Ashleigh Barty rallied from a set down to beat former world number one Maria Sharapova 4-6 6-1 6-4 at Melbourne Park on Sunday, becoming the first Australian woman in a decade to reach the quarter-finals at her home Grand Slam.
The 22-year-old, roared on by a raucous home crowd that included Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and men’s great Rod Laver, converted her fourth match point with an ace to seal the victory in two hours and 22 minutes.
Five-times Grand Slam champion Sharapova looked in control after converting her third breakpoint in the ninth game of the first set and following it up with a service hold to love to take the opening stanza.
But Barty fought back to break twice in the second set and level the match, as more unforced errors crept into the Russian’s game, and then broke twice more in the decider to race into a 4-0 lead.
Sharapova, the 2008 champion, rallied to win three straight games but could not prevent Barty closing out the match and becoming the first Australian woman to reach the quarters since Jelena Dokic in 2009.
“It was a little close, wasn’t it?” a beaming Barty said. “I gave myself a lot of opportunities in the third set and just didn’t take it.
“She’s an absolute champion and she never ever was going to go away. I can match it with the best and when I execute I know that I can.
“This is unreal, playing on this beautiful court in front a packed house, there’s nothing better.”
Barty will meet twice Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova in the quarter-finals after the eighth seed thrashed American teenager Amanda Anisimova 6-2 6-1 earlier in the day.
The Australian lost her last meeting to Kvitova in Sydney before the year’s first Grand Slam.
“It doesn’t get any easier at all, it’s just another challenge and I’ll try to come out and play my best tennis,” Barty said.
Kvitova back in the Grand Slam big time
After a year in the Grand Slam wilderness, twice Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova returned to the limelight with a 6-2 6-1 thrashing of American teenager Amanda Anisimova to storm into the Australian Open quarter-finals on Sunday.
Kvitova had a barren 2018 season, failing to make it beyond the third round at all four majors, but the 28-year-old Czech has started the new year with a bang and is shaping up as a genuine title threat at Melbourne Park.
The eighth seed next faces home hope and maiden Grand Slam quarter-finalist Ashleigh Barty, the woman she beat for the Sydney International title in the weekend before the tournament.
Barty overhauled Maria Sharapova in the second match at Rod Laver Arena on Sunday and will bring huge crowd support into their re-match.
Kvitova, meanwhile, will bring a nine-match winning streak, and she is yet to drop a set at the year’s first Grand Slam.
“I’m serving pretty well and I’m moving well, as well,” she told reporters, having avenged her straight sets defeat to 17-year-old Anisimova at Indian Wells last year.
“Sometimes when I’m nervous, I’m quite tight and nothing is really working, but this time I feel good.”
The lefthander’s confidence was on show and her power game devastating in the early match at a sunbathed Rod Laver Arena as she ended the American teen’s run in less than an hour.
She booked her first quarter-final appearance in Melbourne since her run to the 2012 semi-finals and first at a Grand Slam since the 2017 U.S. Open.
Her coach, Jiri Vanek, revealed that he had spared Kvitova from hitting practice between matches to keep her fresh and relieve pressure on a player who often crumbles with nerves.
“We just keep her like staying in the room or just go visit the city and not come here for the tournament to see other players,” he said.
“She had so many matches after Sydney, and we need to keep her relaxed a little bit.”
Kvitova’s run to the last eight at the U.S. Open in 2017 came less than a year after surgery on her left hand following an attack by a knife-wielding home intruder in December 2016.
She had said her hand would never regain the feeling it once had but her fitness and motivation remain unquestioned.
“I don’t want to say it’s miracle, but for us it’s just amazing,” Vanek said of Kvitova’s comeback from the ordeal.
“Two years ago we didn’t know what is going to be. Nobody can tell us what is the best … thing to do with her.
“Even the doctor doesn’t know when we can start to hit with the balls, normal balls, soft balls.
“But she was so strong mentally … and she told us, ‘Don’t worry, guys, I will come back and I will be strong. And maybe this thing can help me in the future.’
“We just follow her and now we try to give her back her … positive attitude.”
Unseeded American Danielle Collins hammers Angelique Kerber to reach quarters
Unseeded American Danielle Collins took less than an hour to thrash 2016 champion Angelique Kerber 6-0 6-2 and power her way into the quarter-finals of the Australian Open on Sunday. The unheralded 25-year-old had not won a match in her previous five Grand Slam appearances but after smashing 29 winners against Kerber she has now made it to the last eight in her first main draw showing at Melbourne Park.
Asked if it felt like a Cinderella moment for her, the twice NCAA collegiate champion agreed. “I guess you could say that. That’s a good way to look at it. It’s been an incredible experience,” she told reporters.
“I’m so grateful to be here in Melbourne. I definitely played some tournaments in some strange places the first year that I turned pro. I’m really just grateful to be out here doing what I love and playing in front of a good crowd. I may not have won a Grand Slam match before this (but) I got to tell you I think it’s going to keep happening.”
Ranked 35th in the world, Collins breezed through the opening set in 20 minutes with three service breaks, hitting winners on all sides of the court against the second seed, who had five double faults in the set.
After an early trade of breaks in the second set, Collins smashed a backhand to break Kerber’s serve and take a 4-2 lead, before breaking the German once again to seal victory on her first match point in 56 minutes.
“We spent a good amount of time watching her play. I played her last year, so I was familiar with her game. I had a clear mindset of what I was going to do,” said Collins, who was ranked 167 in the world in 2017 before climbing up to 36 last year.
“From the very first point, I showed her that I wasn’t going to let her into the match, that I was going to dictate the entire way through. I stuck to my game plan. It clearly worked out well for me. Pretty much smooth sailing throughout the entire thing.”
Wimbledon champion Kerber, who has struggled with her mental game throughout her career, mumbled to herself constantly and at one stage threw down her racquet in frustration to elicit a warning from the umpire.
Kerber broke Collins’s serve in the first game of the second set and tried to show a bit more emotion only for Collins to come straight back at her.
“I’m feisty,” said Collins. “I love making it kind of a war. If somebody wants to get in my face on my unforced errors, I have no problem getting right back at them and making it a feisty match.
“I love that, embrace it. I love when things get competitive. You haven’t seen me at Topgolf or bowling. Even karaoke, I don’t have a good voice, but I always try to do the best at whatever I’m doing. If I’m not, I still tell myself I’m the best.”
Next up for Collins will be either compatriot and fifth seed Sloane Stephens or Russian Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, who meet in the last match of the evening.
Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova beats Sloane Stephens in marathon contest
Unseeded Russian Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova won a marathon three-setter against American fifth seed Sloane Stephens 6-7(3) 6-3 6-3 to reach the Australian Open quarter-finals on Sunday and match her best show in Grand Slams. The unseeded Russian reached her second quarter-final at Melbourne Park after her 2017 run and will now meet another American in Danielle Collins for a place in the last four.
Stephens, the 2017 U.S. Open winner, started strongly by gaining a 4-1 advantage but her Russian opponent got the break back before the 25-year-old American won the set via a tiebreaker.
The second set started in similar fashion with Stephens breaking early to run up a 2-0 lead before another fightback from the 27-year-old Pavlyuchenkova. The Russian got back on serve in the fourth game before breaking Stephens to go up 5-3 and then converted her third set point to level the match.
In the first game of the third set, Stephens saved eight breakpoints to hold in a marathon game that lasted for 26 points and close to 20 minutes. Stephens then lost steam as the world number 44 converted her second match point to seal the day’s final match in two hours and 32 minutes, finishing at almost 2 a.m. local time.
Pavlyuchenkova said she hated an icebath but her physio would still make her have one despite the late finish. “I was even thinking during the match that some of you guys stayed… I heard somebody was yawning though sometimes during the match,” the Russian said in her on-court interview. “I’m sorry, I thought it was quite an exciting match. “Sloane is a great player, is a fighter… and I had to be aggressive, yeah.”
Unseeded Collins thrashed 2016 champion and second seed Angelique Kerber 6-0 6-2 earlier on Sunday.