WTA

Serena Williams withdraws from Barty showdown at Melbourne Park

By Sports Desk February 05, 2021

Serena Williams has withdrawn from her semi-final at the Yarra Valley Classic due to an injury to her right shoulder.

As a result, home favourite Ash Barty will progress to the final of the Australian Open warm-up event at Melbourne Park.

Williams, who is chasing an eighth Australian Open crown and an historic 24th grand slam singles success, had been in impressive form this week, demolishing Tsvetana Pironkova in straight sets.

Friday's quarter-final against American Danielle Collins proved a harder slog, as she was forced into a match tiebreak to win 6-2 4-6 10-6.

An anticipated showdown against Barty will now not come to pass, with the world number one to pursue a ninth career title against either Garbine Muguruza or Marketa Vondrousova.

"I think the rust is always there for everyone the first few matches of the season. But without a doubt, I felt better and better each match," Barty told reporters after being taken the distance by Shelby Rodgers.

"Each match has been very different, different challenges, different things I've had to overcome, which is the best thing, to be able to work through those and give myself another chance to play a little bit better the next day, focus on some new challenges for the next day."

Williams is due to face Germany's Laura Siegemund in the first round of the Australian Open on Monday.

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    Cornet, who celebrated her 32nd birthday on Saturday, battled to a 6-4 3-6 6-4 victory in stifling conditions on Rod Laver Arena to set up a last-eight showdown with Danielle Collins, who beat Elise Mertens in three sets.

    The Frenchwoman has now defeated two in-form former number ones in Halep and Garbine Muguruza, having also recovered from a set and 1-4 down to overcome Tamara Zidansek.

    She is through to her first quarter-final in what is her 63rd grand slam appearance and is the first Frenchwoman to reach this stage at Melbourne Park since Marion Bartoli in 2009.

    Cornet is playing in her 60th straight major, and should she compete in the main draws at Roland Garros, Wimbledon and Flushing Meadows, will set a new record for consecutive appearances in grand slams.

    "It feels amazing," Cornet said in her on-court interview with Jelena Dokic. "It was a battle with Simona today. In this heat after 30 minutes we were both dying on the court.

    "We kept going for two and a half hours with all our heart. Congrats to Simona because I know she struggled a lot and I admire this player so much. 

    "She's such a fighter and an example to me. To beat her today to go to my first quarter-final is a dream come true. I don't know what to say. It's just magic. It's never too late to try again.

    "This is why I keep playing tennis, for this moment where I can share all these emotions on the court with you."

    Cornet had reached the last 16 at majors on five occasions prior to her victory over Halep in a run dating back 13 years when narrowly missing out on the Australian Open quarter-finals.

    She was pegged back from a set and break up against Halep, losing 16 straight points at one point, and was clearly struggling with the heat as the match dragged into a decider.

    But Cornet, who recently suggested this might be her final season playing professional tennis, showed incredible resolve to break Halep in the seventh game and hold her own serve to break her quarter-final hoodoo.

    Halep congratulated Cornet, posting to her official Instagram account: "You have been stronger today! All the respect for you, Alize. Enjoy. I'll keep working to get better for another three-hour match when we meet again."

    In her post-match media duties, Halep said: "I have only nice words about her, because I like her on court, how she's fighting.

    "She deserves what is happening to her now. She works hard all the time, and I wish her good luck. I really want her to make this dream coming true."

    There was to be another emotional moment for Cornet at the end of her victory speech as she praised 2009 Australian Open quarter-finalist Dokic for her work off the court since retiring eight years ago.

    "I want to thank my box, but also I want to tell you something... how you moved on in your life, I think we can all congratulate you. You were an amazing player and now an amazing commentator," Cornet said as the pair embraced on court.

    Dokic, who last week called out social media trolls for body-shaming her, responded: "You just made me cry. I can’t believe I'm crying. Thank you. Alize Cornet."

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    "It was really tough last year. I really wanted to play, but I couldn't with the tear in the ab," he said.

    "But I believe there is a reason for everything that happens and I've been wishing to come back as soon as possible and the way I won today shows how much I care about this tournament."

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    "I was really precise with my serving and he wasn't reading my serve, which is why I hit a lot of aces," he said.

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    Barty, the top seed, defeated Amanda Anisimova 6-4 6-3 on Sunday to progress to the quarter-finals in Melbourne for a fourth successive time.

    Anisimova defeated last year's champion Naomi Osaka in the last round, but she proved no match for Barty, who sealed the win in 74 minutes.

    Barty did see her run of holding serve ended, however, after 63 games without being broken, though it was a minor blip in another convincing win. 

    Indeed, the 25-year-old has now won all four of her Australian Open ties without dropping a set.

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    Her comments were well received by the crowd at Rod Laver Arena, and Barty is delighted to be playing in front of spectators once again.

    "The last two years have been extraordinarily tough for a lot of people around the world," she said.

    "To have the crowd here, it brings a lot more to the tennis. It makes it a lot more enjoyable for me to play at home."

    Barty struck seven aces and registered a first-serve percentage of 78, while also hitting 23 winners and making exactly half the amount of unforced errors as Anisimova (17 to 34).

    "Amanda is an incredible athlete and incredible competitor. It's nice to see her back playing her best tennis," Barty continued.

    "I enjoyed sharing the court with her and testing myself against her. It was nice to be able to hold firm tonight."

    Asked in a post-match news conference about dropping serve for the first time in eight matches, Barty replied: "It didn't bother me too much.

    "Honestly, I'm not counting how many games I hold in a row or not. The fact I was able to reset, break straight back, was really important, just to be able to reset myself, go again and continue to do the right things."

    Next up for Barty, a two-time major winner who is yet to taste victory in her home grand slam, is another American in the form of Jessica Pegula, who upset fifth seed Maria Sakkari 7-6 (7-0) 6-3.

    "It's going to be a challenge for me to try and push her off that baseline and make her uncomfortable and feel like she has to create," Barty told reporters.

    "But I know that she's also going to be doing the exact same thing to me and trying to make me uncomfortable.

    "That's the chess game that we play. You go out there and have fun with it, see who can execute better on the day, and that's about all there is to it."

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