To reach her first Australian Open semifinal, Iga Swiatek had to win the hard way. Trailing Kaia Kanepi by a set and a break, Swiatek dug deep — and deeper still — to win the second-longest women's singles match of the fortnight so far, 4-6, 7-6(2), 6-3.
The 3-hour, 1-minute victory is the longest match of Swiatek's young career at a Grand Slam to date, bettering a 2-hour, 42-minute 6-7(4), 7-5, 7-5 defeat to another Estonian, Anett Kontaveit, in the third round in Australia two years ago.
Comeback queen: Swiatek is now 5-0 in three-set matches at Grand Slams in which she lost the first set.
After winning her first Grand Slam title at the 2020 French Open without the loss of a set, Swiatek has rallied from a set down in each of her last two matches in pursuit of a second major final. She'll face No.27 seed Danielle Collins, a winner in straight sets against France's Alizé Cornet, for the chance to get there.
"I'm pretty proud of myself, especially after matches like that, because coming back from losing the first set it's a new thing for me. Being in the semifinal is great," Swiatek said after the match.
"I'm proud of myself that I can, I'm still able to, find solutions and actually think more on court on what to change because before it wasn't that clear for me. I feel like it's part of the work that we have been doing with [sports psychologist] Daria [Abramowicz] to control my emotions and actually focus on finding solutions."
Kanepi dropped to 0-7 in her career in major quarterfinals, having won a set for just the second time in those matches. But another giant-killing run by the former World No.15 this fortnight, where she beat both Angelique Kerber and Aryna Sabalenka to reach the last eight, will skyrocket from her current ranking of World No.115 back into the Top 65.
Turning point: Saving eight set points before losing the first set, Swiatek quickly found herself down 6-4, 1-0 as she struggled to match Kanepi's first-strike, power tennis — four winners earned the Estonian a break to begin the second, with a final crunching backhand literally bringing Swiatek to her knees.
After Swiatek went 0-for-4 on break points in the first set, the sixth time was ultimately the charm. After Kanepi had four game points to extend her lead to 2-0, Swiatek finally broke —aided by two unforced errors by the Estonian — and ran off four games in a row. While Kanepi hit back to win three straight, neither woman was again challenged on serve until the tiebreak, where Swiatek raced out to an early lead and never looked back.
Closing time: With more than two hours played through the first two sets, Kanepi's unforced error count swelled in the decider. Swiatek broke four times in the decider, opening up leads of 2-0 and 5-2 after Kanepi surged briefly for 2-2, but needed two games to win the match. Swiatek offered up two double faults and two unforced errors when serving for the match in the seventh game, but refused to be denied in the next game—in more ways than one—on her first match point.
"I wasn't even thinking a lot," Swiatek said of the match point. "I was just running. I was actually thinking where is the biggest probability where she can hit the smash, for example. But I'm doing that every time basically someone does that. Obviously, it's luck that you're gonna go the right way. There is that probability, but you never know what your opponent is gonna do.
"I was pretty lucky, I would say, but on the other hand, I'm happy that I'm doing that, because ... maybe I'm not running to the ball that I'm not gonna hit, but I'm always doing that two steps, you know, to be ready. This time it paid off."
Swiatek on facing Collins: Swiatek and Collins have played once previously, also in Australia. On her way to winning in Adelaide last year, Swiatek beat Collins via retirement in the quarterfinals, 6-2, 3-0.
"I will approach it the same as any other match, really," Swiatek said. "I have played with some heavy hitters on this tournament already, so I feel like I'm feeling their game on my racquet pretty well.
"Two matches showed me that even in tough moments I can come back, and I have skills to win matches even when they are really hard.
"For sure it's gonna be hard, and she's in great shape, you can see that, and really like confident. But I also feel that way. I just hope it's gonna be a good match."