Melbourne, February 17
World number one Ash Barty’s dream of become the first homegrown Australian Open champion since 1978 was shattered on Wednesday after an extraordinary 1-6 6-3 6-2 quarter-final loss to Karolina Muchova.
The Czech was a player transformed after taking a medical timeout when she started feeling dizzy in the Melbourne heat and rallied to secure a place in her first Grand Slam semi-final.
The 24-year-old will meet the winner of the later quarter-final between Americans Jennifer Brady and Jessica Pegula for a place in the final against Serena Williams or Naomi Osaka.
Barty had no complaints about the medical timeout that turned the match on its head.
“It’s within the rules,” Barty said. “She’s within her rights to take that time. If she wasn’t within the rules, the physios and the doctors would have said so.
“I was disappointed that I let that become a turning point. I’m experienced enough now to be able to deal with that.” Barty had started the contest like a woman possessed and conceded only six points in racing to a 5-0 lead in just over a quarter of an hour, wrapping up the first set soon afterwards.
Muchova had some treatment at her chair early in the second set and then took the lengthy medical timeout, leaving the former French Open champion trying to stay loose by doing stretches on court.
“I started feeling a bit lost by the end of the first set,” said Muchova.
“My head was spinning so I took a break … It was more they just checked my pressure. As I said, I was a bit lost, I was spinning. They cooled me down a bit and it helped me …” Although not as dominant as the Australian had been in the opening set, the Czech quickly levelled up the match at 1-1 to become the first player to take a set off the top seed at this tournament.
Barty continued to carve out chances on Muchova’s serve but failed to convert them and her error count soared as she tried to finish points too early to wrest back the momentum.
Muchova, the 25th seed, hit 17 winners over the match and settled her nerves sufficiently to serve out for the win at the first time of asking, sealing her place in the last four with an ace.
“I just tried to put a ball in and go for it, play a bit faster, go to the net,” Muchova added in explanation of her transformation.
The canned applause piped into the arena in the absence of fans appeared to taunt Barty, who would have been guaranteed passionate support for her semi-final had she made it through after Melbourne’s coronavirus lockdown was lifted. “Tough one today, without a doubt,” Barty added. “I would have loved to have done a little bit better. Not my day today. We’ll go back to work and keep trying to grow for tomorrow.”
Brady goes from hard quarantine to semis
Meanwhile, Jennifer Brady battled through her frustrations to overhaul friend and United States team mate Jessica Pegula 4-6 6-2 6-1 and reach her maiden Australian Open semi-final on Wednesday.
Brady was a picture of anguish early in the clash on a stifling day at Rod Laver Arena but gradually dialled in her power game before crushing Pegula in the final set.
The 22nd seed has a golden chance to reach her first Grand Slam final after world number one Ash Barty was shocked by Karolina Muchova in the early quarter-final on Wednesday.
With Serena Williams to face Naomi Osaka in the other semi-final, the Australian Open could have another all-American title match on Saturday, four years after Serena beat her sister Venus for the 2017 championship.
Having long flown under the radar, 25-year-old Brady also reached the semi-finals of the U.S. Open last year and said she hoped more was to come.
“I hope I make it a habit,” she said on court.
“Hopefully I have a new habit of making finals.” Brady’s effort is more remarkable for having been one of the 72 players in hard quarantine before the tournament, unable to train on courts for five hours a day like the rest of the field.
Despite the limited preparation, and a raft of taxing rallies against Pegula, there was no sign of her flagging in the heat.
After taking the second set, Brady was brimming with confidence and raced away with the match in a maelstrom of shot-making.
“I’ve been putting in the hard yards in the gym with my trainer Daniel,” she said.
“We’re getting better every single day, every day is another opportunity.” Pegula, the daughter of billionaire sports team owners, bowed out after reaching her first Grand Slam quarter-final.
Her agression threatened to produce another upset but her serve faltered in the final set and the hard-returning Brady capitalised.
Brady said she was “delighted” that fans would be allowed back at Rod Laver Arena from Thursday after Victoria’s five-day lockdown ended.
“It’ll be great to play in front of people, especially the semi-finals,” said Brady.
“In New York it was an empty stadium, so here it will be a new atmosphere.
“I’m really looking forward to it.” Reuters