For the second day in a row, Coco Gauff took the scenic route to victory in a third-set tiebreak, defeating No.6 seed Aryna Sabalenka 7-5, 4-6, 7-6(4) to reach the National Bank Open quarterfinals for a second year in a row.
Gauff led by a 3-0 double break in the second set, but had to come from 3-0 down in the third set to seal victory. The run of play mirrored her second-round defeat of Elena Rybakina, in which the 18-year-old missed four match points in the second set but came from a break down to win a third-set tiebreak.
"It definitely gives me a lot of confidence because I know I can tough it out in those tough moments," Gauff said afterward. "These are the type of players that I need to have to beat if I want to win a Grand Slam.
"So these matches are giving me more confidence. And I know how it feels in those moments against these players. They're not going to give you anything and you shouldn't expect that."
At 3 hours and 11 minutes long, the contest was the longest of Gauff's career so far, exceeding the 2 hours and 57 minutes she needed to beat Yulia Putintseva at Rome 2021. It was the second time Gauff and Sabalenka had needed a third-set tiebreak to decide a match; Sabalenka had won the previous time, at Ostrava 2020, but this result took Gauff into a 3-1 head-to-head lead overall.
Roland Garros finalist Gauff also booked her place in her sixth quarterfinal of 2022 so far, and fourth in her last five tournaments. Her overall season record is now 30-14, and the result was the teenager's third Top 10 win of the year. Gauff's quarterfinal test will be against No.15 seed Simona Halep, who came through against Jil Teichmann 6-2, 7-5. Gauff has yet to win a set from Halep in three previous meetings.
Twists and turns: Despite a slew of early break point chances for both, neither player could convert through the first 10 games. But Gauff took her fifth opportunity to lead 6-5, forcing Sabalenka into a volley error after some remarkable defence.
That was the start of a breathtaking purple patch for Gauff, who dazzled with dropshots, volleys and a phenomenal redirected forehand en route to breaking for 3-0 in the second set.
But when Gauff's touch at net deserted her in the next game, momentum began to shift. Sabalenka broke to cut the deficit to 3-1; found her best serves and backhands to save triple break point and prevent Gauff from taking a 5-3 lead; and levelled at 4-4 after a series of hammer-blow forehands.
As Gauff continued to struggle, Sabalenka reeled off seven straight games and held a point to break for 4-0 in the third set. But Gauff saved it with a service winner -- the start of her own comeback. The climax of the third set was riveting as both players went toe-to-toe with each other, and Gauff's ability to batten down the hatches on serve and defence proved key.
With Sabalenka taking more risks, Gauff won the tiebreak's key point with absurd retrieving to move up 5-3, before closing the match out with consecutive service winners.
"Pretty much from 3-0 up in the second to [3-0 down in the third set], I was reverting back to old mentalities," Gauff said. "And I said if I was going to lose, I'm not going to lose like this. So I had to change. And that's what I did."
By the numbers: Both players won 131 points, a reflection on how tight the match was. Each posted a fairly balanced ratio between winners and unforced errors: Sabalenka struck 41 winners to Gauff's 32, but 42 unforced errors to Gauff's 37.
A less positive statistic for both was the number of double faults they endured. In the previous round, Gauff had committed 13, her highest tally since Charleston 2021; here, she exceeded that for a total of 15, including one down set point in the second set.
Several of Sabalenka's 18 double faults were also ill-timed. She served three en route to getting broken at 5-5 in the first set, and another trio at 5-5 in the third set (a game she managed to win anyway). Sabalenka also double faulted to fall behind 3-0 in the second set, and to get broken back for 3-2 in the third.
In four matches on the North American hard courts this year so far, Sabalenka has now committed 67 double faults.