By Ros Satar, in Melbourne

  • Ashleigh Barty [15] def. Maria Sharapova [30] 4-6 6-1 6-4
  • Reaches her first Slam quarter-final
MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – Ashleigh Barty hit Maria Sharapova for six as the Aussie sent the former champion packing.

 

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Ashleigh Barty [15] def. Maria Sharapova [30] 4-6 6-1 6-4

We predicted this would be a victory for the engaging Aussie, Ashleigh Barty in three sets, but we had no idea that it would be Maria Sharapova who would be the more aggressive in the early stages.

Exhibiting that steely resolve, in a competitive first set, Sharapova was the first ti try and put pressure on the Barty serve, failing to covert her chance to break, before successfully defending two points on her own serve. She was swiftly rewarded though with a decisive break before serving out for the set to love.

The Aussie rallied as she went on a tear in the second set, winning five games in a row from the opening exchanges but there was more drama to come. With Sharapova taking a long bathroom break Barty was up and stretching and the crowd made their displeasure known with a chorus of boos.

Barty showed no signs of having been affected by the halt in her momentum making it a total of nine games on the trot before Sharapova got herself back on the board to stop the rot at 1-4. She even got one of the breaks back and for a second it looked as though the chase was on as Sharapova had a couple more chances to break to draw level, but just couldn’t get over the line. Barty had to fight to earn her first Grand Slam quarter-final, getting the win on her fourth match point.

Maria Sharapova in the fourth round of the Australian Open 2019, Melbourne

Maria Sharapova in the fourth round of the Australian Open 2019, Melbourne | Jimmie48 Tennis Photography

After the match there was praise for Barty from the 2008 champion, but she had short shrift for a couple of questions.

Sharapova said: “A really tough style to play against. I thought she played a really great match, and I still had my chances which I didn’t take. I definitely had a let-down for many games straight, gave her that confidence, and she’s a confidence player, as well. And she’ll take it. She’s not going to back down. And she did.”

When asked if she had been affected by the crowd’s reaction to her extended bathroom break, she was not entertaining it much:

“What do you want me to say to that question?  I think that’s a silly question to ask.”

As for a question as to whether the inability to take the now banned Meldonium meant that getting through a gruelling slam schedule was harder:

“Is there another question?”

 

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Nothing could take the moment away from Barty who not only relished the chance of playing in front of a packed Rod Laver Arena crowd, but also of beating a former champion.

She said, after her match: “Maria was never going to go away. Proven champion. Time and time again it proves she will fight until the last point. I knew it was important in particular that 4-3 game to try and get out of that service game. I gave myself opportunities to go 5-Love and I think 5-2, as well. Just couldn’t execute. Was doing all the right things but very happy to come through in the end.

“I have never quite played in Rod Laver when it’s been that full, I think. Especially against a champion like Maria who has proven it time and time again that she can come back from any deficit. She’s proven herself in the biggest stages. It’s pleasing.”

She was already fast-rising star when she decided to take a complete break from the sport to play Big Bash cricket in Australia. She credited the time-out as helping her achieve her rise now, not to mention results like these.

“I needed to take that time away. I feel like I came back a better person on and off the court, a better tennis player. Yeah, for me, having that 18 months off was vital.”

Next up for her is another popular champion – Petra Kvitova has two Wimbledon titles to her name, and a run to the semi-final in 2012, and who pipped Barty to the post in an exhausting final un Sydney. The run gave them both a lot of confidence and we have seen that in their results.

She suggested she had a simple strategy this time: “Win a couple more important points, I suppose compared to Sydney. It’s exciting that I get to have another chance at Petra

straightaway. Not often does that happen where you get to kind of have a replay against the same opponent. Really exciting, but, yeah, really pumped to have another chance here.”

Kvitova and Barty will play their quarter-final on Tuesday.

 

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