Ashleigh Barty has made the quarter-finals of a major for the first time in her promising career after coming from a set down to beat 2008 champion Maria Sharapova in a gripping encounter at the Australian Open in Melbourne.
Barty, who went into Sunday’s match under an injury cloud due to an abdominal strain, dropped the first set but fought back in convincing fashion to defeat the Sharapova 4-6 6-1 6-4 on Rod Laver Arena.
She is the first Australian through to the last eight of the women’s draw since Jelena Dokic’s run at Melbourne Park 10 years ago.
The match had the potential to spill over into controversy when Sharapova took a seven-minute bathroom break after the second set, which drew a chorus of boos from the crowd once she returned to the court.
If it was designed to put Barty off her game it did not work, as Barty broke the five-time major winner immediately and added a second service break.
The most famous victory of her young career.
— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) January 20, 2019
Sharapova grabbed a break back and almost another when Barty was serving at 4-3, but the Queenslander held and then pushed through to claim the three-set triumph in two hours and 22 minutes.
She did have four match points before sealing victory, but held her nerve when it mattered most.
“I think I gave myself opportunities in the third set in a lot of games and couldn’t take it,” Barty said in a courtside interview.
“I had to take a deep breath and trust the work that I have done with my team. Go up and hit my spots and what’s happening, happens.”
Barty, the World No.15, will play Petra Kvitova in the quarter-finals on Tuesday, an opponent she met in the final of the Sydney International a fortnight ago.
The 22-year-old had every right to back her chances against Sharapova, as she has shown she belongs on court with the elite of the women’s game.
In the build-up to the Open she chalked up a win over World No.1 Simona Halep on her way to the Sydney final, where she took the first set off Kvitova before losing in a tiebreaker in the third.
Her growing maturity was brilliantly illustrated in the third set when she ignored Sharapova’s absence from the court, a delay that could have thrown a less-focused player.
Barty’s awesome power
With Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Rod Laver among the crowd, Barty had earlier levelled the match by racing through the second set in 32 minutes.
She broke Sharapova’s serve twice and importantly she curbed her unforced errors, conceding only seven as opposed to the 22 she tallied in the first set.
Games had been on serve in the first set when Barty had a chance to break Sharapova in the eighth game, but the Russian found her composure to level at 4-4.
It proved to be a missed opportunity for Barty at that stage and she was broken in the next game before Sharapova served out the set, icing it with an ace.
Kvitova made the quarter-finals when she ended the run of American phenom Amanda Anisimova, aged just 17, winning 6-2 6-1 in under an hour on Rod Laver Arena.
The Czech can hardly be described as a dark horse to win the title in Melbourne, considering she knows what is required in the second week of a major, having won Wimbledon twice.
But she has been quietly going about her business and is yet to drop a set.