CINCINNATI, OH, USA – No.1 seed Ashleigh Barty became the first player through the semifinals of the Western & Southern Open with a hard-fought 5-7, 6-2, 6-1 win over Maria Sakkari in 105 minutes.
After Barty made a quick start to the match, she hit a rocky spell that cost her the first set, but she was able to rally in the second. She built on that momentum in the deciding set, which proved to be a one-sided affair.
This was the fourth meeting between the players – all on hard courts – and Barty had her work cut out to make the record move to 3-1 in her advantage.
“I started the match well and I went away from what was working. Maria took some risks that paid off,” she explained after the match.
“It was important for me at the start of the second set to go back to basics and what worked before. I had to serve well, and not give her too many looks at second serves. I tried to bring in my slice to change the tempo of the match.”
After rather struggling past Anett Kontaveit on Thursday, the WTA World No.2 started the match brightly against an opponent who had spent nearly three hours on court the previous day overcoming Aryna Sabalenka.
A break arrived in the second game of the match, capped by a well-constructed rally that ended with a deft dropshot, and as Barty moved 4-1 clear it appeared she was easing to the opener.
Sakkari, though, has built a reputation of being a comeback master and lifted her own level. As the Greek fought back thanks in part to an array of backhand winners, her opponent was guilty of accumulating unforced errors at an alarming rate towards the back end of a set that slipped frustratingly out of her hands.
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Barty had a change of approach in the second, initially adopting a safety-first attitude that saw her radically cut down on her unforced errors and pressurized her opponent into making many more of her own.
Having fought a losing battle with her backhand slice in the first set, it proved the decisive weapon in the second, bringing up a set point with a brilliant example of the shot. Seconds later, Barty powered a top spin down the line to draw level, having made 11 winners to just four unforced errors.
By now, the momentum shift in the match had been irresistible. Sakkari did well to fend off the first couple of break points in her opening service game of the deciding set, but stumbled on the third, and soon found herself trailing 3-0.
By now replete with confidence, Barty was showcasing the talents that helped her to WTA World No.1 and the French Open title earlier this year, with a stunning passing shot giving her a valuable insurance break.
It was not, however, required as she completed the bagel, battling from 40-0 down to take the match in fitting style.
The prospect of a return to the top of the ranking looms, but the Australian is just focused on her first Cincinnati semifinal, which will be against either Karolina Pliskova or Svetlana Kuznetsova.
“I’m just keeping my eye on the ball, and if I win matches, the ranking will take care of itself,” she commented. “We’re excited to be in new territory here in Cincy.”