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Day 9 women's preview: Barty, Krejcikova in the box seat

  • Dan Imhoff

There is an unequivocal single-mindedness that takes hold of Ash Barty as all great champions, a conduit to any successful Grand Slam campaign.

So a little memory lapse from the world No.1 with her focus so acutely fixed was completely understandable as she looked ahead to her fourth straight Australian Open quarterfinal.

MORE: Day 9 schedule of play

Barty had just picked apart a dangerous Amanda Anisimova to secure a rematch with unseeded Jessica Pegula, a victor at fifth seed Maria Sakkari's expense and a quarterfinalist at Melbourne Park last year.

Two-time Australian Open champion Jim Courier had to remind Barty she had in fact faced the unseeded American before and if omens were needed, it came in the opening round of her maiden Grand Slam title run in Paris in 2019.

MORE: Women's singles results AO 2022

"I remember it now that Jim told me. I remember we played in the bullring in Paris. So it did check my memory," Barty admitted.

"Jess is able to control the baseline. She's able to take time away from you, take balls particularly off her backhand.

"She loves these courts; she made a quarter here last year. The last couple years her progression and her confidence with the way that she plays has gone and absolutely skyrocketed."

The two women had evolved since that initial showdown on the clay. Barty had only just reached her maiden Slam quarterfinal in the preceding major at Melbourne Park, while Pegula was yet to crack the top 70 as a Roland Garros debutante.

MORE: Women's singles draw AO 2022

"I feel like Ash is so tactical in everything she does. Really a smart, like perfect kind of tennis player in that way," the American said after her upset of Sakkari.

There would be fewer unknowns this time round and the Buffalo native's coach David Witt, former long-time coach to Venus Williams, tipped his hat to Barty.

His charge though had loftier ambitions of her own since that first meeting.

"(Ash) has so many different weapons, the slice backhand, she's just super smart on the court," he said. "Her serve is probably one of the most underrated, her serve is really good. Whether she has 10 aces or no aces, she moves it around like unbelievable.

"Her coming in, she has an all-purpose game where she can come in, volley, the slice. She's very smart on the court on her shot selection.

"I'll say (Pegula) does want to win a Slam, and yes, those goals are definitely, she sets some high goals. I think over the last two years she's probably had to set new goals with achieving different levels."

Jessica Pegula

Fourth seed Barbora Krejcikova has had to vastly re-evaluate her goals since she departed Melbourne Park last year in the second round.

The unassuming Czech was unseeded at the time and few had any expectations the world-beating doubles player was about to scale the same heights as Barty at Roland Garros three months later.

The 26-year-old, who also landed titles in Strasbourg and Prague and a quarterfinal appearance at the US Open in 2021, began this season with a runner-up result in Sydney and has gained momentum, following back-to-back victories at Melbourne Park over major winners Jelena Ostapenko and Victoria Azarenka.

"It's just something special and magical. (Before Roland Garros) I wasn't even top 100," Krejcikova said. "Now I'm here and I'm playing on the biggest stadiums with the champions. I'm actually able to beat them. I mean, I wouldn't really say it's disbelief anymore. I would just say it's like a very nice surprise."

Madison Keys

Her opponent, 51st ranked Madison Keys, had less cause for surprise having risen to the top 10 and with an Australian Open semifinal to her name from 2015.

But the 26-year-old had endured a frustrating 12 months and needed to beat the likes of 2019 champion Sofia Kenin and eighth seed Paula Badosa to book her first quarterfinal at Melbourne Park in four years.

"My biggest mindset change is just trying to enjoy tennis, take some of that just internal pressure that I was putting on myself, it was honestly freezing me," Keys said.

"I felt like I couldn't play at all. Just taking that away and putting tennis into perspective: that it's a sport, something that when I was little I enjoyed doing and loved doing it."