Tennis - Australian Open - Melbourne Park, Melbourne, Australia, February 13, 2021 Australia's Ashleigh Barty in action during her third round match against Russia's Ekaterina Alexandrova REUTERS/Kelly Defina
February 15, 2021
By Nick Mulvenney
MELBOURNE (Reuters) – World number one Ash Barty overcame a stumbling start to reach the fourth round of the Australian Open with a 6-2 6-4 victory over Ekaterina Alexandrova at an empty Margaret Court Arena on Saturday.
The 24-year-old would have expected the backing of a fiercely partisan crowd for a weekend evening match at her home Grand Slam, but Melbourne’s five-day lockdown left her playing in front of officials, ballkids and coaches.
While most other players have seen plenty of empty courts on the WTA tour over the last year, it was a new experience for Barty, who elected to stay home while the COVID-19 pandemic raged around the world.
“It’s very strange, I’ve never experienced it before in my life,” she said. “It changes the sound of the court. Bit rude but I like it. I love the crowd but I loved the sound of the ball.”
The top seed was broken in her first service game but quickly rallied to take the first set when the Russian slapped the ball into the net for her 16th unforced error.
Barty was all over Alexandrova’s serve from the start, but some of her shot selection was questionable as she tried to finish off points, particularly some ill-judged lobs.
Showing no signs of being hampered by her heavily strapped left thigh, the Australian battled back after being broken again in the second set and secured the victory with a fifth and final break of serve.
Barty said she had been happy with how effective her slice backhand had been, although she conceded that she possibly went to it too often.
“I’ve never played with her before and never hit with her before,” she said of her opponent.
“I just had to figure out where I wanted to place the ball and change my patterns, but I was happy with the run I was able to get on.”
Barty, who is looking to become the first homegrown Australian Open singles champion since 1978, will play American Shelby Rogers for a place in the quarter-finals.
(Reporting by Nick Mulvenney, Editing by Peter Rutherford and Hugh Lawson)