As an unprecedented week of three WTA 500 events comes to a conclusion Sunday at Melbourne Park, two choice finals and a pair of semifinals that constitute a virtual final will be on tap.
In the Yarra Valley Classic, it’s hometown favorite and world No. 1 Ashleigh Barty opposite two-time Grand Slam winner Garbine Muguruza.
The Gippsland Trophy championship pits Elise Mertens against the streaking Kai Kanepi.
Top seed Maria Sakkari headlines the Grampians semifinals, where because of the delayed schedule and Monday’s first matches at the Australian Open, the final will not be played. Both winners will receive finals points and prize money.
Here’s what to watch:
- Saturday's action: Schedule of play
- Scores: Yarra Valley Classic | Gippsland Trophy | Grampians Trophy
Yarra Valley Classic
No. 1 Ashleigh Barty vs. No. 6 Garbine Muguruza
No one is playing better tennis on this island continent than Muguruza.
After taking down No. 8 Marketa Vondrousova 6-1, 6-0, the Spaniard has lost a total of 10 games in four matches. She’s playing with the sheer tenacity that won her the French Open in 2016 and Wimbledon a year later.
The irresistible force that is Muguruza collides with the immovable object that is Barty.
Barty went 11 months without playing a WTA event, and now after going 3-0 and receiving a walkover from Serena Williams in the semis, she’s where she expected to be.
“It’s nice to get into a routine,” Barty told reporters after defeating Shelby Rogers in the quarterfinals. “I think the rust is always there for I think everyone the first few matches of the season. But without a doubt, I felt better and better each match. 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.”
Barty is 8-5 in WTA finals, while No. 15 Muguruza is 7-5.
Muguruza has already taken out No. 2 seed Sofia Kenin in a rematch of the 2020 Australian Open final that saw Muguruza fall to the American.
Head-to-head, Barty, 2-1: Most recently, Barty won a three-set match in 2020 Doha quarterfinals.
No. 7 Elise Mertens vs. Kaia Kanepi
In her first-round match against Astra Sharma, Kanepi was two points from defeat. Sharma led 6-1, 2-0 and eventually served for the match at 5-4 in the second. Somehow, Kanepi escaped.
Kanepi ended Aryna Sabalenka’s 15-match winning streak in the second round and followed up with a victory over Daria Kasatkina, then received a walkover into the semifinals when No. 8 Karolina Muchova pulled out with a reported left abdominal injury.
The 35-year-old Estonian prevailed over No. 9 Ekaterina Alexandrova 6-3, 7-6 (6), converting all three of her break-point opportunities to reach the final.
“I think it was really tight match,” Kanepi said later. “I think she served really good today. Or I didn’t return it good enough, I don’t know which one.”
She was laughing when she said it, and with good reason.
Kanepi, ranked No. 94, advanced to her first final in eight years; back in 2013, she defeated Peng Shuai for the Brussels title. She has won 14 straight matches, including ITF events in Turkey and Spain.
No. 20 Mertens received a walkover when No. 2 seed Naomi Osaka withdrew before their Saturday semifinal match.
Ironically, it’s the 25-year-old Belgian’s first semifinal since she lost to Osaka in last fall’s Western & Southern Open in New York. Mertens went on to reach the quarterfinals of the US Open, losing to Victoria Azarenka.
Previously, Mertens defeated No. 3 Elina Svitolina 6-3, 5-7, (10-6) in the quarterfinals.
Head-to-head, 1-1: Kanepi won in Charleston in 2019, while Mertens took last year’s second-round match at Roland Garros 6-4, 7-5.
No. 1 Maria Sakkari vs. No. 6 Anett
The ascendant Sakkari finds herself in the semifinals for a third straight tournament.
Down 4-1 to Angelique Kerber in the first set, Sakkari rallied to win nine straight games and went on to a 6-4, 6-2 win over the three-time Grand Slam champion.
“If you only practice, you’re so stressed,” Sakkari said afterward, pointing to the value of a warmup event heading into a Grand Slam. “I’m not thinking about next week.”
It was her first win against Kerber in three attempts.
No. 22-ranked Sakkari was elevated to the top seed slot when Bianca Andreescu withdrew. 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. She ended last year with a run to the semifinals in Ostrava.
Sakkari rolled 18-year-old Leylah Fernandez – like Kerber, another left-handed player – 6-2, 6-2 in her first match. The Greek athlete is now 11-6 in career quarterfinals.
No. 23 Kontaveit was granted a walkover into the semifinals when No. 3 Victoria Azarenka withdrew. The two-time Australian Open champion took down Yulia Putinseva 6-4, 1-6, (11-9) to reach the quarterfinals, but citing a lower back injury opted out.
The 25-year-old Estonian, won her previous match against Bethanie Mattek-Sands 7-5, 7-5.
Head-to-head, 4-3: Sakkari most recently won a round-of-32 match in Rome two years ago; all matches were decided in two sets.
No. 7 Jennifer Brady vs. Ann Li
It’s an All-American semifinal, after Brady, currently ranked a career-high of No. 24, muscled past Barbora Krejcikova 7-6 (5), 6-4.
“I wasn’t really focused on the score,” Brady said of the critical tiebreaker. “I was kind of just taking it point by point.”
Brady, 25, advanced to the semifinals at last fall’s US Open, losing to eventual champion Naomi Osaka. She has yet to drop a set at Melbourne Park.
Li, meanwhile, took down Sorana Cirstea 6-3, 6-1 in a tidy 62 minutes.
This is heady stuff for Li, 20, ranked No. 99. She had won seven of eight matches on the ITF circuit coming in, but now she’s into her first WTA semifinal.
Last year, she reached the third round of the US Open, losing to Kerber.
Head-to-head: First meeting