There will not be a showdown between Iga Swiatek and Coco Gauff at the Australian Open. Instead, it will be the players who beat them Sunday — reigning Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina and 2017 French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko — who face off for a semifinal berth.
Rybakina eliminated No. 1-seeded Iga Swiatek 6-4, 6-4 in Rod Laver Arena, while Ostapenko got past No. 7 Gauff 7-5, 6-3 next door in Margaret Court Arena.
Both the 22nd-seeded Rybakina, a 23-year-old who represents Kazakhstan, and the 17th-seeded Ostapenko, a 25-year-old from Latvia, earned spots in the quarterfinals at Melbourne Park for the first time.
“I played well in the important moments,” said Rybakina, who used her big serve to unsettle Swiatek and got the better of their baseline exchanges. “Of course I’m nervous every time I go on the court, I think like everybody. But I’m calm, always. At least I’m trying not to show too much emotions. My coach says I actually need to show sometimes, so I’m also learning.”
Swiatek is a three-time major champion, including titles at the French Open and U.S. Open last season. She beat Gauff, an 18-year-old American, in the final at Roland Garros last June.
Until Sunday, they both had looked fairly dominant in this event, winning every set they contested, with Swiatek dropping a total of just 15 games and Gauff just 19 through three matches.
One key to Ostapenko vs. Gauff: Ostapenko went three-for-three converting her break chances, and Gauff was just one-for-eight in such situations.
Rybakina’s ranking of No. 25 does not properly reflect her ability or results because her championship at the All England Club in July did not come with any ranking points. The WTA and ATP tours withheld all points at Wimbledon in 2022 after the All England Club barred players from Russia and Belarus from participating because of the invasion of Ukraine.
Rybakina was born in Moscow but has played for Kazakhstan since 2018, when that country offered her funding to support her tennis career.
Despite her status as a major champion, Rybakina has been out of the spotlight: Her first-round match at Melbourne Park was placed on tiny Court 13 last Monday; her match against two-time Slam champ Garbine Muguruza at least year’s U.S. Open was on Court 4.
But her game is worthy of much more attention, as she displayed in knocking out Swiatek.
Rybakina hit six aces and compiled a 24-15 edge in winners against the 21-year-old from Poland, who was a semifinalist a year ago in Australia. That followed Rybakina’s victory over 2022 runner-up Danielle Collins in the third round.
Rybakina wound up serving out that set at love, capping it with a 113 mph (183 kph) ace, and her dangerous backhand was quite a help, too: She produced six winners off that wing in the first set, compared with zero for Swiatek.
In the second set, Swiatek appeared to have gotten herself back on track, looking very much like the player who put together a 37-match winning streak last year. But that surge didn’t last long, and Rybakina took six of the match’s last seven games.