Petra Kvitova became the Barty Party-pooper, eliminating home favourite Ashleigh Barty in a blaze of screaming winners. But the Australian fans soon forgave her, especially when her emotions overflowed immediately after the match.
It is only just over two years since Kvitova was attacked by a knife-wielding burglar in her flat in Prostejov, Czech Republic, suffering such deep cuts to her racket hand that even her surgeon thought it unlikely she would ever play professional tennis again.
Now she is back in a major semi-final for the first time since 2014, the year of her second Wimbledon title. What’s more, she stands at the front of the pack to replace Simona Halep as world No1 next week. Should she get there – and the permutations surrounding the final few matches of this event are complex – she would stand atop the ladder for the first time.
“Actually, it was kind of a mix of emotions of everything I've been through,” said Kvitova, when asked about the lump in her throat that had left her unable to respond to Jim Courier’s on-court questions for a few poignant seconds.
“I always wanted to come back and play on the highest level I can. Yeah, it just took me a bit to the tears, but it was happy tears, for sure.”
Kvitova’s career has veered between the brilliant and the flaky. At the start of the event, her winning percentage in the majors stood at 70, lower than any other player to have collected two titles at this level.
This year, though, she looks leaner and more determined, having clocked 10 straight victories including the title at the warm-up event in Sydney. She even says she has developed a “Plan B” for the days when her ferocious, scudding groundstrokes miss their mark.
Kvitova is widely acknowledged to be one of the kindest souls on the tour, as Barty pointed out in a level-headed assessment of her own 6-1, 6-4 defeat. “Today Petra was outstanding,” Barty said. “She's an amazing human being. I think she's beginning to play her best tennis again. But most importantly, I think from all of the girls in the locker room, it's amazing just to see her back out here. It wasn't the same when she wasn't here.”
A third major title for Kvitova would certainly be a heartwarming story. But first her route must go through the 25-year-old American Danielle Collins, who is comfortably the most surprising semi-finalist in either draw. Collins was eliminated in qualifying here last year, and came into Melbourne this time without ever having won a main-draw match at a major. But she overcame Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova with a 2-6, 7-5, 6-1 comeback.
New world No 1 on Monday
Kvitova's win means Simona Halep will be replaced at the top of the standings on Monday.
The Czech, as well as Osaka, Svitolina, and Pliskova are still in contention.
First of all, sorry guys for beating Ashleigh. I started very well, served well and took the first break. She didn't give me anything for free in the second set and I definitely had to fight until the end.
Ash has great slice from the backhand, so I had to be very low and hit it as well as I could. I needed to play well from the backhand as well.
Kvitova fighting back tears now as she reflects on how her career was nearly ended by knife attack in December 2016.
I didn't really imagine to be back in this great stadium, it's great.
On facing Danielle Collins
She is very fearless and playing very aggressive.
— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) January 22, 2019
Kvitova 6-1, 6-4 Barty* (*next server)
Bold from Barty as she tries her luck at the net. The pair trade blows before Kvitova fires down the middle, Barty side steps and watches it drift long.
Kvitova maintains her game face but she's getting tight now as a loose forehand brings Barty in at 30-all.
The Czech sets up match point by working Barty out wide and smashing home a winner into the opposite corner. And she's done it. Barty slaps a return into the middle and she's into her first grand slam semi-final since 2014. GAME, SET AND MATCH; KVITOVA BEATS BARTY 6-1, 6-4
Kvitova* 6-1, 5-4 Barty (*next server)
Barty demonstrates her cricketing ability with a shot straight into her legs. She straight-bats it back into play, but Kvitova mops up the reply. Great urgency and tempo from Kvitova now. She's making Barty rush and it works wonders, setting up two break points. She has the breakthrough when Barty pushes her volley long. Kvitova will return from the changeover serving for the match. KVITOVA BREAKS.
Kvitova 6-1, 4-4 Barty* (*next server)
Great play from Barty as she moves Kvitova to all corner of the court, showing superb variety. It brings her back at 30-all. Kvitova is handed a time violation. It doesn't disrupt her focus as she pushes a backhand down the line and releases another ferocious roar.
Kvitova* 6-1, 3-4 Barty (*next server)
A double fault hands Kvitova only her third point off the Barty serve this set. Kvitova hangs in the game at 40-30 with great net play but an ace keeps the Aussie's nose in front.
Kvitova 6-1, 3-3 Barty* (*next server)
After two shaky service-holds Kvitova gets a much-needed love game on the board. We remain on serve.
Kvitova* 6-1, 2-3 Barty (*next server)
Barty super relaxed now and she holds to love. In fact the Aussie has only dropped two points off her serve this set.
— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) January 22, 2019
Kvitova 6-1, 2-2 Barty* (*next server)
Kvitova has dealt with Barty's slicing superbly today. The Aussie blinks first during an epic rally and draws an almighty roar from Kvitova - it's only for 30-15 but the Czech is showing signs of her opponent finding a way back into proceedings. Barty's confidence is indeed growing by the point, she shakes off miscuing a slice to fizz a service return flashing past Kvitova for deuce and then draws an error from Kvitova to set up break point.
What a response from the Czech. She shows great variety of the serve to get on the front foot and pummel a volley into the corner and shows lovely hands down low to lift a backhand winner down the line. At game point she sends Barty the wrong way with another winner down the line. Another great hold but Barty keeps knocking on the door.
Kvitova* 6-1, 1-2 Barty (*next server)
Barty posing more questions now. She passes the imposing figure of Kvitova at the net and then creates the space to strike a forehand down the line for 30-15. The crowd are in full swing now too as Barty comfortably holds again.
Kvitova 6-1, 1-1 Barty* (*next server)
Kvitova's concentration levels dip as a wayward return hangs Barty a 15-30 lead. Barty misses a great chance to turn it into break points but bats a groundstroke into the middle. She's annoyed with herself. Not to worry, she sets up break point with a fantastic backhand into the corner. Kvitova puts her back in her box with her first ace of the match. She swiftly backs it up with a second ace.
When Barty does get a racket on a booming Kvitova serve, the Czech is all over the reply. A terrific hold after her most testing service game so far.
Kvitova* 6-1, 0-1 Barty (*next server)
Solid response from Barty to dropping the opening set. An ace down the T secures an easy hold to 15. It lifts the spirit of the locals too who break out into a 'Barty Army' ditty.
Kvitova 6-1 Barty* (*next server)
Barty still flummoxed by Kvitova's game, unsure which area of the court the Czech will target next. It's throwing the Aussie's own game off track. Barty tries to rush the net trying to get in Kvitova's face, but the eighth seed anticipates well. A first set point comes and goes but Kvitova is clinical with the second. KVITOVA WINS FIRST SET AFTER 27 MINUTES.
Kvitova* 5-1 Barty (*next server)
Another opening here for Kvitova at 0-30. It's soon three break points as Barty strikes into the middle. Fantastic play from Kvitova. She secures the break with a well deceived drop shot cross court when Barty was anticipating a shot down the line. KVITOVA BREAKS.
Kvitova 4-1 Barty* (*next server)
Barty trying to make Kvitova's life awkward by getting the returns in and making Kvitova play one more stroke, but the eighth seed's power is too hot to handle. Just over 20 minutes played and Kvitova restores a three-game cushion.
Kvitova* 3-1 Barty (*next server)
Bang. Kvitova gives a Barty second serve short shrift with a blistering return. Her power game is too good for the Aussie to get a grip of early doors and this game is fast running away at 0-30.
Barty reels Kvitova back to 30-all by drawing a couple of errors before she digs deep in the next point, fending on Kvitova's attack on her backhand to lure the Czech to change tack. A big hold and the Aussie is on the board this match.
Kvitova 3-0 Barty* (*next server)
Crowd quiet on Rod Laver after Kvitova knocked the stuffing out of their early enthusiasm. A smattering of applause in encouragement rings round as Barty drifts another groundstroke wide before Kvitova throws in an unforced error for 30-15.
Another error off Kvitova's forehand wing hands Barty another free point and a double sees the momentum shift to the Australian's favour. Kvitova saves the break with a delightful crosscourt winner at the end of a lengthy rally showcasing both players' abilities and skill-sets.
Kvitova finds her range at the crucial moment with a delicate forehand and she cements the break.
Kvitova* 2-0 Barty (*next server)
Brilliant play from Kvitova to open up a 15-30 lead with a swinging backhand winner cross court before mixing things up with a winner down the line. She uses that backhand to good effect to go down the line again for break point, but Barty closes the door with a neat forehand into the corner.
Kvitova keeps the pressure on with more clean striking for break point No 2. Barty saves again but instantly hands her rival another when she pushes long from the net and then loops a forehand wide. KVITOVA BREAKS.
Kvitova 1-0 Barty* (*next server)
Kvitova opens up strongly with a 30-0 lead before Barty passes for her first point on the board. Some great groundstroke hitting ends with Barty pushing long before Kvitova powers down a first serve down the T. A solid start from Petra.
Kvitova and Barty going through their knock up on Rod Laver. Barty has won the opening set of their last two duels but then gone on to lose against Kvitova. She'll have an extra 12,000 odd fans behind her cheering her along this time, mind.
-@Petra_Kvitova vs. @ashbar96 head to head:@Kvitova holds a 18kph edge on @Bartys backhand, who likes to use her backhand slice as a weapon in rallies with more than 3 shots (50.2% backhand). In contrast, Kvitova relies on her forehand (38.9% backhand).@AusOpen#AusOpenpic.twitter.com/OcCEG1T31o
— Game Insight Group (@TennisAusGIG) January 22, 2019
Kvitova holds the edge
The eighth seeded Kvitova is yet to taste defeat against Barty, winning all three of their head-to-heads on all three surfaces since their first meeting way back at Roland Garros in 2012.
Kvitova will also be fresher this morning, spending just four hours and 23 minutes on court having not dropped a set yet compared to Barty's five hours and 46 minutes court time.
The Aussie, meanwhile, has dropped a set this fortnight. The 30th seed Maria Sharapova won the opening set of their duel in the fourth round before Barty came through 4-6, 6-1, 6-4.
Barty on how Big Bash break revived love for tennis
Barty is incredibly in the second phase of her tennis career after retiring in 2014. She spent nearly two years out of the game after citing tennis as a 'lonely sport'.
The all-rounder turned her hand to cricket where she excelled for the Brisbane Heat in the women's Big Bash.
The 22-year-old then returned to tennis in 2017 and enjoyed instant success, reaching the third round of the Aussie Open for the first time.
"I needed to take that time away," said Barty. "For me, having that 18 months off was vital. I feel like I came back a better person on and off the court, a better tennis player."
World No 1 spot also on the line
After Simona Halep's loss to Serena Williams yesterday, we're looking at a new world No 1 at the end of the championships.
If Kvitova defeats Barty, either the Czech left-hander, Naomi Osaka, Elina Svitolina or Karolina Pliskova could top the rankings by the time the ticker-tape falls on Rod Laver on Saturday.
Kvitova must reach the semi-finals and go a round better than Osaka for a chance of rising to No 1. But, if Svitolina or Pliskova reach the final, then Kvitova would need to win the title to book her spot at No 1.
Collins into semi-finals
We already have our first semi-finalist in the women's draw with the unseeded Danielle Collins through to the last four of a major for the first time.
The American, who lost out in the final round of qualifying last year, recovered from dropping the first set against Anastasia Pavlyuchenkov to win through 2-6, 7-5, 6-1.
Whose bubble will be burst?
Morning all and welcome to coverage of the women's quarter-final between Petra Kvitova and Ashleigh Barty.
It's a battle between the two in-form women of the year with Australian and 15th seed Barty losing just once this year - coincidentally to today's eighth seed Kvitova at the Australian Open warm-up in Sydney earlier in the month.
On that occasion they were meeting with silverware at stake as Kvitova recovered from dropping the first set and trailing 3-0 in the second to win through 1-6, 7-5, 7-6 and claim her 26th WTA title.
Barty will have revenge in mind this morning as she looks to reach her first ever grand slam semi-final.
The 22-year-old would also become the first Australian woman to reach the last eight in Melbourne since Wendy Turnbull in 1984, while Chris O'Neil was the last female home winner in 1978.
Kvitova, meanwhile, who won Wimbledon in 2011 and 2014, has not gone past the quarter-finals in Melbourne since 2012.
- Game-by-game coverage of Kvitova vs Barty will commence after 8am