MELBOURNE, Australia -- World No.1 Ashleigh Barty ousted one of her top regular rivals on Tuesday to reach the Australian Open semifinals for the first time, as the homeland heroine knocked out last year's runner-up and No.7 seed Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic, 7-6(6), 6-2.
"I love testing myself against Petra," Barty said in her post-match press conference. "She has this way of bringing out the very best in me. She came at me with all guns blazing. That first set could have gone either way. It was really important to try and get my nose ahead when I could. It was nice to save a set point and get a roll on early in the second set with a couple of quick breaks."
Reigning Roland Garros champion Barty is now the first Australian woman to make the singles semifinals at the Australian Open since Wendy Turnbull in 1984, 36 years ago. Turnbull is also the most recent Australian finalist at the event, having reached the championship match 40 years ago in 1980.
"I'm here to try and do the best that I can," Barty stated. "Obviously it's exciting. Hopefully I can bring a smile to a few faces around our country and around the world. For me, it's trying to do the best that I can, find that enjoyment for myself and my team."
Kvitova beat Barty in the same round last year en route to the final, which was her fourth win in four meetings against the Australian. However, since that match, Barty had notched three straight wins against the two-time Wimbledon champion, and with Tuesday’s one-hour and 44-minute victory, Barty now has a level 4-4 head-to-head record against Kvitova.
"You never have Petra until the last point is played," said Barty. "She's an unbelievable competitor. She keeps coming, coming, coming time and again. You have to be prepared to play every single point. You have to be there every single point. There's no other way to approach it."
23-year-old Barty picked up her 150th career main-draw match-win, and 100th career win on hardcourt, by winning nearly three-quarters of her first-service points on the way to ousting Kvitova. Barty converted four of her eight break points in the clash, including going 3-for-5 in the second set. By contrast, Kvitova held 12 break points in the tilt, but could only convert two.
After winning the first three points of the match, Barty started to struggle on serve, eventually being forced to evade a break point in the first game before dropping serve at love, courtesy of a scorching backhand return winner by Kvitova. But any momentum the Czech may have attained was quickly quelled when she dropped serve at love in the next game.
Now back level, the players each held multiple break points for the remainder of the set, but both were able to power their way out of any further trouble. An example of this grit came at 3-3, when Barty summoned all of her steeliness and guile to stave off five break points en route to a crucial, 10-minute-long service hold.
In total, Kvitova saved two of the three break points she faced in the first set, while Barty was even more successful, batting back eight of the Czech’s nine break points she held in the opening frame, including two at 5-5 which helped queue up a decisive tiebreak.
In the breaker, Kvitova used her power to force an error from the Australian and take an early 3-1 lead, but Barty exhibited incredible defense to grind out a 22-shot point for parity at 3-3.
"I said to my team actually, 'I want to watch that point [for 3-3],'" said Barty. "I felt like I was run ragged around everywhere, just trying to throw the ball up to give myself some time. I just remember trying to stay alive in the point because I knew it was a big one. A big difference swapping ends at 2-4 than there is at 3-All, just in a sense of trying to keep yourself in touch."
Kvitova ended up being the first to serve her way to set point at 6-5, but two long groundstroke errors by the Czech followed, giving Barty her own set point at 7-6. There, a Barty forehand caused a long error by the Czech, and the top seed had squeaked out a pivotal opener.
After the tight first set went her way, Barty kicked off a run of games to open the second. An initial break at 1-0 was bolstered by a second break at 3-0, which she claimed by ending a rally with a winning lob. Kvitova, meanwhile, could not find any entries into Barty’s service games, and the Australian built a 4-0 lead.
The Czech eventually clawed one break back with big hitting for 4-2, but she handed it back right away, double faulting down break point in the next game and ceding a 5-2 lead to the top seed and home favorite.
Kvitova blasted her way to two break points in the next game, but Barty pulled out her most powerful play when she needed it, erasing those with an ace and a forehand winner square on the baseline respectively. Two points later, Barty closed out the match with an ace, as she continues to blaze her trail deep into her home Grand Slam event.
Barty will face first-time Grand Slam semifinalist Sofia Kenin, the No.14 seed, in the final four. 21-year-old American Kenin extended her best-ever major showing with a straight-set win over fellow first-time Grand Slam quarterfinalist Ons Jabeur earlier on Tuesday. Barty leads her head-to-head record against Kenin 4-1.
"[Kenin is] an exceptional competitor as well," Barty stated. "Loves to put herself out there, test herself on the biggest stage. Have played her a number of times now, with some results going both ways. She has a great knack of controlling the court from the center of the court and being that first-strike player. It's going to be important for me to try and nullify that if I can."