Ashleigh Barty’s quest for a maiden Australian Open title was ended after a quarter-final loss to Karolina Muchova 1-6 6-3 6-2 on Wednesday.
Barty, who took the first set convincingly, was not able to regroup after her opponent took a medical timeout following just a 24-minute set in the Australian’s favour.
The medical timeout would prove to be the catalyst for the Czech to wrestle back some momentum and, after she levelled, a catalogue of unforced errors saw Barty’s hopes of a title on home soil end.
For Muchova her remarkable form at this tournament continues, with Karolina Pliskova and Elise Mertens already dispatched, but this victory tops the lot and seals a first appearance at the last four of a grand slam.
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“I started to feel a bit lost at the end of the first set,” the 24-year-old said after the match. “My head was spinning so I took a break and it helped me. I tried to get back and play a bit faster and it worked well.
“They checked my [blood] pressure, I was a bit lost and spinning. They cooled me down with ice and it helped me.”
Barty refused to be drawn into a debate about the break in play, when she attended her post-match press conference.
“If she wasn’t within the rules, the physios and the doctors would have said so,” insisted Barty.
“That’s the laws of our game, is that we have those medical timeouts for cases that are needed. Obviously she needed that today, [it’s] completely within the rules for her to take that.
“From my point of view, I’ve played a lot of matches where there have been medical timeouts. I’ve taken medical timeouts myself before, so that shouldn’t be a massive turning point in the match.”
I was disappointed that I let that become a turning point. I’m experienced enough now to be able to deal with that. I think I just lost my way a little bit, which is disappointing without a doubt.
Barty had got the better of the Czech in their previous meeting at the US Open in 2018 and signalled her intentions with a break in her opponent’s first game, in temperatures of 25 degrees in Melbourne.
Muchova could not find her range, and a string of wayward shots were followed by a double fault, to put her on the verge of a bagel after six minutes of play at the Rod Laver Arena. It was avoided, but Barty secured a routine 6-1 set before the tide turned.
The world No 27, in only her second Grand Slam quarter-final, went off for a long period after a rare winner and when she returned it was her Australian opponent who could not land any shots.
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Five of the next six games in the set went the way of Muchova, which levelled proceedings as Barty hit 18 unforced errors.
Momentum was firmly with the underdog and another break at the start of the decider, increased the pressure on the home favourite, who was seeing hopes of becoming the first Aussie woman since Wendy Turnbull in 1980 to reach the final of the Australian Open fade fast.
With the crowd not due to return until Thursday after a five-day lockdown for the state of Victoria ends, Barty had to find support from within and yet let another game slip, despite nerves getting the better of the duo with the finish line in sight.
Serving for the match, Muchova then sealed her passage into the semi-finals with an ace to claim one of the best victories of her career.
Brady goes the distance to overcome Pegula
Jennifer Brady clinched a second consecutive semi-final appearance at a major with a 4-6 6-2 6-1 win over fellow American Jessica Pegula in the quarter-finals.
The Billie Jean King Cup team-mates produced an entertaining contest with breaks aplenty in addition to various long rallies.
Brady, who reached the US Open semi-finals in August, recovered from losing the first set and being broken in the first game of the decider to fight back and knock out her good friend.
“I know we will be having a lot more tough battles. Some may go her way, some may go mine,” she said. “Luckily today it went mine and I am really happy to be moving onto the semi-finals.”
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World No 61 Pegula’s fantastic journey in the tournament came to its conclusion despite a strong start where she won 12 consecutive points to seal the opener.
After, Brady began to channel her growing frustration; winners became more frequent and three breaks secured the second set.
When Pegula broke at the start of the third, the balance of the tie looked set to turn once more, but her fellow American responded in style, to triumph in the next six games and set up a semi-final contest against Muchova.
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