Fired-up Barty powers into Open fourth round

MELBOURNE (AFP) – World number one Ashleigh Barty made light work of Russia’s Ekaterina Alexandrova yesterday, with the home hope unfazed by the sterile surroundings at the newly fan-free Australian Open.

Barty’s all-round prowess frustrated the big-hitting 29th seed in the 6-2, 6-4 third-round clash in an empty Margaret Court Arena on the first day of Melbourne’s snap, five-day lockdown.

“It was strange. Something I’ve never experienced before,” Barty said about playing without spectators. “I didn’t want it to affect my game.

“I love hearing the sound of the ball. Made it feel like practice.”

She will face Shelby Rogers in the fourth round after the American dispatched Estonian 21st seed Anett Kontaveit 6-4, 6-3.

Australia’s Ash Barty hits a backhand return to Russia’s Ekaterina Alexandrova during their third round match at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia. PHOTO: AP

Barty’s left thigh was again heavily strapped, but she moved around freely to dispel any injury concerns after pulling out of the women’s doubles on Friday.

The 24-year-old’s unwavering accuracy and canny slices ended an impressive run for Alexandrova, who arrived in hot form after upsetting world number two Simona Halep and French Open champion Iga Swiatek at last week’s Gippsland Trophy.

Barty started loosely and double-faulted to drop serve, but she returned superbly to rattle the Russian, whose heavy groundstrokes went awry.

The Australian peeled off six straight games to claim the first set, with Alexandrova requiring a medical timeout between sets for a stomach issue.

The 26-year-old Russian mustered a better fight in the second set but to no avail as she failed to make a maiden fourth round appearance in a Grand Slam.

Expectations, however, are raised for Barty, whose side of the draw has opened up with the early exits of defending champion Sofia Kenin and world number six Karolina Pliskova.

The 2019 French Open champion is on a mission to end Australia’s 43-year singles title drought in Melbourne but she might have to achieve the feat without home crowd advantage with fans barred until at least Thursday.

Barty, who made the semi-finals last year, reached the second week of her home Slam for the fifth straight year.