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By Richard Pagliaro | Tuesday, January 27, 2020

 
ASh Barty

Ash Barty saved a set point topping Petra Kvitova 7-6(6), 6-2 to become the first Australian woman since Wendy Turnbull in 1984 to reach the AO final four.

Photo credit: Mark Peterson/Corleve

Champions came nose-to-nose at net when Ashleigh Barty froze Petra Kvitova flicking an imaginative lob into the corner.

The Czech bowed her head in helpless resignation like a woman watching her rental car roll down the hill with all her racquets trapped in the trunk.

More: Kenin Rises to First AO Semifinal

That shot sequence summed up this Australian Open quarterfinal: Kvitova went toe-to-toe with the top seed only to see Barty play over her head when it mattered most.

World No. 1 Barty saved a set point in the first set tie break bursting into her first AO semifinal with a 7-6(6), 6-2 victory over the 2019 finalist. Barty showed a stubborn spine saving 10 of 12 break points and imposing her court coverage and variety to flummox Kvitova for the fourth consecutive time.

"It's been absolutely incredible," Barty said afterward. "I knew that I had to bring my absolute best today. And that first set was so crucial. I just wanted to make the most of it and get off to a quick start in the second."




It was Barty's 150th career main-draw victory and her 100th career hard-court win as she improved to 9-1 on the season.

The 23-year-old Queenslander thrilled home fans becoming the first Aussie woman to advance to the AO semifinals since Wendy Turnbull made the final four in 1984.

Barty will face a familiar face—Sofia Kenin—for a spot in Saturday's final. Barty has beaten the 21-year-old American in four of five prior meetings.

The top seed dodged a break point holding to open.

Imposing her fast, flat lefty forehand crosscourt to the Austalian's weaker backhand wing, Kvitova earned triple break point in the third game. Kvitova crunched a forehand return winner sealing a love break for 2-1.

Kvitova couldn't make the break stand. A double fault and netted backhand saw the Czech give back the break at love. Barty took the gift and ran with it reeling off nine straight points.

A double fault put Kvitova in another break point bind, but she found her first serve firing a couple of aces to level after six games.

A streaky set continued with Barty saving triple break point then a fourth break point. Kvitova was hammering returns off second serves. That cumulative pressure coaxed a double fault and fifth break point. Again, Barty rose up and saved it.

The world No. 1 worked through a grueling seven-deuce hold for 4-3.




Each time Kvitova put the Roland Garros champion under break-point stress, Barty came up with the goods on serve. The Adelaide champion denied two more break points as an erratic Kvitova failed to put three returns in play. By then, Barty had saved eight of nine break points earning a 6-5 lead.

Operating on fast feet, Barty showed defensive guile repelling a couple of smashes to win a frenetic 22-shot rally to level the tie breaker, 3-all.

Launching herself into her serve, Kvitova cranked successive stinging serves to earn set point at 7-6.

The two-time Wimbledon winner couldn't close sailing a couple of forehands as Barty gained set point.

Aussie fans were chanting "let's go Barty, lets go!" and the home hope answered. During a 15-shot rally, Barty banged a forehand into the corner drawing the error to snatch the 69-minute opener.

In a physical first set, Barty's stubborn disposition staring down break points was crucial. Equally important: the Aussie shifted her return position into the doubles alley on the ad side nullifying Kvitova's slider serve out wide. Kvitova would have been well serve to bang a few flat serves down the T on that side, but never fully adjusted.




"Petra in my eyes she's the perfect competitor," Barty said. "She comes out here, fights her absolute best, does everything as best she possibly can. Regardless of whether she wins or loses, she's always got a big grin on her face walking to the net.

"She's a lovely person and I think that's what made her so good over so many years. In my eyes she's the perfect competitor and I absolutely love testing myself against her."

The 23-year-old Aussie is quicker around the court than Kvitova and exuded more energy breaking to start the second set.

The Queenslander cruised through a love hold to confirm the break, eventually extending her lead to 4-0.

Mounting fatigue and growing deficit compelled to Kvitova to hit out even more. The Czech left-hander got hot putting together a two-game run before double-faulting back a break and 5-2 lead to Barty.

The finish line was clear and Barty streaked through it.

The Roland Garros champion cracked two aces in a row sealing a one hour, 44-minute victory in style to set up a rematch with Kenin, who swept Ons Jabeur, 6-4, 6-4, to reach her first major semifinal.

A little more than four months ago, Kenin broke serve six times stunning world No. 1 Barty, 6-7 (5), 6-3, 6-4, to roar into the Rogers Cup round of 16 with her first career Top 5 victory. Kenin broke first in each set to topple Barty in Toronto and the top seed is eager for another shot at the rising American on home turf.

"Obviously, she's having an incredible run," Barty said of Kenin. "She's really developed her game over the last 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 taking the ball either way.

"It's about me trying to get my running shoes on again, bringing variety and trying to bring the match back on my terms as much as possible. 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 on this beautiful court."

 

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