There were two first-time Grand Slam quarter-finalists in the shock-filled women’s draw at the Australian Open as American Sofia Kenin and Tunisia’s Ons Jabeur advanced to the last eight while top-10 seeds Asleigh Barty and Petra Kvitova prevailed in three sets on Sunday. Six of the top 10 women’s seeds are already out.
The 14th seed Kenin ended compatriot Coco Gauff’s dream run, recovering from a set down to win convincingly 6-7 (5/7), 6-3, 6-0. Unseeded Jabeur beat China’s 27th seed Wang Qiang – who beat Serena Williams in the last round – 7-6(4), 6-1.
Top seed and home hope Ashleigh Barty survived a scare to battle into the quarter-finals, beating American 18th seed Alison Riske 6-3, 1-6, 6-4. The world No 1 next plays two-time Wimbledon champion Kvitova, her opponent at the same stage last year. The Czech seventh seed avoided another Top-10 upset as she fought from a set down to beat Maria Sakkari 6-7 (4/7), 6-3, 6-2.
Kenin shows fight
“I just did the best I can. I just tried to take it like any other match,” said Kenin after her match. “I know she’s playing well, I just tried to play my game and fight for every point and just not focus on anything else.”
Gauff, the youngest player in the draw, departed the court in tears. But she has been one of the stories of the Australian Open, beating Venus Williams in the first round and then stunning reigning champion Naomi Osaka in round three.
The American, who turns 16 in March, was under the cosh immediately against Kenin, the 21-year-old breaking in the first game at Melbourne Arena and comfortably holding for a swift 2-0 lead.
There was no mistaking who the crowd wanted to win – each point for Gauff greeted with cheers and screams; there was only polite applause for Moscow-born Kenin.
The 67th-ranked Gauff recovered to gain parity for 4-4 and they went to the tie-break after Kenin saved set point.
Gauff then stepped it up a gear in the tie-break – aided by two Kenin double-faults – to take the first set in 58 minutes.
The younger American’s serve is powerful but she was totting up the double faults, her seventh of the match offering Kenin a second break point with the latter 2-1 up.
A resurgent Kenin – the determination etched on her face – broke at the third time lucky to lead 3-1, triggering a rare show of anger from the teenager.
Kenin took the second set in 38 minutes and carried the momentum into the deciding set, breaking Gauff to love in the opening game and racing towards victory.
Kvitova had won when they met in the quarters last year and Barty will be out for revenge, after she avoided becoming the latest big name to exit.
“It was third time the charm for me last week and it was third time tonight as well,” said the 23-year-old, who also needed three sets to beat Ukraine’s Lesia Tsurenko in the first round.
“I just had to hang in there and try and give myself a chance.”
On a day of celebrations for Australia Day, Barty got in the party mood by searing into an early 3-0 lead at a capacity 15,000 Rod Laver Arena. Barty, named Young Australian of the Year on Saturday, was broken by the 29-year-old Riske but wasted little time in hitting back for a 4-2 lead.
Barty nailed the first set in 34 minutes on her second set point when Riske – dumped out in the first round last year in Melbourne – shot weakly into the net.
The American had beaten Barty in both their previous meetings, the latest coming at Wimbledon in the fourth round last year. And the crowd fell quiet in the second set as Barty racked up 12 unforced errors.
Riske, whose previous best Grand Slam performance was reaching the quarter-finals at Wimbledon last year, wrapped up the second set in 27 minutes to leave Rod Laver Arena stunned.
They went to a decider and it was the French Open champion Barty who drew first blood, breaking for a 3-1 lead, but Riske broke back when the Australian planted a backhand wide.
Barty, unflappable in her title charge up until now, kept making errors. She put a straightforward forehand long and Riske was level again at 4-4.
Barty then gathered herself to hold serve. Riske was serving to stay in the tournament – and she lost her nerve at the fatal moment, gifting Barty victory with a double-fault on match point.
Kvitova stays on track
The 22nd-seeded Sakkari made a fast start, breaking the more experienced Czech seventh seed Kvitova in the first game in just two minutes at a sunny Rod Laver Arena.
Kvitova, who suffered severe injury to her left hand – her playing hand – in a knife attack at her home in 2016, had not dropped a set in reaching the last 16. The 29-year-old broke back for 5-5, but Sakkari did likewise for 6-5 with a terrific backhand pass that landed plum on the line.
But, as formation jets roared low in the sky to mark Australia Day, the Greek was unable to serve out the set, forcing the tie-break.
Sakkari, whose only WTA title came in Rabat in May, clinched the set in 52 minutes.
Both players struggled on their serves, exchanging breaks throughout the second set and the animated Greek lost her cool as she went 4-3 down, slamming her towel on her chair.
Kvitova displayed the cooler head, winning the set to force a decider when Sakkari double-faulted, before racing to victory in the third set.’
With AFP Inputs