Melbourne - World number two Aryna Sabalenka was sent crashing out of the Australian Open in an epic fourth-round clash Monday by veteran Kaia Kanepi to end the Belarusian's hopes of a maiden Grand Slam title.
The second seed saved four match points before losing 5-7, 6-2, 7-6 (10/7), sending down 15 double faults as the problem that has plagued her all tournament reared its head again.
The unseeded Kanepi, 36, made it to last eight in Melbourne for the first time, a stage she has reached at every other major over a Grand Slam career dating back to 2006.
The Estonian's reward is a clash with Polish seventh seed Iga Swiatek who battled into her third Grand Slam quarter-final and first at the Australian Open by beating Romanian Sorana Cirstea 5-7, 6-3, 6-3.
"It was a really tough match," said Kanepi, who defeated three-time major champion Angelique Kerber in the opening round.
"Actually I thought I was going to lose after the match points I had on my serve were saved. I don't know how I won.
"The Australian Open is the only Grand Slam where I hadn't made the quarter-finals and I didn't believe I could do it at my age," added Kanepi, a four-time champion on the WTA Tour, but not since Brussels in 2013.
Never count @KanepiKaia out 🙅♀️— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) January 24, 2022
At 36 years of age, world No.115 upsets world No.2 Aryna Sabalenka 5-7 6-2 7-6 to reach the #AusOpen quarterfinals for the very first time.#AO2022 pic.twitter.com/358aIfkf1R
She had played Sabalenka once before, at the Gippsland Trophy in Melbourne last year and won.
There was little between them in the opening set as they traded baseline blows until Sabalenka stepped up to earn three break points at 6-5 and converted when Kanepi hit a forehand wide.
Kanepi responded in the best way possible, breaking Sabalenka immediately in the second set and made it 3-0 with her powerful groundstrokes creating chances, and errors from the Belarusian.
She had all the momentum and accelerated to easily take the set then broke for 2-0 in the decider as Sabalenka, who made the semi-finals at Wimbledon and the US Open last year, struggled to find a way back.
But just as all seemed lost Sabalenka struck back at Kanepi was serving to go 5-3 ahead, digging deep to keep herself in the hunt.
Once more her double-fault problem reared its head and Kanepi broke straight back, only for more drama as the Estonian served for the match.
She was up 40-0 with three match points but they were all saved by a battling Sabalenka, who then saved a fourth before breaking.
It went to a see-sawing tiebreak with Kanepi finally triumphing to make her first quarter-final at Melbourne Park in 13 attempts.