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Barty wary of ‘exceptional’ Keys, Collins ready for ‘strong’ Swiatek

MELBOURNE (AFP) – Ashleigh Barty is wary of “exceptional athlete” Madison Keys but the resurgent American knows she will need more than supreme fitness to outsmart the top seed and make the Australian Open final.

Barty is renowned as one of the best tacticians in the game and has out-thought and out-played all her opponents so far, in devastating fashion.

Heading into their semi-final on Rod Laver Arena today, the world number one has dropped just 17 games in her five matches at Melbourne Park without losing a set.

As well as “problem-solving” her way out of tricky moments, Barty has developed an exceptional all-court game which beaten quarter-final opponent Jessica Pegula said “picks you apart”.

The unseeded Keys, who made the last four in 2015 and lost to eventual champion Serena Williams, said it was important for her to “continue to focus on my side of the net”.

Ash Barty of Australia celebrates after defeating Jessica Pegula of the US. PHOTO: AP

But she also knows Barty’s dangerous backhand slice – which courtside interviewer Jim Courier compared to Roger Federer – must be blunted.

“I think she does such a good job at resetting the point constantly, being able to get back to neutral off of a ball,” she said.

“You can’t do a ton off of her slice because it comes in so low.”

Two-time Grand Slam winner Barty is aiming to become the first Australian woman to win her home Grand Slam since Chris O’Neill in 1978 and will start as favourite.

But the down-to-earth Australian is taking nothing for granted against a player who has beaten 2020 champion Sofia Kenin, eighth seed Paula Badosa and fourth seed Barbora Krejcikova.

“Maddie is an exceptional athlete, she has a great serve, great first strike off the return and off her first ball after her serve,” she said.

“A lot of the time 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 racquet.”

In the second semi-final, Polish seventh seed Iga Swiatek faces 27th-seeded American Danielle Collins, who is enjoying a second wind after surgery took away the pain that was hampering her game.

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