Australian Open: What you need to know

ICYMI: Best of Day 9


After 11 months away from the business of playing tennis matches, Ashleigh Barty was among those who wondered what her game would look like.

Monday at Melbourne Park, with a spectacular string of eight straight 2021 match wins behind her, she had a pretty good idea. After defeating Shelby Rogers to reach the quarterfinals of the Australian Open, she acknowledged in an on-court interview that it was a dream result.

A little later, in the presence of reporters, Barty quickly made it clear she had greater aspirations.

2021 Australian Open Highlights Day 6: Barty bests Alexandrova

“Oh, we’re not done yet,” she said. “Obviously it’s exciting to be in another quarterfinal of a Grand Slam, particularly here in Australia. If we had looked at the way we were preparing during our preseason to have the start that we have had so far is really encouraging. But certainly not satisfied with where we’re at.”

In her 63rd week as the world’s No. 1-ranked player, Barty has behaved as you might expect. For while there has been all kinds of excitement going on in the bottom half of the draw – there were five Grand Slam champions competing in the fourth round alone – Barty has distanced herself from her top-half rivals. She’s the only top-15 player left on that side and has won WTA nine titles, compared to one each for the other three.

“I think I have learnt a lot about myself over the past 12 months,” Barty said. “The world is in a bit of a different place to what it’s ever been before. So I think I’m just extremely grateful that I’ve got another opportunity to do something that I love out on one of the most beautiful courts in the world, on the biggest stage for us as Aussies playing tennis, which is really cool.”

No. 1 Ashleigh Barty vs. No. 25 Karolina Muchova

This battle of 24-year-olds has a single precedent: the 2018 US Open, when Barty took a 6-3, 6-4 third-round decision.

“I remember that they moved us from a nice court to some small court,” Muchova said, smiling. “Yeah, she was great. That time I was qualifier, I think, and I had many matches in my legs, so I was a bit tired.

“I remember that after match she actually told me, like, to keep working, that I can make it to the top.”

Well, here they are, not far from the summit.

Head to Head

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“Certainly that match in New York, it was a great match, a brilliant match,” Barty added. “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.”

This is the second Grand Slam singles quarterfinal for Muchova, who ended the third-round match against fellow Czech Republic player Karolina Pliskova, the No. 6 seed, by winning seven straight games. She’s averaged nearly 24 winners in each match after handling No. 18 seed Elise Mertens in the fourth round, 7-6 (5), 7-5.

The two players have similarly diverse games.

“I play like that since I started to play tennis,” Muchova said. “I like to play some slices, go in the net. It’s like kind of an instinct I have on the court. Yeah, and I enjoy that game.”

Commitment is what you do to achieve success when nobody’s watching. Clearly, Barty has been working hard in her time away from tennis.

“It’s all part of my life, my story, I suppose,” she said. “The break itself is not a problem for me. It’s not a concern. It’s just knowing that I put the trust in the work that we’ve done, more than surprising myself. I think I’ve known that I've done the work. I have the ability to play at this level and then it’s just about going about all of our processes, our routines the right way. All of those came back quite naturally.”

No. 22 Jennifer Brady vs. Jessica Pegula

In the public eye, Brady comes across as soft-spoken, sometimes even shy. On social media, however, she can be hilariously feisty and combative.

Usually, players sign their name on the lens of the on-court camera after a victory, but Brady had a message after defeating Donna Vekic 6-1, 7-5:

“Bring it Jess,” she wrote.

It was a challenge to her friend Jessica Pegula, who had left her a message after upsetting No. 5 seed Elina Svitolina: “Let’s go Jen Brady.”

Photo by Getty Images

And so, we have an All-American quarterfinal with some subtle social subtexts.

“Yeah, I categorize myself as a troll on the Internet, definitely,” Brady told reporters later. “I like to give people [grief], excuse my language, but, yeah, I am always down for a laugh to have a good time and hopefully I won’t bore you anymore.”

Brady remains the only player subjected to 14-day, in-room quarantine still left in the singles draw.

“A lot of people were complaining and I told myself I wasn’t going to complain,” she said. “I mean, there’s way worse things going on in the world than me being stuck in a hotel room for 14 days. We weren’t the only ones doing hard lockdown. Every Australian that comes home has to do the hard lockdown.[I was] just trying to stay as positive as possible.”

Brady has already been to a Grand Slam semifinal, last year’s US Open, where she lost to eventual champion Naomi Osaka. This is uncharted territory for Pegula. In beating Svitolina, she checked off two career boxes: 1) reaching her first Grand Slam quarterfinal and 2) beating her first top-10 player.

Pegula is unseeded at No. 61 in the world, but she’s won the only meeting between these players, at last year’s Western & Southern Open before the US Open, 7-6 (5), 6-4. The lightning-quick courts at Melbourne Park suit her game.

“Yeah, I can’t get more confident,” Pegula said. “It is my best result yet and I’m playing good tennis and today was a hard fought win, so, yeah, feeling pretty good.

“Jen is an awesome person. She was texting me, I’m so happy, I’m so proud. We’ve all been pushing each other. Why not push each other into a quarterfinal, then one of us be in the semis?”

Brady was similarly stoked.

“I’m super excited for her making her first Grand Slam quarterfinal,” Brady said. “I know the emotions that she’s feeling. You feel like you’re on cloud nine, definitely. She’s playing great tennis. Yeah, I’m really looking forward to it. It will be a lot of fun. I think everyone back home in America will be watching.”