WUHAN, China – WTA World No.1 Ashleigh Barty will play in the semifinals of the Dongfeng Motor Wuhan Open for the third successive year after getting the better of Petra Martic, 7-6(6), 3-6, 6-3 in a tight encounter that lasted two hours 23 minutes.
All the statistics pre-match favored the Australian, who boasted a 41-5 winning record against players outside the Top 10 in 2019 and a 5-2 success rate in WTA quarterfinals.
Martic, meanwhile, had only two Top 10 wins under her belt in the last two years, suffering 12 losses in the interim.
The Croat, though, was far more competitive than the numbers might have suggested, hanging in to force the first set into a lengthy tiebreaker when she might have faded out of it, then breaking early en route to the second. After making a quick start in the third, Martic was unable to hold off the Barty onslaught, with the world's best player timing her run at the perfect moment.
"I think that was a very, very high-quality match. I think that was probably one of the better matches that I've played in recent times," Barty said.
"Probably but for all of maybe two service games on my half, two from Petra, we coughed up maybe two each, but the rest of the match was very high quality.
"I think it could have gone either way. I was happy how I was able to fight in the end, put a lot of pressure on her in a lot of those service games in the third."
Although it was the World No.22 who drew first blood in the opening game, in which she earned a break, Barty otherwise dominated the early stages of the encounter. Hitting the ball crispy and early to establish a 4-1 lead in which she strung together an astonishing 15 successive points.
Having come off that high, the No.1 seed seemed to allow her concentration to wander for a 10-minute spell, in which Martic set about eliminating the advantage.
Spells of the match had been scrappy, but as the opening set reached a climax, both players reserved some of their best tennis. Martic saved two set points on serve with a combination of intelligent and powerful play, typifying the desire of both ladies to work the ball around the court then come into the net to clinically finish off the rally.
This was amply demonstrated in the tiebreak, in which a glorious half-volley from the Croat pushed her 6-5 ahead. It was, however, Barty who was more stoic on the big points, benefitting from two rather loose rallies from her rival to secure the set.
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Having displayed her mental fortitude by remaining competitive to the death of the opener, Martic began the second set with a strong hold, sending a message to her opponent that her resolve was anything but broken.
Indeed, while Barty produced an error-strewn second set – she made 13 unforced mistakes compared to her opponent’s four - the Wuhan debutante was rock steady. After breaking the world’s top-ranked player in the fourth game, she went on to secure the set in an unflustered manner, dropping only five points on serve.
When she broke Barty in the opening game of the decider, the momentum was firmly in the underdog’s favor, yet having pushed herself to the brink of a first win over a current World No.1, she had to fight to control her nerves and was immediately broken back, despite having led 30-0.
"I knew the quality that was coming off of Petra's racquet. It was an incredible match. I think this is why we play the sport. We love the competition," Barty continued.
"I think two players, when the level is like that, I mean, it kind of is disappointing that there has to be a winner and there has to be a loser. I think both of us deserved to win that match and we both played exceptional tennis at times.
"I know she's an exceptional athlete, that's for sure. She's one of the best movers on the tour. She fights and scraps for every single point, makes you work very hard for every point that you earn. That doesn't surprise me just with the caliber of athlete that Petra is."
The 2017 Wuhan finalist started to ask more regular questions of her opponent thereafter. It was in the eighth game that Barty made her decisive play, despite squandering one break point after a magnificent lob was somehow returned by Martic. It was ironic, then, that have shown such excellent resolve throughout, the Croat would see the vital break lost via a double fault.
Barty successfully served the match out, sealing the deal with an ace to set up a second straight Wuhan semifinal date with defending champion Aryna Sabalenka, who ended the run of wildcard Elena Rybakina in three sets.
"I think last year in that match, I was a little bit battered and bruised. I had to try to manufacture some different tennis. I was completely outclassed in that game. I didn't really have the capacity to be able to match it with Aryna. She was on an exceptional run through that period of the year," Barty recalled of last year's semifinal, won by the Belrusian in straight sets.
"I think in Brisbane this year, playing in Fed Cup, obviously it's different conditions, completely different circumstances, so it's probably hard to take much from either match. I look forward to the challenge.
"She's one of the best players on the tour. Obviously has played very well here in the past. I think it would be a ripper of a match."