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Saturday November 28th, 2020 9:04AM

Party for Barty at Australian Open; Sharapova, Kerber out

By The Associated Press
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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — It was like a party at Rod Laver Arena. A partisan crowd backed Ash Barty, booed Maria Sharapova and celebrated wildly when the first Australian woman in a decade reached the quarterfinals at Melbourne Park.

Rod Laver was there watching, among the tennis greats. Prime Minister Scott Morrison in his green Aussie cap was cheering from the side of the court. It was in vogue for Aussies to be watching. Anna Wintour, too.

It took four match points and 2 hours, 22 minutes before Barty fended off 2008 champion Sharapova 4-6, 6-1, 6-4, reaching the quarterfinals of a major for the first time. She's the first Australian woman since Jelena Dokic to reach the last eight at the home Grand Slam tournament. No Aussie woman has won it in 41 years.

"It's amazing that it's ... happening in Australia," Barty said, reflecting on her first goal for 2019. "I have given myself the opportunity and the chance to play in front of the best crowd in the world on one of the best courts in the world and in my home Slam. There is absolutely nothing better."

She'll next play two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova, who defeated 17-year-old American Amanda Anisimova 6-2, 6-1 in 59 minutes to return to the Australian Open quarterfinals for the first time in seven years.

Another former No. 1 and former Australian titlist quickly followed Sharapova out when Danielle Collins upset three-time major winner Angelique Kerber 6-0, 6-2.

Collins had never won a match at a Grand Slam before coming to Australia — now she's won four straight and eliminated No. 14 Julia Goerges, No. 19 Caroline Garcia and No. 2 Kerber along the way. She'll face either 2017 U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens or Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in the quarterfinals.

Sharapova won the first set but was struggling with her serve, and finished with 10 double-faults in the match. After dropping the second set — midway through Barty's nine-game winning streak — Sharapova took an extended break in the locker room and was booed when she came back to court. That's a rarity for the five-time Grand Slam winner in these parts.

A comeback was always on the cards, and Sharapova nearly delivered — recovering from 4-0 down in the deciding set, forcing Barty to serve it out, and saving three match points when she did.

Two seasons back from her break to pursue a career in cricket, Barty has become Australia's best chance of producing a local champion since 1978. In her on-court interview, she saluted her former cricket team and said she'd watched on TV the previous day as they qualified for the national final.

"I needed to take that time away," she said, reflecting on her time out playing cricket. "I feel like I came back a better person on and off the court, a better tennis player."

Her immediate concern, though, is getting past Kvitova, who beat her in the final of the Sydney International last week.

Kvitova wanted no part of another loss to Anisimova, who beat her last year at Indian Wells and was the youngest American since Jennifer Capriati in 1993 to make it this far at Melbourne Park.

And so she went on the attack early, breaking in the first game. Kvitova was the model of consistency that the two other seeded players previously vanquished by Anisimova — No. 24 Lesia Tsurenko and No. 11 Aryna Sabalenka — were not.

Kvitova had to miss the Australian Open in 2017 because she was still overcoming injuries to her left hand that she sustained in a home invasion the previous month at her place in the Czech Republic. She lost in the first round here last year.

She's now on a nine-match winning streak, her four wins here come after a title run in Sydney, and is into the quarterfinals here for the first time since 2012.

"When I'm counting the years, it's pretty long," Kvitova said. "But, you know, sometimes the waiting time is worth for it. I'm not complaining at all."

Kvitova broke Anisimova's serve five times and never faced a break point. She got 86 percent of her first serves into play, and won all but five of the points when she did.

"She came out with a really solid game plan against me. That kind of threw me off — it was different from my other matches," said Anisimova, who will go home with her first Grand Slam match wins to her credit, and a much higher profile. "I was hoping that I'd just win a first-round match, so getting this far means a lot to me."

Frances Tiafoe celebrated his 21st birthday with a spot in his first major quarterfinal, beating No. 20-seeded Grigor Dmitrov 7-5 7-6 (6), 6-7 (1), 7-5. The American took off his shirt, flexed his right bicep and waved to the crowd on Melbourne Arena.

After beating the likes of No. 5 Kevin Anderson and Dmitrov, the road ahead gets significantly tougher for Tiafoe. He next plays No. 2-seeded Rafael Nadal, the 17-time major winner who didn't let Tomas Berdych on the scoreboard for 1 ½ sets before finishing off a 6-0, 6-1, 7-6 (4) fourth-round win.

Nadal beat Australians in the first three rounds and then dominated a long-time rival, winning the first nine games before the 2010 Wimbledon finalist finally held serve and held up his left fist in mock celebration.

"When you're back, you need a little bit of the luck in the beginning," said Nadal, who didn't play a competitive match between the last U.S. Open and the season-opening major in Australia because of injuries. "I'm in the quarterfinals, let's see what happens now."

___

More AP Tennis: https://www.apnews.com/apf-Tennis and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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