No.4 seed Elena Rybakina pulled off a remarkable escape in the Mutua Madrid Open quarterfinals to notch her first win over Yulia Putintseva, saving two match points trailing 5-2 in the third set to advance 4-6, 7-6(4), 7-5 in 2 hours and 48 minutes.

Stuttgart champion Rybakina, who also trailed by an early break in the second set, is now on an eight-match winning streak. She owns a tour-leading 30 match wins this season against only four losses. 

The former Wimbledon champion has also claimed 16 consecutive victories on clay, with her last loss on the surface coming to Anna Kalinskaya in the second round of Madrid last year. Following that, Rybakina claimed the Rome title and reached the Roland Garros third round, where she withdrew prior to her match against Sara Sorribes Tormo due to illness.

Rybakina had previously lost both of her encounters with Kazakhstani compatriot Putintseva, at Rome 2020 and Indian Wells 2021. This breakthrough win in the series means she advances to her sixth semifinal of the season, and ninth at WTA 1000 level or above. By contrast, Putintseva falls to 0-7 in quarterfinals at WTA 1000 level or above.

Rybakina will next face either No.2 seed Aryna Sabalenka or Mirra Andreeva and she bids to reach her sixth final of the year.

How Rybakina pulled off her Houdini act: For much of the match's running time, Rybakina's game was unsettled and erratic. Putintseva was adept at mixing up spins, paces and depth, as she had been in their previous meetings, and rarely gave Rybakina a chance to find any sort of rhythm. The famously even-keeled Rybakina's frustration was such that she even garnered a code violation for slamming her racquet into the ground towards the end of the second set.

But although the 24-year-old committed a total of 54 unforced errors, her commitment to her tactics paid off in the end. Rybakina's volley mistakes were plentiful, but she kept on coming forwards, and was rewarded by just enough success at net to stay in the contest. A volley winner enabled her to break Putintseva back for 2-2 in the second set, and then to sneak the eventual tiebreak as her countrywoman lapsed into passivity.

Both players saved their finest tennis for the decider. Initially, that was Putintseva, who rebounded from the loss of the second set with her most proactive points of the day. A flurry of stellar drop shots saw her leap out to a 5-2 lead, and it was no wonder that she attempted that shot again on her first match point.

But it was just slightly too high and deep; Rybakina was able to chase it down and find a counter-drop winner that just brushed the top of the net. An ace swatted away the second match point, and suddenly it was Rybakina who was in the zone. From double match point down, she rattled off seven straight points, and 19 of the next 23, firing winner after winner to take her tally to 45.

This took Rybakina to triple match point of her own; and though she required a fourth to get over the line, another booming service winner sealed it.

The result is the ninth time that Rybakina has won from match point down in a WTA main draw, following her wins over Caroline Garcia (2018 St Petersburg R2), Oceane Dodin (2020 St Petersburg QF), Alison Van Uytvanck (2020 Doha R), Anastasija Sevastova (2021 Eastbourne QF), Zarina Diyas (2022 Australian Open R1), Laura Siegemund (2022 Portoroz R1), Paula Badosa (2023 Miami R3) and Daria Kasatkina (2023 Montreal QF). 

In Rybakina's words: "I was not there with the legs definitely in the match. She's a tough opponent. She's a fighter, and she was playing well. 

"In the third set it was very quick when I started to lose these three games in a row, 5-2 down. After that, I think I just didn't have any more emotions, no frustration or nothing. I was just going for every point. Was trying to do what I supposed to do, and then whatever happens happened. I won the match, so..."