How Czech teen Linda Noskova stunned Iga Swiatek at Australian Open 2024 | Tennis News - Hindustan Times

The Pole is axed: How Czech teen Linda Noskova stunned Iga Swiatek at Australian Open 2024

By, New Delhi
Jan 20, 2024 07:55 PM IST

The world No.1 began strongly but her 19-year-old rival, in her debut Australian Open, pulled off an upset for the ages at the Rod Laver Arena.

On Friday, after notching up a 6-0, 6-0 win against Lesia Tsurenko in just 52 minutes, Aryna Sabalenka spoke about how one of her goals for 2024 was to serve out more bagels.

Poland's Iga Swiatek leaves the arena after losing her third round match against Czech Republic's Linda Noskova (REUTERS)
Poland's Iga Swiatek leaves the arena after losing her third round match against Czech Republic's Linda Noskova (REUTERS)

“Last year, Iga won so many 6-0 sets, that is one of the goals, to get closer to her,” explained defending women's champion Sabalenka, citing world No.1 Iga Swiatek as an inspiration behind her dominant form.

But a day later, Swiatek’s bagel-serving days at this year’s Australian Open came to an abrupt halt as world No.50 Linda Noskova, playing in her first ever Grand Slam Down Under, came up with an upset for the ages to win 3-6, 6-3, 6-4.

With Swiatek’s loss, only 12 seeded players will make it into the third round in the women’s draw, equalling the lowest ever across all Grand Slams since 32 seeds were introduced in 2001.

If you didn’t see this coming, then don’t worry. For you certainly wouldn’t have been alone. Swiatek was on a 17-match winning streak stretching back to September last year. Her record against players younger than her stood at 28-1 — Coco Gauff's victory in the Cincinnati semifinals last year was so far the only blip. And in the past 14 majors, she had slipped up just once before the fourth round.

There were simply no indications, and certainly none after the Pole took the first set in as straightforward a manner as possible. After winning the first set, she was a 73-1 winning run.

Noskova, who is just 19, was nervous to begin with and Swiatek attacked the second serve mercilessly with the Czech player winning only 29% of points if she missed her first serve. The world No.1 wasn’t brilliant or anything, but she was solid; solid enough to usually win in the third round.

But just as Danielle Collins had done in the previous round against Swiatek, Noskova found a way to raise her game. She did this by channeling her natural easy power better. Her backhand started to hurt the four-time Grand Slam champion and the drop shot planted enough doubts in the mind of the top seed.

Her accuracy also improved and that just meant more purchase for her shots. In the first set, her first serve percentage was just 56 and she racked up far too many unforced errors (16 errors to 11 winners). Now, in the second set, she tightened up her game. The first serve percentage went up to 68 and she hit 15 winners to just 12 unforced errors.

These improvements helped her keep the tie in balance and then when leading 4-3 she found three winners to break Swiatek for the first time.

The third set was going to be all about whether Noskova, the 2021 Roland Garros junior champion, could maintain her level. Turns out, she could do more than that.

She found a way to raise it. At times when in the lead, a player can suddenly take the foot off the accelerator, stop going for the lines. But Noskova remained coolly aggressive; rarely overplaying her hand and looking virtually immune to the dreaded nerves.

If anything, Swiatek’s groundstrokes and serve became erratic, and after the Czech teenager got the decisive break to take a 4-3 lead in the third set, she closed out the match in fine style despite a little mental stutter in the final game.

“I’m speechless. I knew it was going to be an amazing match with the world No.1, such a player,” Noskova said during her on-court interview. “I’m just really glad to get through this round.

“I was a little shaky (in the final game). I didn’t hit two first serves which was not the best start for me, but I pulled an ace (at 30-all). It’s easier when you do that, but it’s tough sometimes to bring it at such a score.”

It is the earliest loss by a No.1 seed at the Australian Open since 1979 when Virginia Ruzici lost to Mary Sawyer in the first round, and the first time since the tournament became a 128-player draw in 1988 that the top seed has not made the fourth round.

The result also makes Noskova the first teenager to beat a world No.1 at a major since Petra Kvitova shocked Dinara Safina at the 2009 US Open.

Swiatek’s journey has ended but, in many ways, with this win, Noskova’s is just beginning.

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