It’s Barty time at Australian Open; local hope is into semis

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Ashleigh Barty

Australia’s Ashleigh Barty laughs during a post match interview following her win over Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic in their quarterfinal match at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2020. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — There’s a Barty going on Down Under. It’s already bigger than the Barty party that took over Melbourne Park last year.

That ended with Ash Barty’s loss to Petra Kvitova in the Australian Open quarterfinals. This one picked up with Barty’s 7-6 (6), 6-2 quarterfinal win over the two-time Wimbledon champion.

The 23-year-old Barty, who clinched her first major title at the French Open and won the season-ending WTA Finals last year, is the first Aussie into the Australian Open women’s semifinals since Wendy Turnbull in 1984.

No Australian has won a singles title at the national championship since 1978, when Chris O Neil took the women’s title. The drought for Australian men extends two years longer.

“I’m not going to have anything but a smile on my face when I walk out onto this court,” Barty said of the expectations.

Australia has produced dozens of major winners — Margaret Court holds the all-time record with 24 Grand Slam singles titles. Rod Laver completed two calendar-year Grand Slams. They’ve both got arenas named in their honor at Melbourne Park, but the advantage of having a major on home soil hasn’t netted a singles title here for an Aussie since the tournament was played on grass.

It is now played on hard courts and there was only one player on the women’s tour who was level with Barty in terms of match wins on that surface in 2019: Sofia Kenin.

They both finished the year with 38. They meet next.

The 21-year-old Kenin reached the semifinals at a major for the first time with her 6-4, 6-4 win over No. 78-ranked Ons Jabeur of Tunisia.

The Moscow-born, Florida-raised Kenin won’t mind at all if she crashes the party. She took out Serena Williams last year at the French Open before losing to Barty in the fourth round. She also registered wins over Barty and then No. 1-ranked Naomi Osaka later in the year.

Her run at Melbourne Park included a comeback win in the third round over 15-year-old Coco Gauff, one of the sport’s brightest up-and-comers.

“I played a lot of big names. I don’t think I’ve played anyone big in their home crowd,” the 14th-seeded Kenin said. “It’s going to be a different atmosphere obviously. But it’s exciting.”

In Wednesday’s quarterfinals, Wimbledon champion Simona Halep plays Anett Kontaveit, and two-time major winner Garbiñe Muguruza takes on Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.

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HOLDING COURT

Tennis greats John McEnroe and Martina Navratilova have caused a stir with a protest demanding a name change for Margaret Court Arena, one of the main show courts at the Australian Open.

Navratilova climbed up the umpire’s chair and started to address spectators at the arena using the court microphone, but organizers cut off the live feed. Navratilova and McEnroe then unfurled a banner reading “Evonne Goolagong Arena.”

Navratilova has frequently objected to Court having the stadium named after her because of her anti-gay comments, and wants it to be named after Goolagong, the Australian seven-time Grand Slam singles champion.

“I’ve been speaking out about an issue for a while now and John McEnroe is here to join me and push the conversation forward,” local media quoted Navratilova as saying.

Tennis Australia said the protest breached its tournament protocols.

“We embrace diversity, inclusion and the right for people to have a view, as well as their right to voice that view,”‘ Tennis Australia said in a statement. “But the Australian Open has regulations and protocols with respect to how any fan, player or guest can use our facility, the event and the global stage it provides. This is to ensure the integrity of our event.

“Two high-profile guests have breached these protocols and we are working through this with them.’

Court won an all-time record 24 Grand Slam singles titles, including 13 before the Open era.

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UNLUCKY SEVEN

It’s a big number of match points, but not crazy in Tennys’ terms. Seven times the 100th-ranked Tennys Sangren was a point away from victory over 20-time major winner Roger Federer, and from a career-best appearance in a Grand Slam semifinal.

After losing to Federer in five sets, Sandgren said he was tired mentally, he was tired physically and he was just plain tired. But there were lot of positives he could take out of his second run to the quarterfinals in Australia in three years.

“Tennis is a crazy sport. Seven is not that many. Was it seven?” he said of the collection of near misses. “One on my serve. Really not that many. If I had, like, six on my serve, I’d be really (upset).”

The seesawing match was full of unusual episodes, including a caution for Federer for swearing, an off-court medical timeout for the 38-year-old Swiss star, and then there was the hit-and-run during a changeover in the fourth-set tiebreaker.

A ballgirl running toward the baseline collided with Sandgren as he approached his court-side seat at 3-3. Her knee hit his right calf, and took him by surprise. He’d already had three match points on Federer’s serve by that stage, and would have another four in the tiebreaker, so he wasn’t using it as an excuse.

“That’s not a distraction. That was physically painful. She was apologetic and everything. Accidents happen, so that wasn’t a big deal,” he said. “I’ve had to deal with plenty of things going on in my career. This wasn’t anything more or less than what I was accustomed to. I don’t think there was anything that was taking away from my level of play.

“It stung a little bit at the time (but) it didn’t bother me when the point started.”

At least Sandgren is back into the second week at the majors. He has slipped from a career-high No. 41 during an interrupted year when he made first-round exits at the Australian and French Opens, before reaching the fourth round at Wimbledon and the third at the U.S. Open.

“I’m sure I’ll look back in a couple days and appreciate the tennis I played the last, what, eight, nine days,” he said. “But currently just disappointed. Just disappointed.”

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AP Sports Writer Dennis Passa contributed to this report.

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More AP Tennis: https://apnews.com/apf-Tennis and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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