Henry Wancke | 9th Mar 2020 | 0
Melbourne | Barty battles past Kvitova into semi-finals
© Mana Vatsyayana / AFP via Getty Images
Ash Barty is fulfilling a dream, not just her’s but that of the nation, coming through a tough encounter with Petra Kvitova, 7-6(6) 6-2, to reach the Australian Open semi-finals for the first time in Melbourne on Tuesday.
I'm here to try and do the best that I can. Obviously it's exciting. Hopefully I can bring a smile to a few faces around our country and around the world. For me, it's trying to do the best that I can, find that enjoyment for myself and my team. Ash Barty
She wins with a smile, and conducts herself with great dignity and empathy, preferring the quiet life but embracing all the attention that comes with being the World No 1 playing in her home country.
There is intense pressure on the 23-year-old, the last remaining Australian in the tournament, to deliver the first homegrown women’s champion since Chris O’Neil in 1978.
Life would be perfect is she can go all the way to emulate that feat, but she has serious work to do to accomplish this first.
The top seed plays 14th-seeded American Sofia Kenin in the last 4 after surviving a tough first set to defeat Kvitova in the quarters.
The face of the Australian Open, Barty’s image is on billboards all over Melbourne.
“I’d prefer to just be sitting at home just living my quiet little life,” Barty told the media with an impish smile. “I mean, no offence, but not having to chat to you guys every day would be pretty good.
“I feel like I have nothing to say, I’m talking in circles a little bit.”
Barty added that having the focus on her in Melbourne was inevitable and ‘a part of the journey, that I hate it, and I love it”.
Beating the 7th-seeded Czech, Kvitova, was revenge for Barty, who went out to the 2-time Wimbledon champion at the same stage last year, but the down-to-earth Aussie is a way better player these days, having won the French Open and rising to the top of the rankings for the first time.
“This is absolutely incredible, I knew I had to bring my absolute best today against Petra,” Barty said. “It’s a challenge. I love it.
“I love testing myself against Petra. She has this way of bringing out the very best in me. She came at me with all guns blazing.”
After winning the first 3 points of the match, Barty started to struggle on serve, eventually being forced to evade a break point in the first game before dropping serve to love, courtesy of a scorching backhand return winner by Kvitova.
Any momentum the Czech may have attained was quickly quelled when she dropped her own serve to love in the next game.
Back level, they each held multiple break points for the remainder of the set, but both were able to power their way out of any further trouble.
Kvitova, 29, who suffered severe injury to her left playing hand in a knife attack at her home in 2016, and Barty went toe-to-toe in a crucial 7th game of the first set.
In a game stretching to nearly 10 minutes, Barty fought off 5 break points to hold serve at Rod Laver Arena, to roars of approval.
In total, Kvitova saved 2 of the 3 break points she faced in the first set, while Barty was even more successful, batting back 8 of the Czech’s 9 break points she held in the opening frame, including two at 5-5 which helped queue up a decisive tiebreak.
In the breaker, Kvitova used her power to force an error from the Australian and take an early 3-1 lead, but Barty exhibited incredible defence to grind out a 22-shot point for parity at 3-3.
“I said to my team, actually, ‘I want to watch that point [for 3-3],'” said Barty. “I felt like I was run ragged around everywhere, just trying to throw the ball up to give myself some time.
“I just remember trying to stay alive in the point because I knew it was a big one. A big difference swapping ends at 2-4 than there is at 3-All, just in a sense of trying to keep yourself in touch.”
It was Kvitova who had blinked first in the tiebreak, shanking a forehand long to give Barty the set in 69 high-calibre minutes.
Barty, who once gave up tennis to play professional cricket, clenched her fist while Kvitova tossed her racket into air.
“That first set could have gone either way. It was really important to try and get my nose ahead when I could. It was nice to save a set point and get a roll on early in the second set with a couple of quick breaks,” she said, before praising her coach Craig Tyzzer.
“He’s Coach of the Year (2019) for a reason. He carries his trophy in his backpack, just because he likes to look at it, don’t you ‘Tyzz’,” joked the top seed.
“But he does everything to the nth degree, he’s extremely disciplined looking at the other players for me. He’s incredibly diligent at what he does and that’s why he is the best.”
The top seed pulled away in the second, as Kvitova wilted in the Melbourne sun, sealing the deal with her trademark minimum fuss, and booking her spot in the last four with an ace.
The draw opened up for Barty after 6 of the top 10 women’s seeds were beaten in the third round, among them reigning champion Naomi Osaka and history-chasing Serena Williams.
The reigning Roland Garros champion is now the first Australian woman to make the singles semi-finals at the Australian Open since Wendy Turnbull in 1984, 36 years ago.
Turnbull is also the most recent Australian finalist at the event, having reached the championship match 40 years ago in 1980.
“I’m here to try and do the best that I can,” Barty stated. “Obviously it’s exciting.
“Hopefully I can bring a smile to a few faces around our country and around the world.
“For me, it’s trying to do the best that I can, find that enjoyment for myself and my team.”
Barty and the 21-year-old Kenin have played 5 times before, with the Australian winning 4 of them, but she is ever wary of an aggressive opponent who is on the rise and set to match her career-high of 12 in the world next week.
“She’s an exceptional competitor, loves to put herself out there, test herself on the biggest stage,” observed Barty.
“She has a great knack of controlling the court from the centre of the court and being that first-strike player.
“It’s going to be important for me to try and nullify that if I can.”
Barty always brings her exceptional court craft and ability to problem solve to the party, regardless of whom she is playing, and will, no doubt, do so again in her next encounter against Kenin.
“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,” she said. “I’m looking forward to it.
“The semi-finals 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.”