Ash Barty underlines favourite status by trouncing Pegula at Australian Open

Australian will now face Madison Keys after her upset win over Barbora Krecjcikova

Australia’s Ash Barty signs an autograph on the TV camera after winning her quarter-final match  against Jessica Pegula of the USA at the Australian Open  in Melbourne. Photograph: Dave Hunt/EPA

Australia’s Ash Barty signs an autograph on the TV camera after winning her quarter-final match against Jessica Pegula of the USA at the Australian Open in Melbourne. Photograph: Dave Hunt/EPA

 

Ash Barty’s rapid march through the Australian Open draw continued on Tuesday as the home favourite faced her highest ranked opponent so far, the in-form 21st seed Jessica Pegula, and treated her with the same disdain as all others who have crossed her path in Melbourne this year. This time, Barty allowed Pegula just two paltry games as she reached her second career Australian Open semi-final with a 6-2, 6-0 win.

“I’m just having fun, to be honest,” said Barty afterwards. “I’m having fun trying to problem solve out on the court, and each and every opponent has been different, each and every opponent has presented me with a different challenge and forced me to use another tool in my toolbox.”

A measure of Barty’s efficiency so far this year: the 63 minutes spent on court against Pegula is her second longest match so far at the Australian Open this year. She has dropped only 17 games in her five matches, dismantling all opponents in her path with clarity and ease.

Standing before Barty on Tuesday, Pegula is the daughter of Terry Pegula, a billionaire businessman who owns the Buffalo Bills in the NFL and the Buffalo Sabres in the NHL. Pegula is a late bloomer at 27, having spent most of her career on the ITF Circuit outside the top 100. She did not truly break through until last year, a season that began with a quarter-final at the Australian Open and ended with a top 20 debut.

She has gained notable success by striking an extremely flat ball, taking the ball early and robbing time from opponents with her consistent depth. Barty did not actually start well, spraying unforced errors in a number of long games early on. But she soon got to work, moving Pegula from side-to-side with her forehand and dragging her into the forecourt with her backhand slice.

“You feel pretty helpless,” said Pegula of the experience of playing against Barty. “I think that when she gets into a rhythm, she can kind of run away where she really starts – her game just kind of picks you apart a little bit, and it can be really frustrating because you don’t feel like you can get a lot of free points, there’s really not much you can do.”

Barty has arrived in Melbourne in some of the best form of her life, playing with freedom and joy. This tournament has also served as a reminder that Barty, who stands at 5ft 5in, is arguably the best server among short players in recent memory. After five matches, she has struck 50 per cent unreturned first serves and 28 per cent on her second serves. She has now won 97 per cent of her service games in the tournament, losing just one in her tough fourth-round match.

“Honestly, she just does everything I think a little bit better than everybody,” said Pegula, smiling. “Just for women’s tennis as well, she kind of plays more like a guy, maybe a different kind of style that we’re not used to playing day in and day out.”

Pegula named Barty’s serve and her defence as her most difficult attributes and noted the value of her being able to serve so well despite her height. “I think she’s definitely living in everyone’s head a little bit. I don’t think anyone is going to feel great going out to play her because they know they have to play really well.”

Madison Keys has recovered from a dismal 2021 to reach the Australian Open semi-finals. Photograph: Robert Prange/Getty Images
Madison Keys has recovered from a dismal 2021 to reach the Australian Open semi-finals. Photograph: Robert Prange/Getty Images

Barty will next face Madison Keys, who moved into her second Australian Open semi-final by following up her destruction of Paula Badosa, the world No 6, with a second consecutive top 10 victory against French Open champion Barbora Krejcikova, winning 6-3, 6-2.

Speaking on court, Keys said: “I think I’m going to cry. It means a lot. Last year was really hard. I did everything I could with my team to really reset this off-season. I’m really proud of myself and so thankful to my team and my friends and my family for helping me through what was a really tough year.”

It is Keys’s first Grand Slam semi-final since the US Open in 2018, with her best run seeing her reach the final in New York the previous year, losing to Sloane Stephens.

She said of her previous semi-finals: “I think you take the experience out of it. I know I’m going to feel nervous. I know I’m going to be excited. I know all of those feelings are going to be there. But it’s also a completely different situation, time and person, all of that.

“I honestly feel pretty neutral. I have gone into every match thinking I can absolutely win any match that I’m out on the court. I will say it’s been kind of nice to be the underdog for the first time in a long time.” – Guardian

Womens singles quarter-finals

Madison Keys (USA) bt (4) Barbora Krejcikova (Cze) 6-3 6-2, (1) Ashleigh Barty (Aus) bt (21) Jessica Pegula (USA) 6-2 6-0

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