On a day where seeds tumbled like dominoes across both the men’s and women’s draws of the Australian Open, world number one Ashleigh Barty’s triumph over American giant killer Amanda Anisimova looked all the more clinical by comparison.
With top-eight seeds Maria Sakkari (5) and Paula Badosa (8) eliminated in straight-sets routs by USA pair Madison Keys and Jessica Pegula respectively, the Australian ace was able to avoid a hat-trick of star-spangled defeats, withstanding Anisimova’s powerful forehand to win 6-4, 6-3; and reach the quarter-finals at her home grand slam for the fourth consecutive year.
Barty’s triumph ended a day of dominance from North Americans at Melbourne Park, with men’s world number three Alexander Zverev thumped in straight sets by Canadian Denis Shapovalov.
She will next play another American in 21st seed Pegula on Tuesday, who defeated Sakkari 7-6 (0) 6-3, for a spot in the semi-finals.
Anisimova had taken Barty to three sets during her run to the title at the 2019 French Open, her maiden grand slam. Barty described that match as a ‘turning point’ in her career, according to Jelena Dokic.
“Ash has talked about that match a lot and how it was actually a turning point in her career, and one of those matches that catapulted her because she ended up winning Roland-Garros after getting out of that match and never really looked back,” Dokic said on Nine of that meeting three years ago.
According to the former Australian prodigy, the world number one is now the undisputed favourite to claim her third grand slam, and first Australian Open.
“I genuinely think this is her year,” Dokic said. “She’s never looked better and never played better.”
Barty headed into the match as the only remaining singles player, men’s or women’s, to have not been broken once at the tournament.
Despite pressure from Anisimova, who earned two break point chances in the first set, Barty’s slice backhand and all-court craft proved enough to hold firm.
— Wide World of Sports (@wwos) January 23, 2022
Barty would have more trouble breaking Anisimova herself, the American’s forehand coming up clutch to save six break point chances.
On the seventh, though, one of Anisimova’s 19 unforced errors for the first set saw the Aussie finally take the lead in the match, much to the delight of the Rod Laver Arena crowd.
Any nerves in serving for the set were quickly dispelled as Barty held to love, two further forehand errors from Anisimova summing up the difference between the two combatants. Tied at 11 winners apiece, Barty would err just nine times for the set.
“I think she’s really locked in,” Barty’s former doubles partner and close friend Casey Dellacqua said on Channel Nine.
“We know how much work she does with her mindset coach, Ben Crowe. She looks absolutely relaxed and she’s enjoying playing in Australia back on Rod Laver Arena.”
However, Anisimova, who stunned reigning Australian Open champion Naomi Osaka on Friday night to set up a date with Barty, wasn’t about to give in quietly.
Having recovered from a set down – and saving two match points – against Osaka, she would fire the first shot in the second set to end Barty’s streak of consecutive service games won at a remarkable 63.
Anisimova’s forehand, so crucial in her run to the last 16, would finally breach Barty’s defences, speed forcing the Australian into a short return that was pummelled away for the break, and her first foothold in the match.
— Wide World of Sports (@wwos) January 23, 2022
“Something [for Barty] to think about,” commentator Sam Smith said on Nine; but any thoughts of another Anisimova comeback were short-lived.
Barty’s defensive tennis rose to a new level to thwart the challenge, offering Anisimova no pace and frustrating her into an eventual mistake. A long forehand secured the break back, and allowed the home crowd to breathe easier.
Anisimova’s forehand continued to trouble, forcing her wide and continuing to put pressure on her service games so absent in the first three rounds. But anything she could do, Barty could do better, holding serve with a curving forehand of her own down the line.
From there, though, the resistance quickly crumbled, Barty breaking twice more to finish the set – and the match – in a flurry.
Despite the straight-sets win, Barty was quick to pay tribute to Anisimova, describing her opponent as ‘an incredible athlete’ after the match.
“She’s going to be in a lot of deep stages at a lot of majors in her future, that’s for sure,” Barty said.
“I enjoy sharing the court, testing my game against her. She has an incredible game.
“It was nice to be able to hold firm and bring the points back into my patterns more regularly and the big ones when it mattered most.”
But when asked by Jim Courier about whether defeating Anisimova, just as she did four years ago to spark her run to the French Open title, was an omen of things to come, the world number one could only laugh.
“We’ll wait and see, hey?”
It has been 44 years since Chris O’Neil became the last Australian to win their home slam at the 1978 tournament. Back then, Melbourne Park was yet to exist.
With Barty now just three wins away from securing the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup for the first time, fans could be forgiven for daring to dream.