Amanda Anisimova saved two match points to upset No.13 seed Naomi Osaka 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 in the third round of the Australian Open, while No.1 seed Ashleigh Barty advanced with a 6-2, 6-3 win over Italy's Camila Giorgi to set up a Round of 16 clash between two of this year's early titlists.
Anisimova's 2-hour, 15-minute victory was the 20-year-old American's seventh Top 20 win of her career and first since she beat Alison Riske in the second round of the 2020 US Open. After reaching a career-high ranking of No.21 in October 2019, Anisimova fell to No.86 last August after two difficult seasons.
However, a fortnight ago she played with rejuvenated freedom and form to capture her second career title at Melbourne Summer Set 2, and extended her winning streak to eight matches to reach the second week of a Grand Slam for the third time. The first was exactly three years ago at the 2019 Australian Open, where she upset Aryna Sabalenka in the third round.
Osaka, who held two match points on Anisimova's serve at 5-4 in the third set, sees her own 15-match unbeaten streak in Melbourne come to an end. For the second time, the former World No.1's Australian Open title defense has been halted by an American in the third round following her 2020 loss at the same stage to Coco Gauff.
The result is the first time Anisimova has won from match point down since saving one to defeat Tereza Martincova 3-6, 7-6(7), 6-4 in the first round of Mallorca 2019. Osaka's last loss from match point up came against Karolina Pliskova 6-7(10), 7-6(3), 6-2 in the 2020 Brisbane semifinals.
By the numbers: For the majority of the first-time encounter, Anisimova was the superior and more creative player off the ground. Both maintained roughly similar ratios of winners to unforced errors through the first two sets. Anisimova committed 13 unforced errors in each, balanced by 11 winners in the first and 15 in the second; Osaka committed 12 in each, but her winner tallies of eight and seven respectively lagged behind.
In the third set, Anisimova maintained her edge, finding 20 winners to 18 unforced errors, but Osaka was unable to find an extra gear, with her six winners outweighed by 21 unforced errors.
Anisimova's serving and returning both improved set by set. In the first, she won 65% of her first-serve points and 45% behind her second. Set two saw those numbers go up to 68% and 64%, respectively, and the decider saw them rise to 79% and 69%. Anisimova served eight double faults in total, but none after 2-2 in the third set. Conversely, four of her 11 aces came after that point, including to seal her first match point.
Osaka was near-impregnable behind her first serve in the opening set, winning 82% of those points - a number that fell to 74% in set two and 73% in set three.
Match management: Despite the numbers favouring Anisimova, the tension as the match reached its super-tiebreak dénouement was all down to waiting to see if the pattern would hold. Anisimova started nervously, committing two double faults in the first game, and Osaka had ridden that break all the way to the first set.
Despite Anisimova beginning to read the Osaka serve better in the second set, during which she fired five return winners, the defending champion proved adept at finding her biggest deliveries to stave off danger. It took a moment of magic with a rare drop shot for Anisimova to capture the crucial second-set break for 3-1, and through most of the third set Osaka continued to slam the window shut on the World No.60's chances.
Would Anisimova allow those missed opportunities to let her level dip? Would Osaka find the extra gear that she's demonstrated so often in the past, such as last year's fourth-round comeback from match points down against Garbiñe Muguruza? Or would Osaka somehow use her serve to escape Anisimova's baseline supremacy?
It was Anisimova who rose to the occasion. On both match points she faced, Osaka's backhand buckled first under the weight of her sweetly timed groundstrokes. And in the ensuing super-tiebreak, the first time either player had contested a first-to-10 deciding game at pro level, Anisimova was near-flawless. She went for for bold shot-making and executed it perfectly. A pair of excellent backhands and a series of unreturnable serves built a hefty lead, a drive volley winner on the line brought up her first match point, and an 11th ace sealed the victory.
Anisimova on looking up to Osaka: "I think she's really inspiring," Anisimova said afterward, referencing the four-time Grand Slam champion, who has brought athletes' mental health issues into the spotlight over the past year.
"What she's done the last couple of years is amazing, and just how authentic she is. I think she's just great, really fresh for the tour. I think she's really funny and sweet. It was really cool to finally play her today.
"She just tells the truth about how she feels. She spoke about her mental health the last couple of years. I know she's gone through a really tough year last year, so I kind of feel for her today. I know it's not easy, especially being the defending champion, kind of feel bad. But just the way that she talks about things and how honest she is, I think that's really inspiring.
"To spread awareness and try to get rid of the stigma around mental health - I think that we're in a completely different time now. This generation is becoming more honest about all these kinds of things. I think it's great to see.
"I'm comfortable speaking about whatever, you know. I've gone through a couple of hard years, and I don't mind posting stuff on social media and just try to spread awareness for people who are also going through tough things. I think it's great to be relatable to other people who follow us. I think it's a great message.
"Last year was a huge struggle for me. Honestly, I didn't think that I would - I mean, it's not that I didn't think, but I really wanted to be having these moments again. Sometimes you doubt it, like what if I get injured and I'll never be able to play in a Grand Slam again? Like, those thoughts try to creep up in my head sometimes. Yeah, last year was just not great, all my results I wasn't happy with. I'm just really happy that I had a great preseason with my team."
Osaka on the challenges of Anisimova's game: "I thought her return was definitely really amazing," she said afterward. "I almost felt like I was fighting for my life out there in some games. I honestly also thought that I won certain games just based on sheer willpower.
"It's kind of interesting when you're playing against someone, you feel like you want to learn from them, as well. Because I also feel like I want to return the way that she returns. So I'm definitely going to go to the practice court and try to practice my returns - maybe not tomorrow but whenever. It was an exciting match for me. I hope everyone else that was watching it was thrilled.
"I thought definitely in the rallies she was dictating a bit more, which was kind of a new feeling for me. Granted, I've never played her before, so I didn't know the pace of her ball, but it was definitely a bit jarring to be on my back foot in most of the rallies, and I felt like it was a bit like table-tennis tennis, where it was just really fast and then suddenly she would hit a shorter ball and I would be so far behind I couldn't really come in, like I was comfortable enough to.
"For me, I feel like I grew a lot in this match. The last match that I played in New York I think I had a completely different attitude, so - you know, of course I lost, but I'm happy with how it went.
"I fought for every point. I can't be sad about that. You know, I'm not God. I can't win every match."
Barty reaches second week in Melbourne for fourth straight year
Barty continued her first-week domination against the big-hitting Giorgi, going unbroken for her sixth consecutive match. Barty's serve has not been broken since her first match of the season, against Coco Gauff at the Adelaide International, which she went on to win for her third title on home soil. The World No.1 has reeled off 58 consecutive holds of serve.
Looking to become Australia's first women's champion in 44 years at Melbourne Park, Barty has lost just eight games in her three matches this year. She is through to the fourth round after extending her undefeated 2022 record to 7-0.
Barty's take: "I thought tonight was really clean. I thought I looked after my service games really well. I did well to get out of a real tricky one, being down 0-40. I was just able to keep my momentum going, make returns when it mattered most in important moments. Pretty good performance, I think."
Barty unbreakable: After earning an early break to 2-0, Barty raced to a 4-1 lead in the opening. Giorgi's best chance came with Barty serving at 4-2. With aggressive ball-striking, Giorgi earned her first break points of the match at 0-40, only to see Barty serve her way out of trouble. Barty successfully saved the only four break points she faced in that game and rode the momentum to a clean win.
Barty on fending off Giorgi's firepower: "I felt like I was out of my weight class, that's for sure. The way she hits the ball and can control the center of the court is incredible. It was my job tonight to get her off the baseline, whether it was short or it was deep or out of her strike zone. I tried to do that as often as I could. tough when you're against the wind and feeling like you're uphill a little bit. But all in all, I thought it was pretty good. I was able to use my slice effectively, particularly that short one."
Roland Garros rematch: Barty and Anisimova have only played each other once before - a wildly fluctuating semifinal encounter at Roland Garros 2019, which Barty won 6-7(4), 6-3, 6-3 en route to her first Grand Slam crown.
That had been the first major semifinal for both players. Barty lost the first set from 5-0 up, but came from 3-0 down to take the second and an early break down to seal the third.