SYDNEY, Australia -- Australian No.1 Ashleigh Barty staged a comeback against countrywoman Daria Gavrilova in the semifinals of the Sydney International on Friday, shaking off the loss of the first set to claim a 3-6, 6-4, 6-2 victory and advance to Saturday's championship match.
"I'd love to go one further and hold the trophy up here," Barty said in press after the match. "I love playing in Australia, I love playing at home. It's nice to be able to get a lot of matches here and be rewarded with the final."
The home crowd was treated to a topsy-turvy battle between their country's top-ranked players, both of whom are currently nestled in the World's Top 25, and Barty was sturdier down the stretch to clinch victory after just under two hours of play.
"Against [Daria], she's a world-class returner and puts pressure on you right from the get-go," said Barty. "For me, it was nice to find the rhythm eventually, but would definitely like to see it a little bit earlier in matches."
Barty becomes the first Australian to make the Sydney final since Alicia Molik and Samantha Stosur set up an all-Aussie affair in the 2005 title match, which Molik won. Barty awaits the winner of the late semifinal between Italian qualifier Camila Giorgi and former World No.1 Angelique Kerber of Germany.
Both players started the match by trying to attack the other with powerful forehands. After the first few games, though, the combatants started to falter on serve. Gavrilova broke Barty for a 2-1 lead after a forehand error by the top-ranked Australian, but she let Barty get back to 2-2 after double faulting on break point.
Barty, however, double faulted twice in her next service game to hand over another break to Gavrilova, and then ceded a 5-2, double-break advantage to her opponent after a flurry of forehand errors which left her struggling for answers with her coach on the changeover.
Gavrilova seemed to be in complete control as she served for the set in the next game, having won 12 of the previous 14 points, and zoomed to double set point. But now it was her turn to see her forehand go awry, as two unforced errors from that wing erased her set points. Once more, she double faulted down break point to give Barty one break back.
Nevertheless, Barty double faulted twice in the next game en route to being broken at love, and Gavrilova took the first set. Barty would rue five double faults and a 37 percent first serve accuracy, as well as 21 unforced errors to nine winners, in the opening frame.
The tide turned in the second set, after a first set where Barty concluded that "the rhythm wasn't quite there. I think I shot myself in the foot with my serving in the first and didn't give myself an opportunity to be dominant on service games."
Barty cut down her unforced errors dramatically for the rest of the match, and Gavrilova's second serve became more of a liability, forcing her to go for too much on the second delivery. Barty raced to a 3-0 double-break lead, grabbing the second break after Gavrilova went for an aggressive second serve on break point which led to a double fault.
Gavrilova's scrappy scrambling allowed her to get back to dead even in the set. Serving down 2-4, two aces by the Australian No.2 kept herself in touching distance, and in the following game, Barty threw up a double fault of her own while down break point, tying the set at 4-4 and putting Gavrilova two games away from a straight-set victory.
But, as was the custom in the match, Gavrilova struggled on serve in the next game, ending it with two consecutive double faults to hand over a decisive break. Two powerful forehand winners by Barty quickly brought her to double set point, and a crosscourt winner off that wing two points later squared the match at one set apiece.
As the two Australians entered the third set, the Barty forehand was clicking. She hit a winner from that side to break Gavrilova in the first game of the deciding set, much to the dismay of the player who was now running behind. Gavrilova stayed firm, winning her next two service games with the loss of only one point, but could not get a foothold on Barty's serve to get the break back.
Gavrilova's frustration came to a head when serving down 2-4, as she quickly fell behind 0-40 before another massive forehand from Barty led to a break of serve at love, and a chance to close out the match at 5-2. Gavrilova could only smack her racquet in disappointment as her chance for the final slipped away.
Barty faced one more patch of drama as she went down 15-40 in the next game, but swatted those break points away with two excellent serves which Gavrilova could not return into play. Another stellar wide serve two points later sent Barty into her first championship match of the season.
Barty is not only looking forward to her first final since last year's Dongfeng Motor Wuhan Open, but also to the year's first Grand Slam, which starts next week. "Regardless whether you're No.1, No.10, or 100 in the world, it's the best feeling for an Australian to be playing at the Australian Open. We are extremely lucky to be a Grand Slam nation, and to be able to start our year at home is really exciting."