MELBOURNE, Australia -- The all-Czech duo of Lucie Safarova and Barbora Strycova came back from multiple deficits to overcome Brazil's Beatriz Haddad Maia and Romanian Sorana Cirstea, 2-6, 6-0, 6-4, at the Australian Open on Sunday, as they became the highest-seeded team to book their spot in the quarterfinals to date.
The No.4 seeds had to rebound from losing the first set, as well as being down 1-4 in the final set, before emerging the victors in one hour and 43 minutes. They had 21 winners in the match, two fewer than their opponents, but they got 80 percent of their first serves in, winning 61 percent of those points, outpacing Cirstea and Haddad Maia in that aspect.
Safarova is still in the hunt to defend her Australian Open doubles title from last year, although this year, she has a different partner. She won the event with Bethanie Mattek-Sands in 2017, but the American is still recovering from the injury she suffered at last year's Wimbledon.
It was the unseeded Brazilian/Romanian tandem who seemed the sturdier pair at the outset. Safarova struggled with her volleys early, leading to a break of the Strycova serve and a 3-1 lead for Cirstea and Haddad Maia. The unseeded pair was not broken in the first set, and broke Strycova for a second time to take a one-set lead.
However, in the second set, Safarova and Strycova showed why they have consistently been two of the best doubles players in the world for years. They moved Cirstea and Haddad Maia around the court throughout the second set, with strong lobs from Safarova and exquisite volleys from Strycova leading to the whitewash.
And yet, as much as it seemed as though the Czechs had the momentum, Cirstea and Haddad Maia came out firing in the decider. Haddad Maia's powerful left-handed serve was clicking as she held for 2-1, and the Strycova serve was attacked once more in the next game, leading the server to double fault down break point.
After Cirstea held for a 4-1 lead, the upset felt imminent, but the Czech veterans regrouped. Safarova held for 4-2, and Strycova put away a volley to break Haddad Maia and get back on serve at 4-3.
The last chance for the unseeded pair to take the match came in the next game, as the Czechs had to face two break points on Strycova's serve once more, after two forehand winners by Cirstea. But Safarova and Strycova forced their opponents into errors for the rest of the game, leading to a hold for 4-4.
Safarova and Strycova broke Cirstea at love to claim a 5-4 lead, and while they needed three match points in one final lengthy game, Safarova powered a forehand winner down the line to end the spirited match against worthy competitors.
Safarova and Strycova will face off against the No.8 seeds, Hsieh Su-wei of Chinese Taipei and Peng Shuai of China, in the quarterfinals. Hsieh and Peng, who won Grand Slam titles together at Wimbledon in 2013 and the French Open in 2014, beat No.12 seeds Raquel Atawo of the United States and Anna-Lena Groenefeld of Germany, 6-4, 6-2.
Two more teams advanced to the quarterfinals on Sunday. 10th-seeded Romanians Irina-Camelia Begu and Monica Niculescu moved through after Nadiia Kichenok of Ukraine and Australian Anastasia Rodionova had to retire while trailing 1-4, due to an injury to Rodionova.
Also, Americans Jennifer Brady and Vania King picked up a second consecutive upset, as they ousted No.13 seeds Nicole Melichar of the United States and Czech Kveta Peschke, 6-4, 7-6(5). King, a two-time Grand Slam women's doubles champion, and Brady knocked third-seeded Australians Ashleigh Barty and Casey Dellacqua out of the tournament in the previous round.
Begu and Niculescu will face off against Brady and King in the quarterfinals.