Barty snaps 36-year drought to make Australian Open semi-finals

andrew hendrie:

World No. 1 Ashleigh Barty is the first Australian woman in 36 years to make the semi-finals at Melbourne Park after beating last year’s runner-up Petra Kvitova in straight sets on Tuesday.

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In a rematch of last year’s Australian Open quarter-final, which Kvitova won, it was Barty who this time weathered a first set storm from the Czech before going on to avenge that defeat and secure her spot in a Grand Slam semi-final for just the second time.

Barty’s 7-6(6) 6-2 victory means she’s the first Australian since Lleyton Hewitt in 2005 to reach the semi-finals at the Australian Open, while she’s the first local woman since Wendy Turnbull in 1984 to make it to the final four. Turnbull is also the last female finalist in Melbourne after reaching the championship match in 1980.

It also tripled as Barty’s 150th tour-level win and 100th victory on hardcourt as the French Open champion registered her triumph in one hour and 44 minutes.

The first set really could have gone either way, with Kvitova unleashing some ferocious power on return that saw her grab the break early. However, Barty was able to break back immediately and ultimately was the more patient of the pair in baseline exchanges, waiting for the right moment before attempting outright winners.

That ability to strike at the correct moment paid dividends in the opening set tiebreak as Barty saved a set point to edge it 8-6, and from there she had all the momentum, swiftly opening up a 4-0 double break lead in the second.

Kvitova tried to stage a comeback and broke Barty back, but the Australian responded immediately and closed out the match with relative ease.

“I knew I had to bring my absolute best today against Petra,” Barty said during her on-court interview.

“In my eyes she’s the perfect competitor, regardless of whether she wins or loses she’s always got a big grin on her face. I absolutely love testing myself against her.”

Barty goes on to face 14th seed Sofia Kenin, who advanced into her first Grand Slam semi-final with a straight sets victory over Ons Jabeur earlier on Tuesday.

Ashleigh Barty (AAP Image/Dave Hunt)

The Australian beat Kenin on her way to the French Open title last year, but knows she will be taking on a much-improved player in the semi-finals on Thursday.

“Obviously she’s having an incredible run,” Barty said.

“She’s really developed her game over the past 12 to 18 months and I’ve had some very tough matches against her. She’s a great ball striker, wants to be inside the court. So it’s about me getting my running shoes on again, bring variety and try and bring the match onto my terms as much as possible.

“I’m looking forward to it. The semifinals of the Australian Open, I’m going to have nothing but a massive smile on my face when I walk out here on this beautiful court.”

Kenin, who beat Barty in Canada last year, was simply too solid for Tunisian trailblazer Jabeur as both players contested their first Grand Slam quarter-final, prevailing 6-4 6-4 after one hour and 32 minutes.

Jabeur, the first Arab woman to ever make a major quarter-final, couldn’t settle into the enormous occasion, committing 36 unforced errors – compared to just 16 from Kenin’s racquet.

“It feels really good,” Kenin told the media in her post-match press conference. “I’m super excited for it. I think overall I played really good. I tried to handle the nerves, obviously nerves coming into this match. I think I did a really good job handling myself.”