breaks back before getting over the line.
In total, Kenin struck 55 winners to 54 unforced errors - but she made the timing of the former count. With her back to the wall, the American mostly came up with the goods. She found vintage backhand winners to both break Tomljanovic back as the World No.45 served for the match at 5-3 in the second set, and then to convert her first set point.
By contrast, Tomljanovic delivered the kind of steady but aggressive performance that had seen her reach the Wimbledon quarterfinals last year - until her level dipped as the finishing line got closer. Having served just one double fault to get to 6-3, 3-3, Tomljanovic served six over the course of her next four service games, with the final two paving the way to go down a break in the decider.
In an edgy third set, both players committed a series of tired errors, but Kenin was the one who found the intermittent extra gear to keep her nose in front. Tomljanovic held a break-back point in the final game, but Kenin saved it with a service winner before closing the win out courtesy of two routine netted groundstrokes from the home player.
Kenin will next face another local favourite in the quarterfinals - No.1 seed Ashleigh Barty, who leads their overall head-to-head 4-2. However, Kenin will have fond memories of their last meeting, and only one on Australian soil - a 7-6(6), 7-5 triumph in the 2020 Australian Open semifinals.
Highlights: Doi d. Gasanova
Earlier, an unseeded second-round clash saw Misaki Doi hold off Anastasia Gasanova 7-6(4), 6-3 to reach her first WTA 500 quarterfinal since Osaka 2019. Doi dominated with her left-handed forehand to take a 4-0 lead before Gasanova fought back to win five straight games and serve for the set. However, Doi steadied the ship to force a tiebreak and draw away in the second set.