CINCINNATI, OH, USA - Top seed Ashleigh Barty is through to the quarterfinals at the Western & Southern Open for the first time, and she got there in dramatic fashion having to come back from a set down and fight back from the brink against Anett Kontaveit.
Barty, who fought past Maria Sharapova in her Cincy opener, had her hands full with the dangerous Kontaveit, whose game has caught fire during the US Open Series. Kontaveit also had an eye on revenge: earlier in the year, Barty took down Kontaveit in a routine straight sets win in the semifinals of Miami en route to her first Premier Mandatory title.
But down a set and just two points from defeat in the third, Barty battled all the way back to oust Kontaveit, 4-6, 7-5, 7-5. The Aussie struck 31 winners and nine aces, breaking Kontaveit six times to steal away the victory against the Estonian.
“I think it was a little bit scrappy at times today but proud of the way we were able to fight and hang in there right until the end,” Barty assessed in her post-match press conference.
“I think ultimately that was the most important part about today was to try to hang in there as best that I can, fight right until the end and try and make a match of it."
Barty was under pressure from the start, with the big-hitting Kontaveit powering to an early break for a 2-1 lead. The Aussie did well to break straight back and stay toe-to-toe with her opponent, but she couldn’t put Kontaveit away as the Estonian earned a second break at 5-4 before serving out the set.
There wasn’t much to separate them in the rollercoaster second set. Kontaveit led by a break twice - at 1-0 and again at 4-3 - but each time Barty broke straight back to keep herself in the contest. With Kontaveit eager to close out the victory, Barty raised her level and finally claimed the decisive break late in the set, 7-5, to send them into a decider.
Despite seeing her second-set leads slip away from her, Kontaveit came out swinging in the third. After a tense opening six games, all of which went to the server, Kontaveit finally struck first to claim a 4-3 lead.
She was two points away from victory when, a few games later, she served for the match with a 5-4 lead. But the French Open champion didn’t allow her even a look at match point, fighting her way to deuce before breaking Kontaveit to level the match. With the wind in her sails, Barty fought through the next two grueling games to claim the victory after two hours and 12 minutes.
The victory also means that Barty, who is currently ranked World No.2, remains on track to reclaim the WTA’s top ranking this week. After falling in her opening match at Toronto last week, Barty opened the door for Naomi Osaka to reclaim the No.1 spot - as a result, Barty would need to reach the final here in Cincinnati in order to take it back.
“I have some of my best memories from playing here in Cincinnati,” Barty said. Obviously my first Top 10 win here. It's a beautiful center court, and I think the weather reminds me a lot of home. It can be quite hot and stormy, which is Brisbane in the summer for me. I certainly have really nice memories and enjoy coming back here every year.”
Into the quarterfinals of the Western & Southern Open for the first time, Barty will take on the unseeded Maria Sakkari, who fought past No.9 seed Aryna Sabalenka, 6-7(4), 6-4, 6-4, to advance.
“Maria is an incredible chick,” Barty said. “She's really one of my better friends on tour. She's a lovely girl. I don't think you can find anyone in the locker room that has a bad word to say about her.
“I think these conditions suit Maria when she can use her kick serve, use her forehand when she has time. I think that's the challenge for me tomorrow, is to go out there and try and nullify that serve as best that I can and try and be on top of some points.”