No.1 seed Ashleigh Barty booked a place in her fourth consecutive Australian Open quarterfinal with a 6-4, 6-3 defeat of Amanda Anisimova in 74 minutes. She will meet No.21 seed Jessica Pegula, who reached the last eight in Melbourne for the second straight season after defeating No.5 seed Maria Sakkari of Greece 7-6(0), 6-3.
Barty's only previous meeting with Anisimova had been a 6-7(4), 6-3, 6-3 rollercoaster in the 2019 Roland Garros semifinals, in which she had lost the first set from 5-0 up but come from 3-0 down to take the second and thence the victory. There were no similar fluctuations in the rematch, although the No.60-ranked American did manage to end Barty's streak of 63 consecutive service holds with a break at the start of the second set.
Barty's quest to become the first home women's champion at the Australian Open since Chris O'Neil in 1978 remains alive. In her previous second-week showings, she lost in the 2019 quarterfinals to Petra Kvitova, the 2020 semifinals to Sofia Kenin and the 2021 quarterfinals to Karolina Muchova.
🇦🇺 Brilliant Barty 🇦🇺@ashbarty knocks out Amanda Anisimova 6-4 6-3 to advance to her fourth consecutive #AusOpen quarterfinal ✨— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) January 23, 2022
🎥: @wwos • @espn • @Eurosport • @wowowtennis #AO2022 pic.twitter.com/UB7HmjzJA7
Match management: Barty's progress was not all smooth sailing. At times, she was outhit by bold drive volleys and down-the-line winners from Anisimova; at others, she gave her younger opponent openings with a smattering of double faults (three, two of which came consecutively) and unforced errors (17, outweighed by 23 winners).
However, Barty's reign as World No.1 has been characterised by supreme scoreboard management, among her many other talents. She found solid one-two punches to wriggle out of her tightest service games in the first set, and a couple of moments of magic with delightfully angled backhand slice winners to break Anisimova for the first time. Indeed, her crafty variation on the slice paid dividends throughout, repeatedly tangling Anisimova up tactically and technically.
Barty also raised her level to accelerate toward the finishing line of both sets. The first three of her seven total aces came in her final two service games of the first. And in the second, Anisimova held two game points to hold for a 4-3 lead, only for Barty to reel off 12 of the next 14 points to take the win.
By contrast, Anisimova will rue two missed returns on Barty second serves both times she held break point in the first set. Even when the 20-year-old captured a rare break for 2-0 in the second with a series of superb forehands, she was unable to take advantage. Three backhand errors in the next game gifted the break back, and Barty resumed control from there.
Barty on dropping serve for the first time in eight matches: "It didn't bother me too much," she said. "Honestly, I'm not counting how many games I hold in a row or not. The fact I was able to reset, break straight back, was really important, just to be able to reset myself, go again and continue to do the right things.
"In that game Amanda saw a few second serves that she was able to punish, and she also had some really good returns off first serves. You tip your hat and you say, Too good, to your opponent when they come up with returns from the baseline, and move on pretty quickly and continue to try and do the right things."
Barty on quarterfinal opponent Pegula: "She's able to hold the baseline really well. Her swings are quite linear and she gets a racquet behind the ball and swings through the path. The ball comes at you at a different trajectory, and her ability to absorb pace and then add to it when she wants to is exceptional. It's going to be a challenge for me to try and push her off that baseline and make her uncomfortable and feel like she has to create.
"But I know that she's also going to be doing the exact same thing to me and trying to make me uncomfortable. That's the chess game that we play. You go out there and have fun with it, see who can execute better on the day, and that's about all there is to it."
Pegula upsets Sakkari to make second Grand Slam quarterfinal
Barty will next face another American player she previously defeated en route to her 2019 Roland Garros title. In Paris, she took out Pegula 6-3, 6-3 in the first round.
Pegula made a surprise run to her first Grand Slam quarterfinal in Melbourne last year as an unseeded player ranked No.61. Having since cracked the Top 20, she matched her 2021 result with a 1-hour, 35-minute victory over eighth-ranked Sakkari.
Words from the winner: "It was a little hot out there today, so I didn't really want to kind of play a lot of long points," Pegula said after her win. "I thought I really had to step up and be aggressive when I had the chances to. Luckily I was able to capitalize on that pretty well today and play a pretty clean match, I think.
"I know that she's always going to fight and compete well. I wasn't really thinking about that [Miami] match. Obviously I know that I need to step up and take my chances. She did start to play better at the end. She started serving better. In that last game she made me earn it, which is what I thought would happen."
Fast facts: Pegula had never beaten a Top 10 player until she upset Elina Svitolina to win her fourth-round match in Melbourne last year. By the end of 2021, she had racked up seven Top 10 wins.
Pegula earned her eighth career Top 10 win on Sunday, denying Sakkari a chance to become the first Greek woman to reach the Australian Open quarterfinals. Sakkari was also seeking her third Grand Slam quarterfinal appearance in the last four major events.
Pegula's grueling three-set first-round win over Anhelina Kalinina of Ukraine took 2 hours and 52 minutes, the second-longest match of the tournament. Since then, the American has not dropped a set.
Perfection from Pegula 👍— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) January 23, 2022
🇺🇸 @JLPegula is back in the #AusOpen quarterfinals with a 7-6(0) 6-3 upset over No.5 seed Maria Sakkari.#AusOpen • #AO2022
🎥: @wwos • @espn • @eurosport • @wowowtennis pic.twitter.com/ErrDOCI4k9
Tale of the match: Both players won roughly three-quarters of points behind their first service, but the difference proved to be second-serve effectiveness. Pegula won 64 percent of points behind her second delivery, while Sakkari could only prevail in 34 percent of her second-service points.
After twice falling behind a break in the opener, Sakkari fended off a set point on her serve at 5-3, eventually holding onto that game with an ace. The Greek then leveled the match with a break for 5-5 and gritted out a hold for 6-5, putting the pressure firmly back on Pegula's shoulders.
But after slamming an ace to queue up the tiebreak, Pegula took complete charge with a powerful display to reach 6-0 in the breaker and garner six more set points. Pegula needed only one, as she fired her fourth ace of the set to complete the tiebreak sweep.
In the second set, Pegula needed to save two break points to hold for 2-1, but the American surged from there, hitting an error-forcing forehand to break for a 3-1 lead. That was the only service break of the set as Pegula methodically moved to the win, ending the clash with another powerful forehand.