Barty, Kenin Advance To Australian Open Semis

MELBOURNE, January 28, 2020 (by Michael Dickens)

World No. 1 Ashleigh Barty became the first Australian in 36 years to reach the Australian Open semifinals and new American No. 2 Sofia Kenin moved a step closer to her goal of winning a Grand Slam as half of the women’s final four was set in Melbourne Tuesday afternoon.

Kenin first to qualify for semifinals

Upstart American Sofia Kenin ended the wonderful and historic journey of Tunisia’s Ons Jabeur with a 6-4, 6-4 milestone quarterfinal victory Tuesday afternoon on Rod Laver Arena under sunny skies. When it was over after one hour and 32 minutes, the two shared a heartfelt and warm embrace at the net. It was Kenin’s fourth triumph over the 78th-ranked Jabeur in five meetings and it lifted the American to her first Grand Slam semifinal.

Jabeur had become the first Arab woman to reach both the fourth round and the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam and became the talk of her tiny North Africa nation. Her third-round victory over Caroline Wozniacki ended the 2018 Australian Open champion’s career and sent the Dane into retirement. Against Kenin, the Tunisian hit five aces and won 16 of 18 points at the net. But it was far too little.

By winning, the No. 14 seed Kenin became the first to reach the Australian Open semifinals. She will meet top seed Ashleigh Barty, who defeated No. 7 Petra Kvitova in straight sets.

“I want to show who I am, show my best tennis, show why I’m there, why I belong,” said Kenin, a 21-year-old Russian-born American before facing Jabeur, 25. “I’m doing that. Yeah, I’m happy.”

Kenin relied on an all-court game and kept the flashy but erratic Jabeur on the run, causing her to commit 36 unforced errors. Although the American hit just 14 winners, she only made 16 unforced errors. Kenin broke Jabeur’ serve three times and was broken just once.

“I think overall I played really good,” Kenin said during her post-match news conference. “I tried to handle the nerves. Obviously, nerves coming into the match. I think I did a really good job handling myself.

“… It wasn’t an easy battle. All respect for her.”

Fiercely competitive – and now a feared competitor – Kenin has passed Madison Keys as the second-ranked American, behind Serena Williams. She’s strengthened her hold on a top four U.S. ranking, which is needed to qualify for the 2020 U.S. Olympic team. “I’d love to qualify,” she told Tennis Channel’s Jon Wertheim during a post-match interview off court. “Right now, it’s pretty far from the Olympics though.”

Meanwhile, in defeat, Jabeur told the WTA website afterward, “My phone is still going crazy right now.” It’s understandable since she’s the first Tunisian player – male or female – to reach the second week of a Grand Slam. “I actually spoke to the president of Tunisia, Kais Saied. He wished me good luck. He called me and told me that, even if there is a time distance, even if I am very far away, all of Tunisia is with me. He told me something in Arabic that I can’t translate: that my racquet was like a sword I’d win with. That was really nice of him.”

Barty ousts Kvitova in test of rivals

World No. 1 Ashleigh Barty became the first Aussie woman to reach the singles semifinals at the Australian Open in 36 years. She reached the milestone with her 7-6 (6), 6-2 victory over her friend and rival, 2019 AO finalist Petra Kvitova from the Czech Republic. It was Barty’s third straight win over the two-time Wimbledon champion and it leveled her head-to-head against Kvitova at 4-4.

During their one hour and 44 minute match on Rod Laver Arena, Barty won 74 percent of her first serves and hit 20 winners. She broke Kvitova four times in eight tries and caused the Czech to hit 38 unforced errors. Barty outpointed Kvitova 82-73.

The last Australian woman in the Australian Open semifinals was Wendy Turnbull in 1984. She’s also the most recent Australian finalist, reaching the title match in 1980. Now, Barty, 23, is two wins from achieving her second major success following her 2019 French Open title triumph. Her win Tuesday was her 150th career main-draw victory and it was also her 100th win on hard courts.

“I’m here to try and do the best that I can,” Barty said during her post-match press conference. “Obviously, it’s exciting. Hopefully, I can bring a smile to a few faces around our country and around the world. For me, it’s trying to do the best that I can, find that enjoyment for myself and my team.”

After pulling out the first set in a close tie-break, Barty raced to a 4-0 lead in the second set and never looked back. Later, the affable Aussie was asked about playing against Kvitova. She said: “I love testing myself against Petra. She has this way of bring out out the very best in me. She came at me with all guns blazing. That first set could have gone either way. It was really important to try and get my nose ahead when I could. It was nice to save a set point and get a roll on early in the second set with a couple of quick breaks.”

Rest of women’s final four to be set

The remainder of the women’s semifinal field will be set during the Wednesday day session on Rod Laver Arena. First, at 11 a.m. local time, No. 28 seed Anett Kontaveit of Estonia faces No. 4 Simona Halep from Romania. Halep holds a 2-0 head-to-head advantage against Kontaveit and is 1-2 in Australian Open semifinal matches. It will be followed not before 12:30 p.m. by unseeded Garbiñe Muguruza of Spain versus No. 30 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova from Russia. Muguruza is 4-1 lifetime against Pavlyuchenkova and 3-0 on hard courts. She is seeking her third Grand Slam final.

No. 1 seeds Hsieh and Strycova advance

No. 1 doubles seeds Hsieh Su-wei from Taiwan and Barbora Strycova of the Czech Republic, who won the 2019 Wimbledon title together, advanced to the semifinal round with a 6-2, 6-2 victory over Jennifer Brady and Caroline Dolehide, both of the United States in 56 minutes. Meanwhile, No. 2 seeds Timea Babos from Hungary and Kristina Mladenovic of France, the reigning French Open champions, advanced to the final four with a win over unseeded American teens Coco Gauff and Caty McNally, 6-2, 6-4.

What they’re saying

• Future Hall of Famer Conchita Martinez, who will be inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame Class of 2020 with Goran Ivanisevic, was asked by the WTA Insider about her protégée Garbiñe Muguruza on Monday. Question: “People talked about you and Garbiñe as this obvious pair who should be working together. Have you heard that same conversation, feels like fate? Conchita: “Well, yeah, you do hear. It’s like couples. We all want Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston to get back together, right?”

• After beating Kiki Bertens on Monday, Garbiñe Muguruza was asked the possibility of facing Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, who is coached by her former coach, Sam Sumyk. She said: “I play the player, I don’t play the team. I’m just going to think about who is going to be my opponent and bring my game.”

What they’re tweeting

At the Australian Open, many tennis players have reacted to the news of the tragic helicopter crash that took the lives of nine, including pro basketball icon Kobe Bryant, 41, and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna. Among the tweets:

Naomi Osaka: “Dear Big bro, Hey … I don’t really know what to do so I’m writing you this letter. Thank you for being you. Thank you for inspiring people everywhere, you have no idea how many hearts you’ve touched. Thank you for being so humble and not acting as big as you are. Thank you for caring and checking up on me after my hard losses. Thank you for randomly texting me, ‘You ok?’ Cause you know how f**ked up my head is sometimes Thank you for teaching me so much in the short time I’ve been lucky enough to have known you. Thank you for existing. You will forever be my big bro/mentor/inspiration. Love you.”

Novak Djokovic: “My heart truly mourns over the news today. Kobe was a great mentor and friend to me. You and your daughter will live forever in our hearts. There are not enough words to express my deepest sympathies to the Bryants and every family suffering from this tragedy. RIP my friend.”

• Simona Halep: “RIP Kobe Bryant and all those who lost their loves today 💔 Your loss puts everything in perspective. Thank you for inspiring so many of us to follow our dreams.”

• Caty NcNally: “For you Kobe and Gigi 💛💜 #MambaMentality #8 #24 @AustralianOpen

• Coco Gauff: “RIP 🐐 The definition of intensity 🖤 🙏 #RIPKobeBryant #24 #8

By the numbers

• Tuesday’s day session, which included the first two women’s quarterfinal matches plus Roger Federer’s remarkable comeback win over Tennys Sandgren, drew 25,234 fans to Melbourne Park. The night session featuring Novak Djokovic’s victory over Milos Raonic, attracted 16,185 spectators to the grounds. The total attendance was 41,419.

• At 38 years, 178 days, Roger Federer is the oldest man to reach the Australian Open semifinals since Aussie Ken Rosewall (42 years, 68 days) in January 1977. Federer is also the oldest Grand Slam semifinalist since Jimmy Connors of the United States (39 years, 6 days) at the 1991 US Open.

• By reaching the quarterfinals, Simona Halep will return to World No. 2 following the Australian Open.

• Three former women’s Grand Slam singles champions – Ashleigh Barty, Garbiñe Muguruza and Simona Halep – all of whom have reached World No. 1, are still in the mix at the year’s first major.