Melbourne – World No. 1 Ash Barty’s dream of becoming the first homegrown Australian Open champion since 1978 ended in extraordinary fashion with a 1-6, 6-3, 6-2 loss to Karolina Muchova in the quarterfinals on Wednesday.
Muchova was like a different player following a medical timeout in the second set and rallied to secure a place in her first Grand Slam semifinal. She’ll face big-serving Jennifer Brady, who staged a comeback to beat Jessica Pegula 4-6, 6-2, 6-1 in a battle of Americans, in the semifinals.
Barty wasted no time in asserting her authority early and coasted to a 5-0 lead on her way to winning the first set.
Muchova received treatment at her chair early in the second set and then took a lengthy medical timeout, returning revitalized and ready to take the match to the former French Open champion.
“I started feeling a bit lost and by the end of the first set, Ash was playing very good, she made almost no mistakes,” Muchova said.
“My head was spinning so I took a break … It was more they just checked my pressure. As I said, I was a bit lost, I was spinning. They cooled me down a bit and it helped me.”
Although not quite as dominant as the Australian had been in the first set, the Czech evened the match at 1-1 to become the first player to take a set off the top seed.
Barty continued to carve out chances on Muchova’s serve but failed to convert them. The mistakes kept piling up as she tried to finish points too early to take back the momentum.
Muchova, the 25th seed, hit 17 winners and overcame nerves to serve out the win in her first attempt, securing her place in the semifinals with an ace.
“I just tried to put a ball in and go for it, play a bit faster, go to the net,” Muchova said. “I’m happy that I handled it well.”
The canned applause piped into the empty arena appeared to taunt Barty, who would have had a passionate crowd behind her in the semifinals, which will take place after the expiration of Melbourne’s COVID-19 lockdown.
Brady, the No. 22 seed, cast friendship aside to beat Pegula. She is the last woman standing among those forced into a hard 14-day quarantine after arriving in Australia.
“We’re such good friends. I know we will having many more tough battles,” Brady said of Pegula, whose billionaire father owns the Buffalo Bills.
“I felt the pressure from her. She’s such an aggressive player,” added Brady, who hit 22 winners and seven aces. “I was looking to push her back and get more on offense. I think I played a really good third set.”
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