In a way it was entirely appropriate that Australia’s Daria Gavrilova Switzerland’s Timea Bacsinszky wore almost identical outfits.
There was very little between them: just five centimetres in height, 10 ranking spots and, on this night, just a bit of extra nerve and quality tennis from Gavrilova in the third set.
And with her hard-fought 153-minute win, Gavrilova, the 22nd seed, booked a spot in the final 16 and the second week of the Australian Open.
“Dasher”, the last Australian standing at Melbourne Park, squandered two match points in the deciding set but regrouped to claim a 6-3 5-7 6-4 victory on Saturday night.
With a beaming smile, the feisty 22-year-old skipped across the court after her win.
“Yes!,” she exclaimed curtsied. “What can I say? I’m just exhausted and very happy.”
Unfortunately for the exuberant Rod laver Arena crowd she had to hurry off court, with a men’s singles match to follow.
She will now face a tough fourth-round opponent in Czech fifth seed Karolina Pliskova, who came back from 5-2 down in the third set to defeat Latvian Jelena Ostapenko 4-6 6-4 10-8.
— Pete Lynch (@PeteLynch) January 21, 2017
The triumph ensures Russian-born Gavrilova will at least equal her best showing at Melbourne Park after making the fourth round last year.
She made an electric start against the Swiss 12th seed, charging to the net with confidence and breaking Bacsinszky’s serve three times in the first set.
But she appeared to lose focus during the second set, throwing her racquet to the ground in frustration as Bacsinszky took control of the match.
For Gavrilova, it brought back memories of her capitulation to Carla Suarez Navarro last year, where she gave up a 6-0 2-0 lead.
“I think I was losing my cool a little bit in the second set,” Gavrilova said.
I told myself, ‘just try and be composed. Don’t do what you did last year’.
“I told myself to be really focused and play a tough point every point.
“I said, ‘okay, just give it (your) all for the next 30 minutes’, or however long it had to take.”
Gavrilova’s supreme athleticism soon proved the difference, allowing her to chase down a series of drop shots from Bacsinszky.
The Australian failed to convert two match points at 5-2 but held her nerve to book a date with Pliskova, who reached the final of last year’s US Open.
When Gavrilova had been asked before the main draw was released to nominate who, excluding herself, would win the Australian Open, she nominated Pliskova.
“She’s playing unbelievable,” Gavrilova said on Saturday night. “I lost to her pretty easily twice. But yeah, she’s definitely playing her best tennis right now. I do absolutely have to play my best to beat her.”
Watch Pliskova training before the Australian Open below:
— Team Pliskova (@PliskovaSisters) January 11, 2017
Pliskova said she was excited by the prospect of facing Gavrilova on Monday in front of what is bound to be a fiercely parochial crowd.
“Definitely we going to play again on a big court, which is a good thing,” Pliskova said.
“I’m used to having the crowd against me, so nothing’s going to surprise me. I think I’m going to have the chance to play now my aggressive game, not like today.”
– with AAP