Ash Barty looked every inch the World No 1 as she defeated America’s Shelby Rogers on Rod Laver Arena, 6-3 6-4, on Monday night, setting up a quarter-final meeting with Karolina Muchova, who eked past Elise Mertens, 7-6(5) 7-5.
She’s a player that can take away the match from you very, very quickly, so I needed to have my running shoes on, but serve well and try and be in control of as many points as I could. I knew it was going to be vital to serve well tonight. That was something I really wanted to try and focus on, just to try and give myself a chance to be in control of more points. Ash Barty
When Barty beat Rogers at AO17 in the infancy of her tennis comeback, she entered as a wildcard ranked outside the top 200 and has since soared to the top ranks, winning the French Open in the process.
She is currently on a quest to become the first home player to win the Australian Open since 1978.
“It’s really exciting to be through to another quarter-final,” said Barty, on an 8-match winning streak. “If you would have told me a few months ago when we were doing pre-season that this is the start we’d have, we’d absolutely take it with a big smile on our face.”
The top seed has yet to drop a set during the tournament, and is a big favourite to reach her first final in Melbourne as the only top-20 player left in her half of the draw.
In the last eight she takes on Muchova, the No 28 seed from the Czech Republic who dispatched her compatriot Karolina Pliskova, seeded 6 in straight sets, who recovered from a shaky start to defeat Mertens, the Belgian 18th seed, 7-6(5) 7-5.
At the recent Yarra Valley Classic, Barty needed a match tiebreak to advance against Rogers, and was well conscious of how dangerous her opponent of Monday could be.
Rogers is ranked 57, the same as she was in 2017, but the 28-year-old endured a knee injury that saw her year-end ranking drop to 780 in 2018.
Like Barty and Muchova, Rogers had not dropped a set at Melbourne Park and came into the match in fine touch, but the Aussie never let her settle.
Barty’s much praised all-court game offers her many options, and her outstanding defence of Roger’s big serve and forehand earned her the first break in the 4th game.
Rogers mostly bossed the 18-shot rally, but Barty scurried to stay in it before turning that defence into attack by rifling a forehand winner, and had there been fans present, the stadium would have erupted.
Barty then saved a pair of break points at 4-2, the only ones she faced in the set, pushing Rogers to send both returns into the net.
Rogers has played quarter-finals at 2 Grand Slams and made a habit of upsetting highly-ranked players but she was unable to get enough of a handle on Barty’s serve to make her high quality returns a factor.
Barty faltered for the first time with victory in sight, allowing Rogers to take back one of the 2 breaks of serve she had given up in the 2nd set, but the top seed fixed a quarter-final date with Muchova 2 games later.
“She’s a player that can take away the match from you very, very quickly, so I needed to have my running shoes on, but serve well and try and be in control of as many points as I could,” said Barty.
“I knew it was going to be vital to serve well tonight. That was something I really wanted to try and focus on, just to try and give myself a chance to be in control of more points.
“There were a couple of runs of points [and] games in our match last week that Shelby was able to get on a roll and run away with it a little bit.
“I wanted to try and avoid that and just bring it back on my terms as much as I could, and try and be the aggressor when I could.”
Overall, the 2019 French Open champion served at 68 per cent, tallied 76 per cent of those first-serve points, hit 21 winners and had only 16 unforced errors in the tidy 71-minute performance.
Serena Williams, Jennifer Brady, Barty’s doubles partner, and Jessica Pegula gave the US 3 players in the women’s quarter-finals, but Rogers couldn’t make it 4 despite saving 2 match points at 2-5 and holding for 4-5.
Barty holds a winning record over Muchova, having gone through in straight sets at the 2018 US Open.
Muchova, who has a varied game similar to Barty’s, overturned 4-0 and 5-2 deficits in the first set to down 2018 AO semi-finalist Elise Mertens, 7-6(5) 7-5, at Margaret Court Arena in 2 hours on Monday.
Comebacks are nothing new for the World No 27, who trailed Pliskova 5-0 in the second set in the third round prior to reeling off 7 consecutive games.
“It definitely gave me confidence from last match,” Muchova, into her second Grand Slam quarter-final, said. “I just tried to play and it worked out again.”
The Czech, previously a major quarter-finalist at Wimbledon 2019, fell behind 0-4 in an error-strewn opening passage of play, but steadily inched her way back into the set as her stylish brand of all-court tennis began to click.
She approached the net 21 times and won 13 of those points while, at the business end of the second set, she captured the crucial break at 5-5 with a pair of flashy forehand winners.
Muchova is also, technically, on her longest WTA winning streak, remaining unbeaten in 7 matches this year to date, although the 24-year-old withdrew prior to her Abu Dhabi second round against Daria Kasatkina due to illness and ahead of her Gippsland Trophy against Kaia Kanepi with an abdominal injury.
The quarter-final between Barty and Muchova is a must-watch for fans of all-court tennis while being a flashback for both players to a key breakthrough tournament.
The pair’s only prior meeting came in the 3rd round of the 2018 US Open when Muchova, making her Grand Slam debut, was coming off an eye-catching upset of Garbiñe Muguruza in the previous round, and Barty defeat her 6-3 6-4 to make the second week of a major for the first time.
“I remember that match in New York,” Barty said. “I remember coming off the court and saying to Tyz… Karolina, she can play, she’s a hell of a player.
“At that time she was, I think, outside 200 in the world. I hadn’t had much to do with her beforehand.
“Certainly that match in New York, it was a great match, a brilliant match.
“I remember we moved courts, we were playing at all hours of the night. One of those funny experiences where you look back on it now and just realise how special it was.
“I know that now we get another opportunity to do it in a quarter-final of a Grand Slam
“It will be a brilliant match. I know she’s got the ability to manoeuvre the ball all around the court, play with variety, play with shape. I’m looking forward to it.”