Barty delights home crowd, Auger-Aliassime sets up Rublev semi

16 January 2020, by Reem Abulleil

Ashleigh Barty is happy to savour every moment she gets competing in front of the Australian crowd and she earned another opportunity to do that by defeating Marketa Vondrousova on Thursday to make the semi-finals in Adelaide.

The world No.1, who has reached the final in Sydney (Adelaide’s predecessor) the last two years, saved four of five break points against Vondrousova en route to a 6-3, 6-3 victory, in what was a rematch of their 2019 French Open final.

While she remains focused on the task at hand in Adelaide, Barty has taken a glance at next week’s Australian Open draw, where she faces Lesia Tsurenko in the first round. Many players may prefer to not contest a tournament in the week leading up to a Grand Slam, but Barty feels it’s proven to be a successful formula for her in the past.

“The last couple of years I have had great runs in Sydney, and that’s put me in good stead. I think for me, my choice is to try and get out and play as many matches as possible leading up to the Australian Open, but also it’s an opportunity to play in front of an Australian crowd. We only get that a month of the year,” explained the 23-year-old Queenslander.

“So it would be stupid of me not to try and take that opportunity. I love playing in Australia. I loving playing in front of Australian crowds. It’s an opportunity for me that I don’t want to waste and something that I want to enjoy. It’s worked well for us in previous years.”

Barty’s next opponent is American Danielle Collins, who ousted No.4 seed Belinda Bencic 6-3, 6-1. Collins, who made the Australian Open semi-finals last season, faced zero break points during the clash and has dropped serve just once so far this week, through three matches.

Barty won their sole two previous meetings – both on clay – but is expecting a tough battle against the world No.27.

“Danielle is obviously striking the ball exceptionally well. In Brisbane she started with a bang, and she’s very much a first-strike player,” said Barty.

“She has no fear on those first couple balls early in rallies. It will be important for me to have my running shoes on and try and neutralise when I can and then bring in variety and try and throw her off a little bit if I can, as well.”

Earlier on centre court, No.2 seed Simona Halep was overwhelmed by Aryna Sabalenka’s sheer power to suffer a 6-4, 6-2 quarter-final exit.

The Romanian, playing just her second singles match of the year, attempted a second-set comeback by cutting her deficit from 0-5, to 2-5, but could not halt Sabalenka, who completed the fifth top-five victory of her career in 69 minutes.

“I think she was too strong, she really hit very strong the ball and I didn’t have much time to do something that I wanted,” said Halep of her sixth-seeded opponent.

“She deserved to win because actually she didn’t miss that much, just in the beginning a little bit. I had many chances at the beginning but I couldn’t take them because I missed a little bit. But it was a good match, I have to learn from it and next one I hope to be better.”

Halep now heads to Melbourne for the Australian Open, where she takes on an in-form Jennifer Brady in the first round. A runner-up at Melbourne Park in 2018, Halep remains positive despite her early dismissal in Adelaide.

“I’m okay. I feel ready for the Australian Open. I know it’s going to be difficult, it’s the beginning of the year and I never play great, so I just want to get to the rhythm and to see what I have to adjust to be better day by day,” said the former world No.1.

No.3 seed Andrey Rublev extended his winning streak to 10 matches with a 6-4, 3-6, 6-3 victory against Great Britain’s Dan Evans. The Russian world No.18 dropped his first set since Davis Cup last November – he had won 16 in a row – but remained calm to book himself a second semi-final in as many weeks.

The freshly-crowned Doha champion takes on Felix Auger-Aliassime for a spot in the final after the Canadian eased past local favourite Alex Bolt 6-3, 6-0 in the last match of the day.

Rublev won their only previous encounter, on clay in Umag in 2018, but it was before Auger-Aliassime’s breakthrough 2019, in which he made three ATP finals and peaked at 17 in the world.

“He’s the hottest player probably on tour right now,” Auger-Aliassime said of Rublev.

“We are just starting the year. He already has a title, semi-finals here. He’s on a winning stretch. It’s going to be tough. I lost to him last time on clay. Different time, for sure. We all know what he’s able to do. He beat Roger [Federer] last year.

“So for sure it’s not going to be easy. I think we’re both playing well right now, so hopefully we will bring our A-games and it will be a good battle. But I believe in my chances, for sure.”