Top seed Ash Barty is back in the Australian Open semifinals after storming to a resounding 6-2 6-0 win over 21st seed Jessica Pegula.
The world No.1 required just 63 minutes to secure the victory, which takes her within two wins of becoming the first Australian women's singles player to hoist a major on home soil since Chris O'Neill in 1978.
"That was solid tonight," beamed Barty. "I was able to serve and find a lot of forehands in the centre of the court and I was happy to take the game on; be aggressive off my forehand, not worry if I miss a couple as long as I'm doing the right thing, and I felt like I was able to do that the whole match."
The Australian entered the evening encounter with a 1-0 head-to-head advantage, thanks to a 6-3 6-3 win over Pegula en route to her maiden major title at the 2019 French Open.
In the opening game, the top seed immediately exerted her authority, turning to booming forehands and her go-to backhand slice to secure an early break despite Pegula having a chance to serve it out at 40-0.
After Amanda Anisimova snapped Barty's impressive streak of 63 consecutive service holds in Sunday's fourth round, the Australian was eager to begin building anew.
Serving at 2-1, Barty's unforced error count uncharacteristically crept into the double digits, though the 25-year-old was able to fend off a break point.
Steadying, the home crowd favourite extended her lead further by breaking Pegula for a second time in the seventh game, as her slice backhand drew an error from the American. Serving for the set at 5-2, the Queenslander held to love, closing out the set with an ace down the tee.
Searching for her first major semifinal berth, Pegula looked increasingly out of her comfort zone in her first match against a world No.1.
In the opening game of the second set, the American saved a trio of break points before conceding a fourth break point as Barty ended a 14-stroke rally with an overhead winner.
The Australian once again stormed to a double break advantage, continuing to foil a frustrated Pegula with her reliable backhand slice.
Serving and trailing 0-4, Pegula held a 40-0 lead and was poised to halt Barty's seven-game winning streak.
Instead, the Aussie won five straight points, and with a big forehand drew Pegula wide who slapped a return into the net.
Serving for a place in the final four, Barty captured her second match point after firing a huge serve down the tee that was punted long by Pegula on the stretch.
"I knew I had to play my very best tennis tonight to match up with Jess and put her under the pump," said Barty, noting that her effective serve and firing forehand enabled her to dictate play. "I was just trying to be assertive and be aggressive when I could … and kind of defend when I had to," added the Australian, who struck 17 winners to Pegula’s seven.
"I've obviously got a couple more years of experience under my belt in handling different situations and being able to problem solve out on court."
Pegula admitted that she felt somewhat helpless.
"It was just too good tonight from Ash, I think we've seen her do that to a lot of people. Unfortunately I was a victim tonight to that,” said the American.
"When she gets into a rhythm, she can kind of run away [with the match].
"Her game just kind of picks you apart a little bit, and it can be really frustrating because you don't feel like you can get a lot of free points, there's really not much you can do."
With the victory, Barty extended her winning record against American opponents at Grand Slams to 12-7 since the 2020 Australian Open – and more importantly advanced to within two victories of a third major.
"I'm absolutely loving playing out here… hopefully there's a little bit more left," said Barty, who is yet to drop a set this fortnight.
In her last semifinal appearance at Melbourne Park in 2020, Barty was upset by eventual champion Sofia Kenin. Since then, she has dominated on courts from Wimbledon to Miami.
"I've grown as a person, I've grown as a player, I feel like I'm a more complete tennis player," said Barty, who has rarely looked stressed this fortnight. "I've obviously got a couple more years of experience under my belt in handling different situations and being able to problem solve out on court.
"It's a credit to my team, they've done so much work with me behind the scenes to make me the best version of myself."
In Thursday's primetime semifinal action, the likeable Aussie faces Madison Keys following the American's 6-3 6-2 upset of fourth seed Barbora Krejcikova.
"I've had plenty of battles with Maddy before… I can't wait, I know it'll be a good one and whoever can execute better will be in the final. How good," Barty grinned.
The Australian boasts a 2-1 win-loss record against Keys, one year Barty's elder, including a straight sets win during their most recent encounter at the 2019 French Open. The American has identified and will need to diffuse Barty's most troubling weapon.
"I think the reason Ash's slice is so good is just because she's able to hit it really no matter how big the ball that's coming in, which I think not a lot of other women in this era have been able to do," said Keys.
"I think she does such a good job at resetting the point constantly, being able to get back to neutral off of a ball.
"You can't do a ton off of her slice because it comes in so low… that's obviously one of her weapons because then she can set it up to look for a forehand.
"Obviously once Ash is looking for a forehand, then she can kind of start controlling the point."
For what it's worth, Florida-based Pegula predicts that her countrywoman Keys will present a closer challenge to Barty.
"I think their game matches up a little bit differently, Ash obviously can beat anybody but so can Madi," she said.
"If Madi is serving really well, really using her kick serve and looking for her forehands … she can really make it a tougher match."