World No.1 Ashleigh Barty will play for a title on home soil for a second straight season.
Hours after she and Serena Williams both were victorious in match tiebreaks in the quarterfinal round at the Yarra Valley Classic, the No.5 seeded American withdrew from Saturday's projected semifinal due to a right shoulder injury, affording Barty a spot in the championship match in her first event in nearly a full calendar year.
The Queenslander, victorious in Adelaide last January for her first title on Australian soil, will bid for a ninth career WTA singles title against either Garbiñe Muguruza or Marketa Vondrousova.
"I think the rust is always there for everyone the first few matches of the season. But without a doubt, I felt better and better each match," Barty told reporters after a 7-5, 2-6, [10-4] victory over American Shelby Rogers in the last eight.
"Each match has been very different, different challenges, different things I've had to overcome, which is the best thing, to be able to work through those and give myself another chance to play a little bit better the next day, focus on some new challenges for the next day."
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Barty has fallen to a player ranked outside the Top 50 only four times in the last two years, and though World No.60 Rogers used her powerful baseline game to push the Australian to the limit, it was Barty who was helped along by 10 aces to notch an 86-minute victory.
Under the closed roof on Margaret Court Arena, Barty failed to serve out the first set at 5-3 but recovered to claim a break of service in the final game of the opening frame.
After winning a protracted game to hold for 2-2, Rogers went on a run, using thunderous returns to reel off five straight games and claim the second set. But Barty regrouped again, mixing powerful serves and forehands with devilish dropshots to ease through the match-tiebreak for the win.
The Aussie moves 🔛@ashbarty outlasts Rogers, 7-5, 2-6, [10-4].#YarraValleyWTA pic.twitter.com/map4eUI0fI— wta (@WTA) February 5, 2021
"Shelby always has the ability to hit you off the court, so it was about me trying to neutralize as best I can," Barty assessed. "Getting a good start in the third set tiebreaker was crucial in the end."
Williams had beaten compatriot Danielle Collins, herself a former Australian Open semifinalist, 6-2, 4-6, [10-6] before wtihdrawing.
One year later, Muguruza rolls past Kenin
On the other side of the draw Friday, Garbiñe Muguruza exacted a bit of revenge Down Under.
In a rematch of last year’s Australian Open final, the No.6 seed from Spain dispatched No.2 seed Sofia Kenin of the United States, 6-2, 6-2, to claim her spot in the Yarra Valley Classic semifinals on Friday.
Kenin staged a three-set comeback in the championship match of last year’s first major to claim her maiden Grand Slam title, but Muguruza refused to let history repeat as the former World No.1 charged through the tilt in an hour and 15 minutes.
"I knew it was going to be a very tough game from the baseline, because I remember very clearly the last match," Muguruza told reporters after the victory. "I was looking for it, I was more prepared to for the biggest battle, you know?
"I think I played better, I think I used my shots smarter and took my chances and I think I did well early, so I got the advantage of the score and then I kept playing well and dominating the match."
Locked in 🔒@GarbiMuguruza defeats Kenin in straight sets, 6-2, 6-2.#YarraValleyWTA pic.twitter.com/FQjAi71Tne— wta (@WTA) February 5, 2021
Two-time Grand Slam champion Muguruza thus continues her comprehensive run through the Yarra Valley Classic draw, where she has dropped only nine games total in her first three matches.
Muguruza won 12 points in a row to open up a 4-2 lead in the first set, then saved a break point at 5-2 before holding to claim the opener.
The Spaniard slammed 15 winners to just four unforced errors in the first set, and converted both of the break points she held.
Kenin at last clinched her first service break to reach 2-2 in the second set, but Muguruza was undaunted and picked off four consecutive games from there to attain the victory and reach the semifinals, where she will face No.8 seed Marketa Vondrousova.
The Czech defeated No.14 seed Nadia Podoroska in a match tiebreak, 4-6, 6-3, [10-4], to reach her first semifinal since last year's Internazionali BNL d'Italia in Rome