Melbourne’s Herald Sun newspaper billed it as the match between an opponent with “everything to lose” and another facing a “supreme test”.
The former was Caroline Wozniacki, the 10th seed and a former world No.1, while Spain’s Garbine Muguruza was the latter, a dangerous challenger riding a 10-match winning streak into Saturday’s third round battle at Rod Laver Arena following her victory at last week’s Hobart International as a qualifier.
And it was the aggressive Muguruza, who hit twice as many winners as her counterpunching opponent, who ultimately triumphed.
The 20-year-old’s 4-6 7-5 6-3 victory sends her into a fourth-round clash with fifth seed Agnieszka Radwanska, her best ever result at a Grand Slam following a career-best win.
“I was really nervous (because) it’s the third round and it was a great player (I was playing), but I was only thinking to be aggressive,” Muguruza beamed in her on-court interview.
“I worked really hard this pre-season, so I think this is the reward for working so hard.”
Wozniacki has always been vulnerable to an in-form power hitter at around this stage of a Grand Slam event (see: Petra Kvitova, Wimbledon 2010; Kaia Kanepi, French Open 2012; Svetlana Kuznetsova, Australian Open 2013; et al.) and it was no different on Saturday against one as confident as the Spaniard.
In the early exchanges, Wozniacki was simply blown away, broken in the very opening game and soon finding herself down 4-2.
Not only was Muguruza beating the Dane for pace of shot, but she also played intelligently; Wozniacki may have an impressive set of wheels, but when you repeatedly play groundstrokes to the same part of the court in behind her, her lateral movement is nullified.
Wozniacki was flustered, shanking a forehand well long to drop to 15-40 in the seventh game, but she was saved by a dramatic dip in the level of her opponent, who, suddenly, couldn’t put a ball in the court.
Muguruza endured a losing run of eight straight points – most of them due to errors – to find herself down 4-5, and in the next game, when she double faulted and then dumped a forehand into the net, Wozniacki had pocketed the opening set.
The Spaniard finally broke a run of five straight games with a service hold to level at 1-1 all the second set, and from there, games progressed on serve.
Muguruza had settled and rediscovered her rhythm, while Wozniacki was playing better than she had to open the match, cutting down her errors, applying a little extra oomph to her shots, and defending with typical aplomb.
These factors combined to create a run of closely-fought games that invariably extended to deuce and featured several intense rallies before the server ultimately prevailed.
The deadlock-breaker came in an epic 11th game, where, after holding game points, Wozniacki found herself embroiled in another battle at deuce. And it was the Dane, despite her greater experience, who faltered first. Missing a sitter of a backhand into net to hand Muguruza a break point, Wozniacki then threw away the game with a double fault, banging her racquet in disgust.
Muguruza showed no signs of mangling this particular lead – unleashing several atomic groundstrokes, she confidently powered through the game to level the match.
The early-match dynamics had returned, with Muguruza dictating play and Wozniacki struggling to contend. The Dane was soon down 5-1, her forehand flailing.
Although she pegged back that lead somewhat and benefitted as Muguruza wobbled when serving for the match, the Spaniard refocused, coming out on top of a searching 26-stroke rally to open the next game – a visible confidence-booster – and powering a succession of winners to advance to the last 16.