MELBOURNE, Australia — World No. 1 Ashleigh Barty survived a mini-scare on Rod Laver Arena Thursday but dug in to overcome compatriot Daria Gavrilova 6-1, 7-6(7) and book her place in the last 32 of the Australian Open.
Barty had been as close to perfect as you can get on the tennis court in her first round win over Danka Kovinic. The Queenslander became the first women’s top seed to double-bagel her opponent in a major since 2009, dropping just 10 points throughout and finishing the match in 44 minutes. It was a performance which ESPN analyst Darren Cahill labelled “faultless” and saw her installed as the new favourite for the title.
But perhaps the most impressive part of Barty’s match against Kovinic was the fact she struck just five unforced errors across the two sets. On Thursday, in the second round against Gavrilova, it was a complete contrast.
Barty had passed the five error mark before the conclusion of the third game of the match, and although she wrapped up the first set in a comfortable 6-1 scoreline, it was a sign of what was to come.
Leading 5-2 in the second set and serving for the match, the unforced errors really began to mount for the No. 1 seed. She was striking balls long and dumping others into the net, the sort of thing which was almost unseen two days earlier and throughout her title-winning run at last week’s Yarra Valley Classic.
Barty was broken in consecutive service games, either side of a Gavrilova hold of serve, and in the blink of an eye the set was all square. A tiebreaker was eventually required where Barty was forced to stave off two set points to Gavrilova, before the Queenslander prevailed to take the set and the match.
The stats will say she won in straight sets but Barty’s 34 unforced errors proved it was anything but routine.
“[I was] doing all the right things [but] then I feel like I just lost my way tactically, more with just having the right intent and going about it the right way,” Barty said after the match. “Even if I did miss, I wanted to miss in the right way. I just kind of lost that a little bit through that second set. But happy in the end to be able to get through in straight sets and stay alive.”
Still, Cahill, who coaches world No. 2 Simona Halep, believes Barty is the player to beat at this year’s Australian Open.
“At the moment, her game looks faultless,” Cahill told ESPN. “Ash and (coach) Craig Tyzzer look like they have done an enormous amount of work over the last two or three months.
“Physically, it’s probably the best I’ve ever seen her and now she’s confident having won the Yarra Valley Classic last week. It’s going to take a great performance to beat her here.”
Cahill also believes one of the factors in Barty looking stronger now than she did when she reached the final four at the tournament in 2020, is how she’s able to generate more power in her shots.
“The way she has trained, she seems to be putting more in her crosses and getting more power out of the frame, easier power,” he said. “It’s certainly better for her slice.”
Barty will next face 29th seed Ekaterina Alexandrova, who toppled Barbora Krejcikova in straight sets, for a place in the fourth round of the Australian Open.
“I’ve never hit with her, so that’s a new one for me,” Barty said of Alexandrova. “We’ll kind of sit down and work out a game plan as best we can. Then it’s about the challenge of now having someone that I haven’t played against that I can go out there and test myself against.”