• But Williams held serve and then broke her opponent’s serve to clinch the win and keep alive her hopes of a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam singles title.
• Third seed Dominic Thiem slumped out in lacklustre fashion, complaining of undisclosed physical issues after being thrashed 6-4 6-4 6-0 in the fourth round by Grigor Dimitrov.
Naomi Osaka saved two match points and Serena Williams was taken to three sets as two of the favourites reached the Australian Open quarter-finals.
Having lost the opening set to Garbine Muguruza, Japan’s Osaka was a break down in the second and faced two match points at 5-3 in the third.
But she won four games in a row to win 4-6 6-4 7-5 against the Spaniard, who is also a former world number one. Williams then came through 6-4 2-6 6-4 against Belarusian Aryna Sabalenka.
The American surged into a 4-1 lead in an entertaining final set, before 22-year-old seventh seed Sabalenka broke back and levelled at 4-4.
But Williams held serve and then broke her opponent’s serve to clinch the win and keep alive her hopes of a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam singles title.
“I am happy to get through that one because it wasn’t easy,” the 39-year-old 10th seed said. “I felt like I was there, even the games I lost were super close and just one shot here or there.”
Williams will face the winner of Sunday’s match between Simona Halep and Iga Swiatek next. Osaka, who won the second of her three Grand Slams at the Australian Open in 2019, will face Hsieh Su-Wei in the last eight.
The Taiwanese 35-year-old beat 19th seed Marketa Vondrousova 6-4 6-2 to become the oldest player to make a Grand Slam quarter-final debut in the Open era.
“I just knew it was going to be tough,” said 23-year-old Osaka, who was facing 14th seed Muguruza for the first time. “I feel like I was a bit intimidated because I knew that she was playing really well coming into this match. I feel like in the stressful points I just had to go within myself.”
Meanwhile, third seed Dominic Thiem slumped out in lacklustre fashion, complaining of undisclosed physical issues after being thrashed 6-4 6-4 6-0 in the fourth round by Grigor Dimitrov.
The U.S. Open champion, who came back from two sets down to beat Nick Kyrgios in a third round battle on Friday night, looked out of sorts from the beginning of the contest and made an uncharacteristic 41 unforced errors.
“A combination of some little physical issues, plus a real bad day, plus the fact that he’s a great player ... a result like that can happen,” Thiem said. “I’m not a machine, sometimes I would like to be, but there are really, really bad days. As soon as you’re not 100% at this level, then results like this come up, and that’s exactly what happened today.”
While Thiem’s five-set match against Kyrgios had been played in a bear pit, Sunday’s match was witnessed by only a handful of officials and coaches on Rod Laver Arena as Melbourne’s coronavirus lockdown kept the fans away.
“It was a special match two nights ago, and I woke up maybe a little bit different than on a normal match, especially with all the energy from the crowd,” Thiem added. “But ... it didn’t really affect me today.”
On Sunday, the first two sets followed a similar pattern with Thiem taking an early 3-1 lead only for 18th seed Dimitrov to charge back at him and clinch the set. The Austrian was unable to rouse himself in the third set and his Australian Open ended when he flapped a forehand long after little more than two hours on court.
“Throughout every season you have one of those matches where you keep the ball rolling,” Dimitrov said. “He might have had a problem, I don’t know, but I also give myself some credit for staying in there. He’s an extraordinary player so I’m happy with the win.”
After securing his maiden Grand Slam crown at Flushing Meadows last year, Thiem had been widely tipped to challenge Novak Djokovic, Rafa Nadal and Roger Federer for more major titles this year.
Dimitrov knows all about failing to fulfil big expectations after being dubbed “Baby Fed” early in his career for the similarity of his playing style to that of Federer. The 29-year-old took Nadal to five sets in the 2017 semi-finals at Melbourne Park but has never played a Grand Slam final.
Dimitrov will play Russian qualifier Aslan Karatsev, the world number 114, in his fourth Australian Open quarter-final later this week but was taking nothing for granted.
“If you’re there, it’s for a reason, whether it’s a fairytale or not, you’ve got to be ready. It’s going to be a battle,” Dimitrov said.