After a day away from the courts, the world’s best convened and created some terrific matchups at the Yarra Valley Classic and Gippsland Trophy WTA 500 events.
Three-time Grand Slam titlist Naomi Osaka and two-time major champion Garbine Muguruza will be the headliners in action on semifinal Saturday.
With the Australian Open only two days away, matches for the second straight day will be a best-of-two regular tiebreak sets with a 10-point match tiebreak if a third set is required. No fewer than six of the 16 WTA matches played Friday went that distance.
The Grampians Trophy quarterfinals are also set, featuring three-time Grand Slam champion Angelique Kerber and two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka.
Here’s what to watch:
- Saturday's action: Schedule of play
- Scores: Yarra Valley Classic | Gippsland Trophy | Grampians Trophy
Yarra Valley Classic
No. 6 Garbine Muguruza vs. No. 8 Marketa Vondrousova
Flipping the script from last year’s Australian Open final, Muguruza took out No. 2 Sofia Kenin 6-2, 6-2 on Friday.
Clearly, that three-set championship a year ago was on the mind of the 27-year-old Spaniard as she dealt 10 aces; Kenin had none. Muguruza has been the most efficient player so far at Melbourne Park, dropping only nine games in six successful sets.
“It’s always better that you’ve played well,” Muguruza said in response to an on-court question about her success in Australia. “It gives you happiness, energy and hope. This is the Happy Slam.”
Vondrousova was happy to get by No. 14 Nadia Podoroska after dropping the first set, 4-6, 6-3, (10-4). After losing her first-round match in Abu Dhabi, the 21-year-old Czech has now strung together three wins in a row.
No. 1 Ashleigh Barty advances to final via walkover
After defeating Danielle Collins 6-2, 4-6, (10-6), Serena Williams announced she was withdrawing with a right shoulder injury.
The 39-year-old Williams also withdrew from her last tournament played, the French Open, with an Achilles injury.
Earlier Friday, Barty vaulted past Shelby Rogers 7-5, 6-2, 10-4.
Barty, the world No.1, reached the semifinals in Doha 11 months ago – and didn’t play again until this week. Now she awaits the winner of Muguruza-Vondrousova.
In the match tiebreak, Barty’s elegant backhand slice was lethal.
“It was a tricky one,” the 24-year-old Australian said of the match, her second consecutive that went the distance. “Every day is different. Regardless of the conditions, you have to respond to the challenge.
“Obviously, I thought I did well to hang in there at times. Happy to get through.”
No. 9 Ekaterina Alexandrova vs. Kaia Kanepi
The 26-year-old Russian is making the most of her Australian Open warm-up appearance. In fact, she’s blisteringly hot at the moment.
After taking out reigning French Open champion Iga Swiatek in the third round, Alexandrova beat another Roland Garros winner, No. 2 Simona Halep, 6-2, 6-2. It was over in only 60 minutes and Alexandrova outscored Halep by 20 points, 62-42.
Kanepi, at No. 94, was the lowest-ranked quarterfinalist and, at 35, the oldest player in this event. She continued her way through the draw when No. 8 Karolina Muchova granted her a walkover after reporting a left abdominal injury.
After ending Aryna Sabalenka’s 15-match winning streak in the second round, the Estonian moved past Daria Kasatkina 7-5, 6-1 to set up what would have been her first-ever meeting with Muchova.
Kanepi has won 13 straight matches, including ITF events in Turkey and Spain.
Head-to-head: Alexandrova leads 1-0, a third-set tiebreak win in the quarterfinals of Ilkley in 2018.
No. 2 Naomi Osaka vs. No. 7 Elise Mertens
The current US Open champion is riding an unbeaten streak of 14 matches after dispatching Irina-Camelia Begu 7-5, 6-1.
“I thought that it was kind of nice to have a day break, because I’m not really that used to playing back-to-back-to- back-to-back matches,” Osaka told reporters afterward. “Yeah, I literally just laid in my bed all day yesterday and then today just got ready for tonight.”
Mertens, meanwhile, outlasted No. 3 Elina Svitolina 6-3, 5-7, (10-6) in the last of eight quarterfinal matches in Margaret Court Arena.
“I thought it never was going to end,” Mertens, the 25-year-old Belgian, said in her on-court interview.
The match ran nearly two hours and it took a fifth match point to finally put away Svitolina.
This is a rematch of last fall’s Western & Southern Open semifinal in New York. Osaka defeated Mertens 6-2, 7-6 (5) in the US Open warmup. The two split previous matches in Wuhan (Osaka) and Osaka (Mertens).
In the third round, Mertens bested No. 12 Caroline Garcia 7-6 (1), 6-3.
Head-to-head: Osaka leads 2-1.
Here are Saturday’s four quarterfinal matchups:
No. 1 Maria Sakkari vs. No. 8 Angelique Kerber
Sakkari was elevated to the top seed when Bianca Andreescu opted out, and she’s playing like she deserves that berth.
Ranked No. 22, Sakkari drilled 18-year-old Leylah Fernandez 6-2, 6-2 to get here. She opened the season with four straight wins in Abu Dhabi, including victories over Kenin, Muguruza and Cori Gauff before losing to Sabalenka in semifinals.
Kerber, a three-time Grand Slam champion, beat Ons Jabeur 6-4, 6-4.
Head-to-head: Kerber leads 2-0 (2016 Hong Kong, 2018 Rome)
Sorana Cirstea vs. Ann Li
An unseeded quarterfinal contest.
The 32-year-old Romanian took out the No. 2 seed, Belinda Bencic 7-5, 6-2. The world No. 72 had an impressive 6-1, 6-1 first-round victory over Oksana Kalashnikova.
Li was a 7-5, 6-3 winner over Veronika Kudermetova. The 20-year-old American, ranked No. 99, had won seven of eight matches on the ITF circuit coming in.
No. 3 Victoria Azarenka vs. No. 6 Anett Kontaveit
Azarenka outlasted Yulia Putinseva 6-4, 1-6, (11-9). It was the two-time Australian Open champion’s first match since losing in final at Ostrava in October of 2020.
Kontaveit won her match against Bethanie Mattek-Sands 7-5, 7-5.
Head-to-head: Series tied 1-1 (Azarenka 2015 Wimbledon in 2015; Kontaveit 2019 Stuttgart)
No. 7 Jennifer Brady vs. Barbora Krejcikova
Brady defeated Marta Kostyuk 6-1, 6-4. The 25-year-old American, ranked No. 24, crashed through to the semifinals at last fall’s US Open, losing to eventual champion Osaka.
Krejcikova upset No. 4 Elena Rybakina 4-6, 6-2, (10-6).
The 25-year-old Czech is ranked No. 66 and reached the second round at Abu Dhabi earlier this year.