Melbourne Summer Series women’s wrap: Osaka triumphs, Barty final bound

  • Matt Trollope

Reigning US Open champion Naomi Osaka was among a troupe of women’s stars advancing in WTA events at Melbourne Park on Friday.

Osaka notched a 7-5 6-1 win over Romanian Irina-Camelia Begu to advance to the semifinals of the Gippsland Trophy, where she will meet Belgian Elise Mertens.

World No.1 Ash Barty, meanwhile, moves into the final of the Yarra Valley Classic after Serena Williams withdrew from their scheduled semifinal clash, citing a right shoulder injury.

Barty and Williams had come through match tiebreaks in their quarterfinals; Barty saw off Shelby Rogers in the first match of the day while Williams subdued Danielle Collins.

Sandwiched between those contests was an AO 2020 final rematch between Sofia Kenin and Garbine Muguruza, but unlike last year, Muguruza was ruthless in demolishing the world No.4 6-2 6-2.

The Spaniard will play Marketa Vondrousova on Saturday for a shot at Barty in the final.

In other results, Simona Halep was hampered by a back injury in a quarterfinal loss to Ekaterina Alexandrova, while former AO champions Victoria Azarenka and Angelique Kerber took a step closer to a semifinal showdown in the WTA Grampians Trophy.

Serena Williams beat Danielle Collins but won't contest the semifinal

Osaka wins, Gippsland Trophy semis set

After a slow start in which she fell behind an early break, Osaka reeled off 12 of the final 16 games to eliminate Romania’s Begu and extend her winning streak to 14.

In a statistical quirk, Osaka finished the match with double the number of winners (22-11) yet half the unforced errors (11-22) of Begu.

It was Osaka’s third win this week at Melbourne Park and sets up a semifinal showdown with Mertens who beat Elina Svitolina 6-3 5-7 [10-6] in the last match of the evening at MCA.

"I think now I'm kind of relaxed," said Osaka, who admitted to nerves during her opening-round win over Alize Cornet. 

"I just feel like I'm really glad I'm playing this tournament, because it's given me a chance to analyse my opponents. I feel like I'm getting better at that, as all the matches or as I keep playing more matches.

"Normally I think two or three matches is good for everybody (ahead of a Slam), but for me, right now I just kind of want to see how far I can take it."

In the same event, Alexandrova overwhelmed Halep 6-2 6-1 in just 60 minutes to set up a clash with Kaia Kanepi, who sailed through to the semis without hitting a ball after No.8 seed Karolina Muchova withdrew with a left abdominal injury.

Azarenka, Kerber into Grampians Trophy quarters

In her first match of 2021, Victoria Azarenka staged a magnificent comeback to beat Yulia Putintseva.

Trailing 1-5 in the match tiebreak and staring down two match points, the 2020 US Open finalist saved one with a magnificent volley and won the final four points of the match to complete a 6-4 1-6 [11-9] triumph.

Azarenka, who also trailed 4-0 in the first set, plays No.6 seed Anett Kontaveit for a place in the semifinals.

Eighth seed Angelique Kerber was a straight-sets winner over Ons Jabeur and will meet Maria Sakkari, who dismissed Leylah Fernandez for the loss of just four games. Also advancing was 2020 US Open semifinalist Jennifer Brady, the seventh seed, who beat Marta Kostyuk 6-1 6-4.

Completing the quarterfinal line-up were Barbora Krejcikova, Ann Li and Sorana Cirstea.

Garbine Muguruza battled through her clash with Sofia Kenin

Muguruza wins re-match

Earlier on Friday, it was immediately evident that Muguruza was locked in for her quarterfinal clash with Kenin.

Serving big, intense from the baseline and moving forward at every opportunity, the two-time major champion landed 79 per cent of her first serves and struck 15 winners to just four unforced errors in a near-flawless opening set.

She earned a break point for a 6-2 3-0 lead, only for Kenin, much like she did in the AO 2020 final, produced a succession of winners to hit her way out of trouble. The American levelled the set at 2-2, and from that point the two women engaged in a series of mesmeric baseline exchanges.

But Kenin did not win another game.

“I knew it was going to be a very tough game from the baseline, because I remember very clearly the last match. So I was looking for it, I was more prepared for the biggest battle” Muguruza said.

“I think I played better, I think I used my shots smarter and took my chances and I think I did well early, so I got the advantage of the score and then I kept playing well and dominating the match.”

“I'm happy with the way I'm playing.”

Williams, Barty victorious

Williams was brilliant in shutting out Collins in the first set, before the 13th seed – who has a history of strong performances in Australia – was able to push Williams more effectively in the baseline rallies in the second.

In the match tiebreak, Williams went up a gear, cracking her serve at speeds approaching 200km/h and taking charge of points with first-strike tennis.

“I’ve been working on my serve a lot, because it’s such a good weapon and I want to keep it that way after all these years,” Williams said after the 6-2 4-6 [10-6] victory.

“It felt good to get through that in the tiebreak. Danielle plays so good in Melbourne, and actually around the world. I knew today wouldn’t be easy, so I’m glad to get through it.”

Barty, meanwhile, said she felt fit and healthy, despite some soreness in what is her first event in 11 months.

After leaping out to a 5-2 opening-set lead, Barty struggled with Rogers’ consistency and relentlessness from the baseline, and was forced to a match tiebreak. There, Barty’s backhand slice and court nous shone through while Rogers’ game broke down.

"It's nice to get into a routine. I think the rust is always there for I think everyone the first few matches of the season,” she said after sealing a 7-5 2-6 [10-4] win.

“But without a doubt, I felt better and better each match.”