When Ash Barty beat Shelby Rogers at Australian Open 2017 in the infancy of her tennis comeback, she entered as a wildcard ranked outside the top 200.
In Monday’s night session at Rod Laver Arena, the now world No.1 defeated the American once again — this time 6-3 6-4 — to reach the quarterfinals against Karolina Muchova and continue her quest to become the first home player to win the Australian Open since 1978.
“It’s really exciting to be through to another quarterfinal,” said Barty, on an eight-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 pair also dueled a week and a half ago at the Yarra Valley Classic at Melbourne Park, with Barty needing a match tiebreak in the third to advance against her dangerous foe.
Indeed, Rogers eliminated Simona Halep ahead of her encounter with Barty in 2017 and has also posted Grand Slam victories over Czechs Petra Kvitova — twice — and Karolina Pliskova.
Keen observers will note that Rogers’ ranking of 57 at the Australian Open four years ago is the same as it is now, but plenty happened to the 28-year-old since then. A knee injury, for one, saw her year-end ranking drop to 780 in 2018.
She possesses a big serve and forehand — coming into Monday’s proceedings inside the top three in both first serve and second serve percentage points won at Australian Open 2021 — and like Barty hadn’t conceded a set.
Extensive scouting probably wasn’t required given their recent rendezvous, although Barty’s meticulous coach Craig Tyzzer surely would have got stuck in.
Barty’s much praised — and rightly so — all-court game gives the Ipswich native many options, and outstanding defending earned her the first break in the fourth 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.
Had there been fans – Melbourne’s lockdown continued – the stadium would have erupted.
Barty then saved a pair of break points at 4-2, on both occasions Rogers sending returns into the net. They were the only break points Rogers manufactured until the penultimate game.
Overall, the 2019 French Open winner served at 68 per cent, tallied 76 per cent of those first-serve points, hit 21 winners and had only 16 unforced errors. A more than tidy 71-minute performance.
“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.
Barty’s use of her tremendous backhand slice flummoxed Rogers at the Yarra Valley Classic, and she sprinkled in the shot to again draw Rogers out of her comfort zone.
More defending got Barty the break for 2-1 in the second set. Tremendous work in the forehand corner kept a rally going.
Rogers thus had to hit one more ball and duly sent a forehand long. Barty capitalised on a kind net cord – for her – to rip a forehand for an insurance break for 4-1.
Serena Williams, Jennifer Brady — Barty’s doubles partner — and Jessica Pegula gave the US three players in the women’s quarterfinals, but Rogers couldn’t make it four despite saving two match points at 2-5 and holding for 4-5.
Barty won’t have to be told she is the significant favourite to make the final from the top half of the draw — the lone player of the eight that remained in the top section to make a Grand Slam final.
She holds a winning record over quarterfinal opponent Muchova, too, going through in straight sets at the 2018 US Open.
The Czech with a varied game similar to Barty’s overturned 4-0 and 5-2 deficits in the first set to down 2018 semifinalist Elise Mertens 7-6(5) 7-5 at Margaret Court Arena in two hours on Monday.
The Belgian topped Muchova in the Czech Republic late in the 2020 campaign.
Comebacks are nothing new for world No.27 Muchova, who trailed Pliskova 5-0 in the second set in the third round prior to reeling off seven consecutive games.
“It definitely gave me confidence from last match,” Muchova, into a second Grand Slam quarterfinal, said. “I just tried to play and it worked out again.”
She won’t want to fall behind by such margins, though, against a surging Barty.
Source: Ravi Ubha