Homegirl Ash Barty was too good for Shelby Rogers as she beat the unseeded American in straight sets to book a spot on the Australian Open quarter-finals.
MELBOURNE – Ash Barty made light of the challenge of unseeded American Shelby Rogers to reach the quarter-finals of the Australian Open for the third year in a row with a commanding 6-3 6-4 victory on Monday.
The world number one has tried to deflect talk that she might end Australia’s 43-year wait for a homegrown champion on Saturday but she looked every bit the title contender as she swept into the last eight without dropping a set.
With no crowds until Thursday at the earliest because of Melbourne’s five-day coronavirus lockdown and no Australian men left in the singles draw, Barty has the hopes of organisers as well as fans resting on her shoulders.
“We’re not done yet,” said Barty, who lost in the semi-finals at her home Grand Slam last year.
“It’s exciting to be in another quarter-final of a Grand Slam, particularly here in Australia … but certainly not satisfied with where we’re at at the moment.
“We will keep chipping away and keep trying to do the right things to progress as far as we can.”
The 24-year-old looked like she had all the tools to keep local interest fixed on the tennis for another five days as she set up a quarter-final against Czech Karolina Muchova.
Rogers has played quarter-finals at two 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.
The Australian mixed up the direction of her serve to defuse her opponent’s biggest weapon – the American got only 61% of her returns in the court – and utilised her punched forehands and trademark backhand slice to great effect.
“I knew it was going to be vital to serve well tonight,” Barty added. “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.”
One break of serve for 3-1 after a lengthy rally was enough for the 2019 French Open champion to win the first set in less than half an hour and she grabbed two more to lead 5-1 in the second.
Barty faltered for the first time with victory in sight, however, going for big winners too early and allowing Rogers to take back one of the breaks of serve.
The top seed grasped her second chance to wrap up the match with both hands two games later, progressing when Rogers ballooned a backhand volley long.
Meanwhile, Czech Karolina Muchova recovered from a shaky start to defeat Belgian Elise Mertens 7-6(5) 7-5 later on Monday evening and set up an Australian Open quarter-final against the world number one.
Mertens, seeded 18th at Melbourne Park, came into the contest having won 30 matches since the women’s tour restarted in August – the most by any player during that period.
She beat Muchova in straight sets at the end of last year in Ostrava in their only previous meeting and opened up a 4-0 lead in the first set with a double break of serves.
But 25th seed Muchova found her range at Margaret Court Arena and stormed back into the match to get back on level terms before claiming the opening set in a tiebreaker.
The 24-year-old got an early break in the second set but Mertens fought back to level at 2-2.
The players seemed headed for another tiebreaker but Muchova picked up the crucial break in the 11th game and converted her first match point when Mertens netted a return.
“It was a little bit slow start there from my side, but Elise played good,” Muchova told reporters. “I think she didn’t make any mistake and she was pushing me.
“Got back on the track at four-Love and kept fighting, kept playing every ball, trying to put it in and then go for my shots.”
The match against Barty will be a second Grand Slam quarter-final for the Czech who reached the last eight at Wimbledon in 2019.
“It’s a big challenge, and I definitely will have to bring my best tennis to compete with her and to have a good match out there,” Muchova said.