Ashleigh Barty has won three in a row against Petra Kvitova since they faced off in the quarterfinals of the Australian Open last January. Meeting at the same stage on Tuesday, can Barty reverse the result?
Barty vs Kvitova is live from Melbourne on Tuesday 28 January at 12.30pm local/1.30am GMT
Much has changed since Kvitova scored a 6-1, 6-4 victory over Barty in the quarterfinals of the 2019 Australian Open. The Czech went on to reach the final, falling short to Naomi Osaka in three sets, and went on to reach finals in Dubai and Stuttgart, winning the latter for her 27th career WTA Tour title. But a left hand injury caused her to pull out of the French Open, majorly impacted the two-time Wimbledon champion’s grass and US hard-court season and saw her struggling to find her best form until the end of the year, which came when she went 0-3 at the WTA Finals Shenzhen.
Barty, meanwhile, followed up her first Grand Slam quarterfinal appearance in Melbourne with the best year of her career. She scored her first win over Kvitova in five attempts on her way to the Miami Open title and went on to win the French Open, rise to world no. 1 and feature in the final or as the champion of some of the year’s biggest tournaments, culminating with her triumph at the WTA Finals Shenzhen.
Barty’s three wins over Kvitova in 2019 changed the dynamic of their match-up as surely as the Australian’s banner year transformed the elevation of her career. The question on both fronts is whether Barty can sustain that alteration in 2020.
It’s early days, but this has to be one of the trickiest parts of the season for Barty – the Australian tennis summer that is January – and so far she’s looked extremely good, bouncing back from a first-round defeat to Jennifer Brady at the Brisbane International by claiming the Adelaide International title. Now on an eight-match winning streak, Barty lost her first set of the Australian Open as she struggled to adjust to the different conditions in Melbourne against Lesia Tsurenko, but won the next six in straightforward fashion.
Things got tricky in the fourth round, as they were always going to against Alison Riske, but the fact that Barty weathered something of a perfect storm to edge past the American speaks volumes, to my mind, about her readiness to win the title, especially with so many of the favourites – Serena Williams, Osaka, Karolina Pliskova – failing to find a way to grapple with tricky opponents and bad days. Riske’s flat hitting is an absolute nightmare for Barty, and the American had won both their previous encounters on grass; the Australian also struggled tremendously with the wind on Rod Laver Arena and her own unforced errors, completely losing her way in the second set and only edging through in the decider 6-3, 1-6, 6-4 when Riske double-faulted on match point.
Barty really struggled for accuracy on her forehand, ending the match with 34 unforced errors, but she had a game plan and stuck to it, and she stayed disciplined, continuing to go for her shots even when she was missing – not something that’s always been easy for her. If she can get through a match like that on a day when she’s not feeling her game or the conditions, it bodes extremely well for her chances.
Kvitova also had to work extremely hard in the fourth round, having a tough time of it with Sakkari. Kvitova’s matches have in general been up and down; she absolutely crushed her opponents in the first and third rounds, dropping a total of four games in those matches, but really had to battle for a 7-5, 7-5 win over Paula Badosa and against the athletic Sakkari, who had won their last two encounters. Kvitova was broken early in the first set, struggled to get back on serve until the end of the set, then found herself losing the tie-break from a mini-break up; it wasn’t until midway through the second set that Kvitova was able to string enough points together to really get some momentum going, winning six games in a row to level up the match and lead 3-0 in the decider to wrap up a 6-7(4), 6-3, 6-2 victory.
Windy conditions in Melbourne don’t really suit either woman, although Barty I think can cope with it a little better, but what certainly could give Barty the edge is the cooler temperatures and slow courts, which many are remarking on this year. Barty’s kick serve and heavy spin on her forehand will work a lot better than Kvitova’s flat hitting, and she will have the crowd behind her. It could well be a three-set battle, but the world no. 1 looks like she might be poised to level the head-to-head at 4-4 and reach her first Australian Open semifinal to boot.