By Ian Ransom
MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Ash Barty stormed into her maiden Australian Open semi-final on Tuesday with an emphatic 7-6(6) 6-2 win over Petra Kvitova that avenged her defeat to the hard-hitting Czech in last year’s quarter-final at Melbourne Park.
Thrashed 6-1 6-4 by eventual finalist Kvitova 12 months ago, top seed Barty rode a wave of crowd support as she defused the twice Wimbledon champion’s power game before running away with the contest on a glorious afternoon at Rod Laver Arena.
“It’s been absolutely incredible, I knew I had to bring my absolute best against Petra,” Barty said on court.
“I think Petra, in my eyes, is the perfect competitor.
“Regardless of whether she wins or loses she’s always got a big grin on her face.
“I absolutely love testing myself against her.”
French Open champion Barty saved two break points serving for the match, then thumped down four first serves in succession, sealing the win in style with an ace.
The 23-year-old became the first Australian woman to reach the semi-finals at Melbourne Park since Wendy Turnbull in 1984.
She will play 14th seeded American Sofia Kenin, who earlier ended Tunisian Ons Jabeur’s fairytale run, for a place in the final.
“Obviously she’s having an incredible run, she’s really developed her game over the last 12-18 months,” Barty said of the Moscow-born Kenin.
“It’s about me trying to get my running shoes on again.
“I’m going to have nothing but a massive smile on my face when I walk out here on this beautiful court.”
Australia have not had a home winner at Melbourne Park since Chris O’Neil’s triumph in the women’s tournament in 1978 but the sports-mad nation may feel Barty is poised to break the drought.
DRIVEN TO DISTRACTION
Overwhelmed by Kvitova’s firepower in their last meeting in Melbourne — the Australian’s first appearance in the last eight of a Grand Slam — a wiser, craftier Barty took the court for the rematch on Tuesday.
She saved eight out of nine break points to keep Kvitova at bay in the first set, then scrambled brilliantly to claim the tiebreak.
Driven to distraction by the Australian’s defense, Kvitova crumbled in the second set.
She double-faulted to concede two break points and fell 3-0 behind, having reprieved Barty with a weak overhead smash and another poorly struck volley that pinged the top of the net.
The volley gave Barty time to swoop forward, and true to her game, she lobbed Kvitova with a deft backhand rather than seek to pass her with needless brawn and aggression.
Kvitova belatedly found her range and fired a searing backhand down the line to break back to 4-2 but it was more of a death rattle than a rally.
The seventh seed dropped serve the next game with a sixth double-fault that put her within a game of defeat.
The terraces gasped as Barty fired a forehand just wide to allow Kvitova two chances to break back when serving for the match.
But soon after they were roaring in delight as Barty struck two aces in a four-point blitz to ensure she will be the talk of the nation through to Thursday’s semi-final.
(Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman/Peter Rutherford)