Ashleigh Barty cemented her status as the favourite to win the Australian Open after continuing her rampant march through the draw with a 6-2, 6-0 win over Jessica Pegula in the quarter-finals on Tuesday.
The top seed entered the match inside Rod Laver Arena having dropped just 15 games across her previous four matches and was once again on a different level to her opponent. Backed by a one-sided home crowd, the 25-year-old Australian raced to victory in just 63 minutes.
“That was solid tonight. I had a lot of fun out here. I was able to serve well and find a lot of forehands in the centre of the court and I was happy to take the game on,” Barty said.
Barty, who is aiming to become the first local since Chris O'Neil in 1978 to win the Australian Open, next faces another American in the semi-finals after Madison Keys produced an impressive performance to defeat fourth seed Barbora Krejcikova.
It will be Barty's second semi-final at Melbourne Park, and the world No 1 believes she is a superior player now to when she was beaten by eventual champion Sofia Kenin in a semi-final in Melbourne in 2020.
“I have grown as a person. I have grown as a player. I feel like I am a more complete player,” she said. “I have a couple of more years of experience under my belt in handling different experiences and problem solving out on the court.
“I think it is a credit to my team. They've done so much work with me behind the scenes to make the best version of myself. I'm loving playing out here.”
Keys should provide Barty the sternest test so far after the former US Open finalist continued her resurgence by thrashing French Open champion Krejcikova to reach her first Australian Open semi-final since 2015.
Keys, a former world No 7 whose ranking has plummeted to 51 after a year of injury and loss of form, was too good for the Czech fourth seed who struggled in the searing Melbourne heat, racing to 6-3, 6-2 victory on Rod Laver Arena.
“It means a lot,” said Keys. “Last year was really hard. I did everything that I could with my team to just reset in the off season and focus on starting fresh for the new season, really starting from zero and not worrying about last year. Wow, that's gone well so far. I am really proud of myself.”
Keys endured a frustrating 2021, winning just 11 matches in the entire season, a mark she has now matched less than a month into the new year after winning a lead-up event in Adelaide.
The big-serving American came into the tournament as the WTA aces leader and signalled her return to form by beating 2020 champion Sofia Kenin and eighth seed Paula Badosa en route to the quarter-finals.
“It’s so nice to have Maddy back playing her best tennis,” Barty said. “She’s a top player. She deserves to be at the top of the game. She had a rough trot last year with injury and illness, but she is one of the most incredible girls in the locker room. I have had plenty of battles with Maddy before, this is just going to add to it.”