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Women's semifinal preview: Barty, Swiatek brace for American onslaught

  • Gillian Tan

For the first time since in Australian Open history, and on the 100th year anniversary of the inclusion of women in the tournament, both women's singles semifinals will take place under the lights on Rod Laver Arena.

MORE: Day 11 schedule of play

Playing for a place in Saturday night's final are a pair of Grand Slam champions and a pair of American contenders – neither who are new to the pressure that comes with reaching the final four of a major.

Ash Barty [1] vs Madison Keys

Two years ago, Barty made history as the first woman since Wendy Turnbull in 1984 to reach the Australian Open semifinals. Fast forward, and the world No.1, now 25, has her sights on snapping another drought by ending Turnbull's 1980 record as the last woman to feature in an Australian Open final.

Barty, a champion at both Wimbledon and Roland Garros, has been unassailable, dropping her serve just once through five matches.

The top seed, who played cricket with her team on Wednesday as a way to relax off-court, has a slight mental edge over Keys thanks to a 2-1 head-to-head advantage.

MORE: Women's singles results AO 2022

Still, the hungry and relentless Keys knows her way around the second week of a major, having reached the fourth round or better in 15 other Grand Slams. That includes a breakthrough semifinal appearance in Melbourne in 2015.

But to secure an upset over Barty, Keys must halt a streak of her own: the powerful right-hander has a win-loss record of 0-9 against players ranked higher than world No.4.

Ash Barty's slice backhand is sublime, but her forehand is also a weapon

The 26-year-old American will be looking to win easy points on serve to extend her place atop the Australian Open 2022 women's ace leader board with 35, where Barty is a close second, with 30.

Quick points will help the Florida resident, who dropped a sole set in the third round and has spent a lengthy seven hours and 56 minutes competing, some three hours more than Barty's efficient five hours and four minutes.

MORE: Women's singles draw AO 2022

"Madi is an exceptional athlete, she has a great serve, great first strike off the return and off her first ball after her serve," said Barty. "It's about trying to put her in an uncomfortable position, try and get her off-balance, because if she controls the centre of the court, the match is on her racket."

"I need to be able to find a balance, problem solve my way through it, try and work out a way to nullify her strengths and bring it back to my patterns if I can, and understand it's not always in my control."

Barty's coach Craig Tyzzer credited his charge for maturing into a player who is able to produce results, even when she isn't playing her best.

That was on display during the Australian's quarterfinal bout against Jessica Pegula, when she reined in a slew of unforced errors to win in clinical fashion.

"She's more capable of handling those days when it's not that good," Tyzzer said.

He also described his charge's backhand slice – arguably her biggest weapon – as a "standout" shot, if only because it can trouble the bulk of players who are used to facing flat, two-handed backhands day-in day-out.

"I don't feel like she's played her best tennis here yet," he said of Barty. "Ash has got to be really switched on to be in a contest out there."

Danielle Collins [27] vs Iga Swiatek [7]

Like her countrywoman Keys, Collins is pursuing an upset that's guaranteed to vault her up the rankings. A victory over Swiatek would push the current world No.30 to the brink of the top 10, eclipsing her career best No.23.

She's has spent nine hours and 19 minutes on court through the tournament, a similar length to the nine hours and 32 minutes that Swiatek has battled through. During that period, the duo has toppled just one seed each.

Collins, a vocal right-hander, had surgery last April to treat endometriosis. At 28, she's a different player to the version of herself who surprised many to reach the final four at Melbourne Park in 2019.

The American has had deep runs at tournaments including a quarterfinal appearance at Roland Garros in 2020 and titles in San Jose and Palermo last year.

"I can use those experiences to certainly help me in the tight-pressure moments on court," said Collins. "Last time I was here in the semifinals I had never done that before…. hopefully I can carry the confidence that I've gained over the last couple years and be able to use that to my advantage."

The American has proven her ability to perform on big stages with six career top 10 wins, all in straight sets, under her belt, the most recent coming in Adelaide last year over Barty. She trails Swiatek 0-1, after retiring injured when the duo met later in the same Adelaide event.

Iga Swiatek refused to wave the white flag in her quarterfinal

Swiatek, contesting her first semifinal at a Grand Slam outside the French Open, is eager to add to her hard court resume and keep her AO 2022 campaign rolling.

The 20-year-old said she's able to handle heavy hitters, most recently Kaia Kanepi and Sorana Cirstea, though each took a set off the Pole.

"[Those] two matches showed me that even in tough moments I can, you know, come back, and I have, you know, skills to win matches even when they are really hard," said Swiatek.

"For sure it's gonna be hard. She's in great shape, you can see that, and really confident, but I also feel that way."