Dubai: Third seed Dominic Thiem slumped out of the Australian Open in the fourth round on Sunday, comprehensively beaten 6-4, 6-4, 6-0 by Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov on Rod Laver Arena.
The US Open champion, who came back from two sets down to beat Nick Kyrgios in the third round on Friday, looked out of sorts from the beginning of the contest.
The first two sets followed the same 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, losing finalist here last year, was unable to rouse himself in the third set and Dimitrov sealed a last-eight spot 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 after going 4-2 up in his career record against Thiem. "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 Roger Federer.
The 29-year-old, who took Nadal to five sets in the 2017 semi-finals at Melbourne Park, will face Russian qualifier Aslan Karatsev in his fourth Australian Open quarter-final. "If you're there, it's for a reason, whether it's a fairytale or not, you've got to be ready," Dimitrov said of his preparations to face the world No. 114. "It's going to be a battle."
A "very stressed" Naomi Osaka saved two match points to outlast Garbine Muguruza and set up an all-Asian quarter-final against Taiwan's Hsieh Su-wei. The third seed was on the verge of elimination at 3-5, 15-40 on her serve in the third set before rattling off four points in a row.
She then twice broke the serve of two-time Grand Slam winner Muguruza to prevail 4-6, 6-4, 7-5 in one hour and 55 minutes on an empty Rod Laver Arena, devoid of fans for a second day because of a state-wide coronavirus lockdown.
"I felt like this match I was very stressed. I think some people could see it because I wasn't really hyped," said Osaka, who hit 40 winners but made 36 unforced errors. "I didn't really like the feeling that I was having. I was just trying to fight for every point then it sort of led me to the win."
Muguruza had been showing the form that saw her top-ranked in 2017 and she proved a formidable challenge for Osaka, widely deemed a title favourite at Melbourne Park. In a tense third set, Osaka failed to convert a break point in the fourth game and subsequently dropped her serve, slamming her racquet down in frustration.
"When I got angry and hit my racquet on the ground I feel like I released a lot of the thoughts that I had," she said. "It just made me go more into instinct-based tennis. "I'm mad at myself for throwing my racquet, but at the same time I feel like it unleashed the emotions and the nerves that I had."
Japan's Osaka now has an all-Asian quarter-final against 35-year-old Hsieh, who upset 19th seed Marketa Vondrousova 6-4, 6-2.
The 23-year-old admitted to "not looking forward" to playing the unorthodox veteran, who made history by becoming the oldest player to make a last-eight debut in the Open-era. Osaka was pushed to three sets by the canny Taiwanese two years ago in the third round during her Australian Open title run.
"She's one of those players that if it was a video game, I would want to select her character just to play as her," Osaka said. "My mind can't fathom the choices she makes when she's on the court. It's not fun to play, but it's really fun to watch."
Osaka, however, understood the significance of the Asian clash and the potential to inspire, having herself grown up idolising two-time Grand Slam winner Li Na of China. "I just think it's really important for little kids to look up to someone and just strive to be where they are," she said. "For me, I grew up really loving Li Na. She was someone that I still love and look up to. Sometimes I just revisit her post-match interviews and stuff just for a laugh."