For the third year in a row, World No.1 Ashleigh Barty has reached the quarterfinals of her home Grand Slam. Closing Monday's fourth-round action, Barty defeated the unseeded Shelby Rogers 6-3, 6-4 in one hour and 11 minutes.
Two weeks ago, Barty needed a match tiebreak to get past Rogers 7-5, 2-6 [10-4] in the quarterfinals of the Yarra Valley Classic. It was less dramatic Monday in Melbourne. Barty started off quickly in both sets and quelled Rogers' resistance to close each out.
Dominating with her first serve, winning 76% of the points, Barty also defused Rogers' power by turning defence into offence on several key points to race into a 4-1 lead in the first set and 5-1 in the second. The 24-year-old then demonstrated her sharpness on key points by fending off two break-back points in the seventh game of the opener.
In the second, Barty squandered her first two match points at 5-2 with a double fault and errant forehand, but cushioned by a double break made no mistake serving for the win a second time, raining down unreturnable serves for a love hold.
"I knew it was going to be vital to serve well tonight," Barty afterward. "That was something I really wanted to try and focus on, just to try and give myself a chance to be in control of more points. There were a couple of runs of points [and] games in our match last week that Shelby was able to get on a roll and run away with it a little bit. I wanted to try and avoid that and just bring it back on my terms as much as I could, and try and be the aggressor when I could."
In a bid for a second straight Australian Open semifinal, Barty next faces No.25 seed Karolina Muchova, who ended Gippsland Trophy champion Elise Mertens' seven-match winning streak 7-6(5), 7-5 in 1 hour and 56 minutes.
The Czech, who was a quarterfinalist at Wimbledon in 2019, fell behind 0-4 in an error-strewn opening set but steadily inched her way back as her all-court tennis began to click. Muchova would approach the net 21 times in total, winning 13 of those points, and at the end of the second set captured the crucial break at 5-5 with a pair of flashy forehand winners.
Muchova is now on a personal-best winning streak. The 24-year-old withdrew before her Abu Dhabi second round against Daria Kasatkina because of illness, and ahead of her Gippsland Trophy against Kaia Kanepi with an abdominal injury. She is unbeaten in seven matches this year.
The quarterfinal between Barty and Muchova will be a flashback for both players to a key breakthrough tournament. The pair's only previous meeting came in the third round of the 2018 US Open. Muchova, making her Grand Slam debut, was coming off an eye-catching upset of Garbiñe Muguruza in the previous round, but Barty would defeat her 6-3, 6-4 to make the second week of a major for the first time.
Two years on, Barty recalls that match well.
"I remember that match in New York," she said. "I remember coming off the court and saying to Tyz [Craig Tyzzer], Karolina, she can play, she's a hell of a player. At that time she was I think outside 200 in the world. I hadn't had much to do with her beforehand. Certainly that match in New York, it was a great match, a brilliant match. I remember we moved courts, we were playing at all hours of the night. One of those funny experiences where you look back on it now and just realize how special it was.
"I know that now we get another opportunity to do it in a quarterfinal of a Grand Slam. It will be a brilliant match. I know she's got the ability to maneuver the ball all around the court, play with variety, play with shape. I'm looking forward to it."