Local Australian Open women’s singles title hope Ashleigh Barty has navigated an injury scare and a flamboyant opponent to secure a maiden fourth round appearance at her home grand slam.
Barty called for the trainer to treat an abdominal strain after sealing the first set, but it was no barrier as she overcame crafty Greek Maria Sakkari in a gritty 7-5 6-1 result.
The Queenslander played down any injury concerns at the post-match chat on court.
“All good. It held up well in the second set so no stress at all,” Barty said.
“Ice bath, physio, coffee, cricket. I’m good.”
The 15th seed has set up a tantalising encounter against either reigning women’s champion Caroline Wozniacki or former champ Maria Sharapova on Sunday for a place in the last eight.
Barty thundered down 13 aces and dropped serve just once, but looked ginger at times with her movement, no doubt the result of a gruelling workload of eight matches in the past 12 days.
The 22-year-old broke Sakkari in the 12th game to snatch a tight first set before running away with the second set and the match, prevailing after one hour and 22 minutes under a closed roof at Rod Laver Arena.
“The lively conditions suit both of us so it took time to get used to how dead and slow it is in here with the roof closed,” Barty said.
“There wasn’t going to be much in it the whole match and Maria is a great friend of mine and we have had exceptional matches in the past, so I’m extremely happy to come through in straight sets and find my way towards the end there.”
Barty described as “amazing” matching her charge to the US Open fourth round last year.
“I haven’t played a full match with the roof closed before and it is absolutely phenomenal and to hear all the Aussies out here is just unbelievable.”
As well as a chance to reach the quarter-finals of a grand slam for the first time, Barty is projected to climb to a career-high ranking of No.13 in the world, or better, after the Open.
She recently received the ringing endorsement of Andre Agassi, who recounted the time he and his wife – fellow tennis legend Steffi Graf – hosted a then-plucky 13-year-old Barty in Las Vegas.
“I remember and I’m always rooting for her, that’s for sure,” Agassi said.
Barty worked with Agassi’s conditioner Gil Reyes, who is famous for moulding the four-time Australian Open champion throughout his illustrious career.
Federer’s best set of tennis ever
Meanwhile, Roger Federer has defeated 21-year-old American Taylor Fritz 6-2 7-5 6-2 on Friday afternoon in muggy conditions under the Rod Laver roof to move through to the fourth round for the 17th time in his past 18 visits to Melbourne Park.
Federer came out blazing to set up a last-16 clash with emerging Greek Stefanos Tsitsipas.
Kyrgios, on debut in the commentary box for broadcasters Channel Nine, told Todd Woodbridge that the first set was the “best set of tennis” he’d watched.
“It was,” he said, “From here, it was just Federer playing too good.
“Federer’s timing is scary good. He almost hits everything on the half-volley.
“Oh my goodness. Butter. So smooth,” the Canberran said after a spectacular third-set drop shot.
Fritz, 16 years Federer’s junior, managed just 13 points in Federer’s first-set demolition when the No.3 seed served at 92 per cent and made just two unforced errors.
The American picked up his act and pushed Federer in the second set, but when the big points arrived Federer was irrepressible.
“He’s zoning at the moment. He’s so relaxed. It’s so tough for Taylor to do anything really,” Kyrgios said.
Kyrgios has lost five times to the veteran, including a straight-sets dismissal in under two hours at the 2018 US Open – a round before John Millman’s triumph over the Swiss.