DOHA, Qatar - World No.1 Ashleigh Barty locked up the Qatar Total Open semifinal line-up, surviving a second set hiccup to defeat two-time Grand Slam champion Garbiñe Muguruza, 6-1, 6-7(4), 6-2.
"I felt like I started exceptionally well and I was able to get the ball kind of in my areas a lot more," Barty summarized in post-match press. "Then in the second set Garbiñe was able to shift her court position and take a few more risks, put me on the back foot. It was frustrating, I felt like I wasn't doing a lot wrong but I wasn't making the most of my opportunities and wasn't getting opportunities.
"So I think really happy to be able to start the third set well, I think particularly that first service game was going to be important in the third."
Barty was playing her first tournament since reaching the semifinals of her home major tournament in Melbourne, and held firm against her Spanish rival to book a clash with two-time Wimbledon winner Petra Kvitova after one hour and 51 minutes on Centre Court.
Barty and Muguruza split their previous two meetings, both of which went three sets in the summer of 2017; since then, both women have ascended to World No.1, but until recently it was Barty who had far and away become the more dominant player as Muguruza endured a protracted dip in results.
Back on the upswing, the Spaniard has enjoyed a perfect slate of quarterfinal appearances in her five tournaments in 2020, finishing runner-up at the Australian Open, her first major final since winning Wimbledon in 2017.
Where Barty received a walkover into the last eight from an injured Elena Rybakina - who pulled out of Doha after reaching back-to-back Premier finals in St. Petersburg and Dubai, and winning a tour-leading 21st match of the season over Alison Van Uytvanck - Muguruza battled past Ukrainian teenager Dayana Yastremska on Wednesday evening.
"It hasn't happened to me in a long time," Barty said of the walkover. "I think it's seldom that you do get walkovers kind of mid tournament without even walking on the court but it was my understanding that Rybakina had to look after her body, obviously she's had a very big start to the year and, yeah, it was unfortunate not to be able to play that match against her, but overall I felt like I was pretty happy to come out and play and be as sharp as I was, considering these conditions to me are still a little bit unfamiliar. But now we have another opportunity tomorrow to test it again."
Yet, it was the 26-year-old No.11 seed who began the rustier of the two. Barty ran through the opening set without facing a break point, dropping just one game as a third semifinal of the season looked well and truly in sight.
Muguruza, who reunited with former coach Conchita Martinez at the end of last year, found better consistency in the second set, breaking first and twice getting within two points of a deciding set. Both times, the Aussie held firm and forced a tie-break.
From there, the former World No.1 took control against the top seed, taking a swift 5-0 lead and shook off a late surge to level the match on her second set point.
Barty fended off a break point in the first game of the final set, and emerged from a trio of successive service breaks to take a 5-2 lead. Reversing a 40-15 deficit in the last game, she earned a match point after forcing a Muguruza backhand into the net, and showed off solid defense as one last forehand went wide from the Spaniard.
Up next for the top seed is Kvitova, whom she's beaten in their last four meetings - most recently in Melbourne, where Barty avenged a 2019 Australian Open quarterfinal defeat to win in straight sets.
"I love playing Petra, I really do. I feel like she has this way of bringing out the best in me, and no matter the result both of us have a smile on our face and that's what I love about the contest with Petra is we respect each other, we play well and we just fight and we just see whoever's better on the day will get the win and I'm expecting tomorrow to be no different."