MELBOURNE, Australia -- Top seed and crowd favourite Ash Barty has survived a horror second set to overcome American Alison Riske and win through to the quarterfinals of the Australian Open for the second straight year.
Barty had reversed the trend of making nervy starts this year at Melbourne Park, winning the first three games of the match inside nine minutes. She broke Riske again in the sixth game before wrapping up the first set in just 34 minutes.
It was clinical tennis from the world No. 1. Riske, who was responsible for knocking Barty out of Wimbledon last year, was struggling to contain the power and finesse coming from the other side of the court. The capacity Rod Laver Arena crowd could sense it, growing louder with every point their hero won.
But anyone who thought Barty was cruising to a comfortable straight sets win was wrong. A far more aggressive and adventurous Riske returned to the court in the second set and before long she was bossing the match.
The 18th seed broke Barty twice in the set and was having little trouble holding her own service games. 27 minutes later the match was all square, with Riske winning 25 points to Barty's 13 in the second set. Not only that but Barty had made an uncharacteristic 12 unforced errors in the set alone.
The crowd were back on their feet early in the decider with Barty grabbing the early break of serve, but Riske struck back shortly after and consolidated to tie it up at four games all.
Some clutch serving saw Barty hold to edge ahead once again, before the 2019 French Open champion forced yet another break of serve, this time for the match. The winning point coming courtesy of a Riske double fault, sealing a 6-3, 1-6, 6-4 win.
"It was third time the charm tonight," Barty said after the game, in reference to her first win over Riske in three attempts. "She's a tough opponent for every single girl on the tour. She's got the ability to adapt her game and make her opponent uncomfortable.
"It was important to get off to a good start. A bit of a disappointing second set where I was a little bit loose and pressed too much, but very proud to bring it back in the third and go back to the patterns I wanted to play. I had to hang in there."
Barty will next face two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova in the quarterfinals. The pair met at the same stage last year at Melbourne Park with the Czech getting the better of the home favourite 6-1, 6-4.
"I love Petra, but let's hope she doesn't break my heart on Tuesday," Barty said. "I'm really excited to get another opportunity in the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam."
Since the quarterfinal loss at the Australian Open, Barty has beaten Kvitova on three straight occasions, including at the 2019 WTA Championships in China. The pair will play for a semifinal berth on Tuesday.