Number 1 Ashleigh Barty secured a place in her fourth consecutive Australian Open quarterfinal with a 6-4, 6-3 defeat of Amanda Anisimova in 74 minutes. She meets Jessica Pegula, the number 21 in the series, who reached the last eight for the second consecutive season in Melbourne after beating Maria Sakkari of Greece 7-6 (0) and 6-3.
Barty’s only previous encounter with Anisimova was a 6-7(4), 6-3, 6-3 roller coaster in the 2019 Roland Garros semifinals, where she lost the first set 5-0 but ended up 3-0 down to take the second and hence the win. There were no similar fluctuations in the repechage, although the #60-ranked American managed to end Barty’s streak of 63 consecutive serves 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 quarter-finals to Petra Kvitova, the 2020 semi-finals to Sofia Kenin and the 2021 quarter-finals to Karolina Muchova.
Match management: Barty’s progress was not all smooth sailing. Sometimes she was ‘outhit’ by daring drive volleys and down-the-line winners from Anisimova; in others, she gave her younger opponent openings with a pair of double errors (three, two consecutive) and unforced errors (17, offset by 23 winners).
However, Barty’s reign as the world’s No. 1 is marked by outstanding scoreboard management, in addition to her many other talents. She found solid one-two punches to get out of her tightest service games in the first set, and some magical moments with wonderfully angled backhand slice winners to break Anisimova for the first time. Indeed, her cunning variation on the disc paid off everywhere, leaving Anisimova repeatedly confused tactically and technically.
Barty also increased her level to accelerate to the finish of both sets. The first three of her seven total aces in her last two service games came from the first. And in the second, Anisimova had two game points to hold onto a 4-3 lead, only for Barty to take 12 of the next 14 points to take the win.
In contrast, Anisimova will regret two missed returns on Barty’s second serve, both times she broke the first set. Even when the 20-year-old captured a rare 2-0 break in the second with a series of excellent forehands, she was unable to capitalize. Three backhand errors in the next game brought the break back and Barty resumed control from there.
Barty on dropping the service for the first time in eight games: “I didn’t care that much,” she said. “Honestly, I don’t count how many games I have in a row or not. The fact that I could reset, break right back, was really important, just to be able to reset myself, go again and continue doing the right things.
“In that game, Amanda saw a few seconds serve that she could punish, and she also had some really good returns from the first serve. You tip your hat and you say: Too good, to your opponent when they come with returns from the baseline, and move on pretty quickly and keep trying to do the right things.”
Barty on quarterfinal opponent Pegula: “She can hold the baseline really well. Her swings are quite linear and she gets a racket behind the ball and swings through the path. The ball comes at you through another lane and her ability to absorb pace and then get to it adding when she wants to is exceptional. It’s going to be a challenge for me to try to push her off that baseline and make her feel uncomfortable and feel like she has to create.
“But I know she’ll do the exact same thing to me too and try to make me uncomfortable. That’s the chess game we play. You go out and have fun with it, see who can perform better on the day, and that’s about all there is.”
Pegula disrupts Sakkari and reaches second Grand Slam quarterfinal
Barty then goes up against another American player she previously defeated on her way to her 2019 Roland Garros title. In Paris, she defeated Pegula 6-3, 6-3 in the first round.
Pegula made a surprise run to her first Grand Slam quarter-final in Melbourne last year as an unseeded player in 61st place. After cracking the Top 20 since then, she matched her result in 2021 with a 1-hour 35-minute win over eighth-ranked Sakkari.
Words from the winner: “It was a bit hot today, so I didn’t really want to play many long points,” Pegula said after her win. “I thought I really had to stand up and be aggressive when given the opportunities. Luckily I was able to take advantage of that quite well today and play a pretty clean game I think.
“I know she will always fight and fight well. I didn’t really think about that.” [Miami] agreement. Of course I know I have to get up and take my chances. In the end she started to play better. She began to serve better. In that last game she made sure I deserved it, which I thought would happen.”
Quick 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 scored her eighth Top 10 win in her career on Sunday, denying Sakkari the chance to become the first Greek woman to reach the quarter-finals of the Australian Open. Sakkari was also looking to reach her third Grand Slam quarterfinal in the last four major events.
Pegula’s grueling three-set first-round win over Ukraine’s Anhelina Kalinina lasted 2 hours and 52 minutes, the second longest match of the tournament. Since then, the American has not dropped a set.
Story of the match: Both players won about three quarters of the points behind their first serve, but the difference turned out to be the effectiveness of the second serve. Pegula won 64 percent of the points behind her second delivery, while Sakkari was able to win only 34 percent of her second service points.
After falling behind twice on a break in the opener, Sakkari fended off a setpoint on her serve 5-3, then held that game with an ace. The Greek then tied the game with a break to 5-5 and reached out to 6-5, putting the pressure back on Pegula’s shoulders.
But after slamming an ace to line up the tiebreak, Pegula took the full lead with a powerful display to reach 6-0 in the break and collect six more set points. Pegula only needed one as she fired her fourth ace of the set to complete the tiebreak sweep.
In the second set, Pegula had to save two breakpoints to hold on to 2-1, but the American shot up from there and hit a foul-forcing forehand to break for a 3-1 lead. That was the only service break of the set as Pegula methodically advanced to victory and the clash ended with another powerful forehand.