MELBOURNE, Australia — Ash Barty is a step closer to ending a four-decade drought for Aussies at the national championship.
Top-ranked Barty saved set points in the 11th game and another in the tiebreaker before seizing the momentum against two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova in a 7-6 (6), 6-2 quarterfinal win at the Australian Open on Tuesday.
The so-called Barty Party in 2019 ended in a quarterfinal loss to Kvitova. The start of a new decade is cause for a bigger celebration at Melbourne Park.
Barty next faces Sofia Kenin, who reached the semifinals at a major for the first time with a 6-4, 6-4 win over No. 78-ranked Ons Jabeur.
In a first set that lasted almost 70 minutes, Barty fended off eight of the nine break-point chances she faced before finally getting the upper hand when she won a 22-shot rally, defending for much of it just to stay in the point, at 3-2 down in the tiebreaker.
“I was run ragged on that point — I just remember trying to stay alive. I knew it was a big one. Ït was more survival mode than anything else.”
She went on a roll to take a 4-0 lead in the second and take all the momentum away from Kvitova, who beat her here in the quarterfinals last year before before losing the final to Naomi Osaka.
Barty rebounded from that to win her first major title at the French Open, where she beat Kenin in the fourth round. Until she arrived in Australia, Kenin’s run at Roland Garros — which included a third-round upset over Serena Williams — was her best at a Grand Slam.
There’s a lot of local expectation riding on Barty, who is aiming to be the first Australian woman since Chris O’Neil in 1978 to win the Australian Open. The first major of the decade may see the end of the 42-year wait, and an Australian man hasn’t won since 1976. Barty is already the first Australian woman since 1984 to reach the semifinals of the home Open.
Barty doesn’t expect to feel the pressure. She won her first title on home soil in Adelaide in the lead-up to this season’s first major.
“I’m not going to have anything but a smile on my face when I walk out onto this court,” she said.
Kenin and Jabeur were both into the quarterfinals for the first time at a major.
For Kenin, who was born in Moscow but moved to the United States as a baby and grew up in Florida, the degree of difficulty will only increase.
“I’m excited. Of course, she’s playing at her home, so it’s a little bit different,” Kenin said. “I played a lot of big names. I don’t think I’ve played anyone big in their home crowd. It’s going to be a different atmosphere obviously. But it’s exciting. I’m really looking forward to it.
Kenin is playing her best tennis, too. Her best previous run at Melbourne Park ended in the second round, when she lost to Simona Halep last year.
She finished last year ranked 14th, and although she’s 1-4 in career meetings she was able to match Barty in one category: they were tied for most hard-court wins on the women’s tour last year with 38 wins each.
Kenin’s run here included a comeback win in the third round against 15-year-old Coco Gauff, when she made only nine unforced errors across the second and third sets.
In the second set against Jabeur, she saved three break points in a long sixth game, then broke serve in the seventh game to set up the win.
“It was a tough moment,” Kenin said. “I didn’t know it was 10 minutes (but) it was pretty long, the game. After that I got my momentum.”
Jabeur, a 25-year-old Tunisian, was the first Arab woman to make it to the last eight at a major.
“Ï think I proved that I can be in the quarterfinals in a Grand Slam, even if I have a lot of things to improve probably physically and mentally,” she said. “But I’m happy that I pushed through a lot of things. I proved to myself that I could do a lot of great things.””
In later men’s quarterfinals, 20-time major winner Roger Federer was playing 100th-ranked Tennys Sandgren, and seven-time Australian Open winner Novak Djokovic had a night match against Milos Raonic of Canada.