Madison Keys presents a different challenge to those who’ve tried and failed against Ash Barty at the Aus Open so far, but can she stop the Aussie from claiming another record?
The 25-year-old has been near untouchable over the first 10 days of this year’s tournament, and can on Thursday reach her first Australian Open final – where she’d become the first Australian woman since Wendy Turnbull in 1980 to do so.
But Barty’s ruthless efficiency through five wins – spending just five hours and four minutes on court – has her in position to match the extraordinary feats of German ace Steffi Graf’s domination of the 1989 event.
Barty’s buzzwords of the week have revolved around “problem solving” and making opponents feel “uncomfortable”, traits she’s delivered in spades.
It took Barty all of three points to figure out the key to dismantling quarter-final victim Jessica Pegula – fighting from 40-0 down in the opening game to break the shell-shocked American and kickstart her most ruthless performance of the tournament.
Her stunning 6-2 6-0 win means Barty has tallied 17 games conceded across five matches at this year’s Australian Open – putting her in the ballpark to better Graf’s extraordinary 1989 triumph, where she dropped just 24 games.
If the pressure is on Barty, it isn’t showing with the Queenslander as calm as you like on and off the court.
“She’s number one, top seed, home slam and chopping everyone up. She should be that favourite,” former Hopman Cup teammate Matt Ebden told News Corp.
“She’s played amazing the first week and hopefully she can keep that up. There’s still a few more matches to go and that’s where she’s gonna need to play her best tennis again.
“But all signs are she’s playing amazing so far, so if she can carry that through I wouldn’t be surprised if she wins.”
Having wiped Americans out in the past two rounds, Barty has a chance to go for a hat-trick when she faces the unseeded Madison Keys in Thursday’s semi-final.
Keys presents a different challenge to those who’ve tried and failed against Barty so far, but the Australian is ready to put her problem-solving to the test.
“Maddie is an exceptional athlete, she has a great serve, great first strike off the return and off her first ball after her serve,” Barty said.
“A lot of the time it’s about trying to put her in an uncomfortable position, try and get her off-balance, because if she controls the centre of the court the match is on her racquet.
“I need to be able to find a balance, problem solve my way through it, try and work out a way to nullify her strengths and bring it back to my patterns if I can.”
Originally published as Ash Barty Australian Open 2022 start time: What time is her next match? Madison Keys preview