Ashleigh Barty overcame Maria Sharapova 4-6 6-1 6-4 in a gripping match to advance to the first Grand Slam quarter-final of her career at the Australian Open.
The Australian, 22, has risen steadily up the rankings since she returned to tennis in 2016 following a spell away playing cricket for the Brisbane Heat.
And today she sent the home crowd on the Rod Laver Arena into raptures by beating one of the most famous players in the sport with a performance full of character.
“(Sharapova) is an absolute champion,” Barty said in her post-match interview. “I knew that I just had to keep chipping away and just trust the work we’ve done (to prepare).”
She continued, “I know that I can match it with the best when I execute (the way I want).”
In the first three games of the match, both players held serve easily. However, the games got tighter and tighter as the set wore on, and eventually Sharapova earned the first break point in the seventh game.
Barty saved it, and soon had a couple of chances to break the Russian. She was ultimately unable to take them, but it was clear by now that serving was no longer the dominant force in the match.
This was especially true in game nine, as Sharapova was fired up by her gutsy hold. She cut out the errors from her play, hit deeper and harder and earned two break points.
The Australian saved them both, but then made a double-fault to hand the Russian another chance. And she gifted the World No.30 the break with a loose backhand that went wide.
It proved crucial, as Sharapova held to love to close out the first set 6-4.
Barty turns it around in the second set
The five-time Grand Slam champion put Barty’s serve under pressure again in the first game of the second set, but the Australian held firm to fend her off.
The World No.15 started to use her variety more effectively in the next few games, and it eventually unsettled Sharapova so much that she played a succession of poor shots and dropped her serve in game four.
Barty backed up the break with a dominant service game to move 4-1 ahead. She then put a bit of pressure on the Russian’s serve and watched the World No.30 fall apart and lose the game to love.
To the delight of the home crowd, the Australian quickly wrapped up the second set 6-1 to level the match at one-set all.
Barty holds off Sharapova comeback to seal win
Sharapova took a lengthy bathroom break to compose herself, and she was greeted by a chorus of boos when she returned to the court.
Either that upset the Russian, or she was still thinking about the second set, because she played an awful first service game and dropped her serve for the second time in succession.
And things got worse for the World No.30 from then on, as Sharapova failed to take advantage of a 15-30 scoreline on Barty’s serve and then proceeded to lose her own serve again and fall 3-0 behind.
On the other side of the net, the Australian remained calm and continued to play sensible, calculated tennis to consolidate her lead at 4-1.
But there was another twist around the corner, as Barty made a couple of errors to hand the Russian two break points. Sharapova took the second to cut the deficit to 4-2.
In the next game, the World No.15 tried everything to restore the double break, but the five-time Grand Slam champion dug in and held onto her serve.
Remarkably, it looked like the Russian was about to draw level in game eight when she earned two break points. However, she failed to take her chances and Barty held on to lead 5-3.
Sharapova then held to make sure the Australian would have to serve for the match. And for a couple of minutes, it looked like she would do it easily when she raced into a 40-15 lead.
But the Russian slammed a huge forehand winner and then Barty double-faulted to make it deuce. The World No.15 wasted another match point with an error, but she eventually sealed the win at the fourth time of asking with an ace.
Davis Cup: Team Leaders Deliver in Bratislava, Canada-Slovakia 1-1
Shapovalov and Klizan dispose in straight sets of their n.2 opponents. Day 2 will start at 11 with a delicate doubles rubber
Under the watchful eye of ITF President David Haggerty, who was present in Bratislava for one of the Qualifying Ties of his new “creature”, Slovakia and Canada have closed the first day with one win each.
Despite a 3 pm start time on a working day, the AXA National Tennis Center Arena in Bratislava was almost two-thirds full at the beginning of the day, with a small but colorfully noisy group of Canadian supporters.
It was up to Filip Horansky (n.199 ATP) to represent the home team in the first rubber when he had to face the n.1 Canadian, Denis Shapovalov, n.25 of the world ranking and one of the most interesting teenage prospects of the by-now-infamous “Next Gen”. Horansky put together a solid effort, tried to exploit his bigger habit to play on clay, but eventually he had to succumb to a better player with more powerful weapons. For most of the match the Slovak player was able to sustain the baseline rally with Shapovalov, however he never had any answer to Denis’ accelerations with forehand and backhand, and as the match progressed, he started appearing more and more tired, his energies being burned at a much faster rate than he is normally accustomed to.
Both sets were decided by one break, on the seventh and on the eleventh game respectively, when Shapovalov capitalized his dominance on serve and return and open Canada’s account in this tie.
“I believe I played a solid match, especially on serve – said Shapovalov after the match – I feel very confident playing on clay, I have transitioned very well from clay and also this court suits very well my game: balls do not just stop when they touch the ground, it is possible to hit through the court, and this helps me”.
As Shapovalov was talking to the press, his best friend Felix Auger Aliassime was having a dream debut in Davis Cup. With Slovakia 0-1 down, Klizan’s point had become indispensable for the home team, and this pressure was making Klizan play extremely tense and far from his potential. Auger Aliassime got to a 5-2 lead before a calming speech by Slovak captain Dominik Hrbaty was able to relax Slovakia’s n.1 who came back winning five games in a row taking the first set in 50 minutes. The Canadian teenager looked unable to find an answer to the long and slow rallies imposed by Klizan, who would suddenly accelerate into baseline high-speed winners. “I couldn’t have hoped for a better start – said Auger Aliassime – but eventually he raised his level, I started missing shots that shouldn’t be missed, so he eventually imposed his game”. Klizan eventually got to 7-5 5-2 before he could close 7-5, 6-2.
Saturday morning at 11 the Canadian couple will presumably take the stage for the doubles rubber against Filip Polasek and Igor Zelenay.
Naomi Osaka Swats Aside Svitolina To Move Ahead In Race For No.1
Naomi Osaka progressed to the Australian Open semi-final and moved ahead in the race for World No.1 with a dominant win over Svitolina.
Naomi Osaka continued her impressive rise to the top with a commanding 6-4 6-1 win over Elina Svitolina that sealed her place in the Australian Open semi-finals.
The result moves the Japanese player, 21, into pole position in the race for World No.1 and she will stay there unless Petra Kvitova reaches the final or Karolina Pliskova wins the tournament.
The first five games of the opening set of the quarter-final were closely-contested, but both players still held serve without ever being taken to deuce.
All of that changed in the sixth game. Osaka really started to trouble Svitolina with her weight of shot, and the Ukrainian eventually succumbed to the third break point she faced.
The Japanese player surrendered her advantage immediately with a poor service game. Then she re-discovered her rhythm immediately to break Svitolina again.
But the World No.6 justifiably has a reputation as a fighter, and she drew on all her battling qualities to break straight back for the second time in a row.
That made it 5-4 to Osaka, and many would have expected the set to settle down again at this point. It did not happen, as the Japanese player put the Ukrainian’s serve under pressure again to force 0-40 three break points.
Svitolina dug in to save all three but, when she faced a fourth, she netted a backhand and the set went to Osaka.
Osaka races through the second set
The World No.6 completely fell apart on serve in the second game of the second set. Consequently, she rapidly found herself facing a set and 0-3 deficit in the match.
At the changeover, Svitolina called for the trainer because she was suffering from pain in her right shoulder. She received some treatment and then the action continued.
Victory looked almost certain for the reigning US Open champion at this stage. And she cemented that impression when she – incredibly – broke the Ukrainian for the fifth time in succession to make it 4-0.
Osaka had a slight wobble in game five. She made a couple of unforced errors to hand Svitolina a break point.
However, the World No.6 did not take advantage of the chance and, although she finally held serve in game six, she must have known the fight was over.
The Japanese player completed the formalities with a comfortable hold. She finished the match with two aces and a decisive smash and celebrated with a low-key fist-pump and a smile for the crowd.
“I tried to be as consistent as I can,” Osaka said in her post-match interview. “She’s a really great player and it’s unfortunate that she got injured.”
She continued, “Today I just had one goal – to try as hard as I can and not get angry. I didn’t do it well in the last two rounds but I think I did it well this time so I’m really happy with how I played.”
Rafael Nadal storms into semi-final with dominant win over Tiafoe
Rafael Nadal progressed to his fifth Australian Open semi-final with a comprehensive win over rising star Frances Tiafoe.
Rafael Nadal produced an impressive performance to see off Frances Tiafoe 6-3 6-4 6-2 and advance to the semi-finals of the Australian Open for the fifth time.
The emphatic scoreline means that the Spaniard, 32, is still yet to drop a set in the event this year. And it sets him up perfectly to push on and try and claim his second title in Melbourne.
It was a disappointing end to the American’s run. However, he can be justifiably proud of his efforts, especially during his wins over Kevin Anderson and Gregor Dimitrov, and it was clear to see today that his previous matches had taken a lot out of him.
Nadal raced through his opening service game to win it to love. He then immediately attacked Tiafoe’s serve and gained an immediate break.
That was all the Spaniard needed. He dominated on serve throughout the set and won 20 of the 23 points behind it, which enabled him to wrap it up 6-3 in just 31 minutes.
Tiafoe fights hard in the second set
The American made the worst possible start to the second set. He played a poor game on serve and lost it to love.
To his credit, Tiafoe responded well and fought for everything in the next few games. He earned his first break point of the match in game four after he won a 20-shot rally. However, he sent his next return just long.
The American then got another chance immediately when Nadal pulled a forehand wide. But again Tiafoe was unable to take advantage as he hit a backhand long.
Those turned out to be Tiafoe’s only opportunities in the set, as the World No.2 eventually held after three more deuces and went on to take it 6-4 without facing any more alarms on his serve.
Nadal ends Tiafoe’s challenge with early break
When Nadal broke the American in the opening of the third set, as he had done in the first two sets, the match already seemed as good as over.
Tiafoe hung in for a few more games to keep it to one break. However, his resistance ended when he made some tired errors and dropped his serve in game seven.
Fittingly, Nadal closed out the match with another commanding game on serve, which included a trademark forehand winner down the line.
“For me it’s very emotional to be back in the semi-finals here in Melbourne,” Nadal said in his post-match interview. “I’ve had some dramas at this event during my career so to be back in the semi-final after a while means everything to me.”
The Spaniard continued, “I feel lucky to be where I am after all the things that have happened. To keep competing at this level is why I wake up every morning to go on court or go to the gym with the goal to be a better player.”
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