No.1 seed Ashleigh Barty shook off the rust and found her form to defeat Coco Gauff 4-6, 7-5, 6-1 in 2 hours and 12 minutes to reach the Adelaide International quarterfinals.
The Australian was playing her first match in four months, having not competed since losing to Shelby Rogers in the third round of the US Open. She trailed Gauff 6-4, 4-2 and was a point away from a 5-2 double-break deficit in the second set, but located her forehand in the nick of time to reel off 11 of the last 13 games.
Gauff had taken their only previous meeting, in last year's Rome quarterfinals, via retirement after Barty withdrew due to a right arm injury despite leading 6-4, 2-1.
Barty, the 2020 champion in Adelaide, will continue her quest for a third home-soil trophy against either No.6 seed Sofia Kenin or compatriot Ajla Tomljanovic in the quarterfinals.
Turning point: For a set-and-a-half, Barty's usually reliable weapons misfired against an opponent committed to a solid game plan.
The World No.1's forehand leaked error after error on routine shots, while Gauff's strategy of swarming the net at every opportunity paid off handsomely. Not only was the No.22-ranked teenager able to showcase her supreme hand skills, but she effectively prevented Barty from finding any sort of rhythm.
Barty resorted to all manner of variety to hold Gauff at bay, which paid off in some intermittent moments of magic - a sliced lob, a clean sliced backhand winner - and some tremendous cat-and-mouse exchanges in the first set. But Gauff was not to be disrupted, and stood five points from her first completed win over a World No.1 in the second set.
Serving down 2-4, Barty held from break point down with a forehand one-two punch and a brace of service winners. From there on, she began playing with the fluidity and consistency that has enabled her to be ranked at No.1 for 109 weeks. Dominating with the forehand and stemming the flow of errors, Barty turned the match on its head and never looked back.
In Barty's words: "[In the first set] I was able to create opportunities but just was a little bit slack on the execution, rusty in the sense of stringing quality points together," she said after the match. "I felt like I would play two or three good ones and then give away two or three cheapies quite quickly, which comes with match practice.
"Midway through the second set I was able to find my rhythm a little bit better on serve and just continued to be aggressive on my forehand. I just found execution a little bit more. Serving getting a little bit better, getting a few more cheapies, allowed me to play with a little bit more freedom towards the end of the second set and the start of the third.
"I think it was all in all a good progression. Work to do, without a doubt, but very happy with the level that we started the year with."