Grigor Dimitrov withstood the threat of Andrey Rublev in the Melbourne heat to advance to the fourth round of the Australian Open, 6-3, 4-6, 6-4, 6-4.
The Russian ended Dimitrov’s hopes in New York last summer but the Bulgarian was able to avenge the defeat in his third appearance in Rod Laver Arena this week.
The victory, accomplished in just over three hours, sets up a fascinating fourth round meeting with home favorite Nick Kyrgios, who defeated 15th seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.
Ebb and flow
It was the Bulgarian who wilted first during the opening set, gifting Rublev the first three points before netting a backhand slice to confirm the break of serve.
He consolidated the break with an impressive hold to love but the match was back on serve almost immediately. Rublev, hitting each forehand as if his life depended on it, coughed up two break points before bowing under a relentless barrage of Dimitrov slices.
The turning point in the first set arrived in the eighth game and, predictably, it was the more experienced Bulgarian who manipulated the set in his favor. His formidable defensive skills were on show at 30-30 when he prompted a Rublev error from a running cross-court forehand. Although he squandered the first two break points that came his way, he converted on the third. A hold of serve later and he wrapped up the opening frame.
Dimitrov had already won more sets than he did during his straight sets reverse in Flushing Meadows five months ago but there was no chance Rublev would be prepared to roll over and allow the world number three a straightforward passage into the fourth round, even after surrendering a break of serve so quickly he had barely digested the disappointment of the previous set.
An incident-packed eighth game of set two saw the tide turn towards the 20-year-old. The pair braved five deuces before Rublev seized his opportunity on his third break point, slapping a forehand cross-court that the unbalanced Bulgarian could only find the net.
Rublev carried the momentum into Dimitrov’s next service game - with the 26-year-old serving to stay in the set - reeling off three straight points as the Bulgarian looked to level at five-all to take the second set in 43 minutes.
The disappointment of losing the second set had impacted Dimitrov but he regained his composure and threatened the Rublev serve in the third game. The Russian targeted the backhand wing of his opponent and he was able to fend off three separate break points.
What proved to be a crucial third set threatened to go the way of the Russian when he broke for a 4-2 advantage, but his lead was short-lived. An untimely double-fault on break point would be the last sighting of Rublev’s racket, smashed into smithereens on the blue plexicushion.
Four set points came and gone for the Bulgarian as he attempted to close out the set and on the fifth Rublev sent a forehand return into the stands.
The 20-year-old owned opportunities to inch ahead in the fourth set fashioned multiple break points in the sixth game, but Dimitrov was continuing to find his groove.
And he would be left to rue those near-misses as the Bulgarian broke the Russian in his next service game, outlasting Rublev in a grueling rally before an exclaim of encouragement.
The 20-year-old offered brief resistance when Dimitrov served for the match but it wasn’t to be. Instead, Dimitrov marches into consecutive fourth rounds in Melbourne.