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Barty to meet Kvitova in Aussie Open quarters

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MELBOURNE, Australia — Ash Barty didn’t want to play tennis. Didn’t want to watch tennis, or even talk about the sport. She took a break from the tour after the 2014 U.S. Open to explore another career – in cricket.

Yes, cricket. The game of wickets, tea breaks, of bowling maiden overs or hitting the ball for six.

A little more than two years after switching back from bat to racket, Barty has caught the attention of a nation after becoming the first Australian woman in a decade to reach the quarterfinals of the Australian Open.

She beat five-time Grand Slam winner Maria Sharapova, the 2008 Australian titlist with a profile that transcends the sport, in a fourth-round match on Sunday that had the partisan crowd – including the prime minister – in raptures. They’re calling it the Barty Party.

“It’s amazing that it’s happening in Australia,” Barty said. “I have given myself the opportunity and the chance to play in front of the best crowd in the world on one of the best courts in the world and in my home Slam. There is absolutely nothing better.”

The great Rod Laver was there watching, in the stadium named in his honor. Other local celebrities were in the crowd and Prime Minister Scott Morrison was courtside in his green Aussie cap and with his family. So it was in vogue for Aussies to be watching. Anna Wintour, too.

There hasn’t been an Australian winner of the home Grand Slam in 41 years, since Chris O’Neil won the women’s title on grass in 1978. Mark Edmondson was the last Australian man to win the title, when he beat fellow Aussie and defending champion John Newcombe in 1976.

It took four match points and 2 hours, 22 minutes before Barty fended off Sharapova 4-6, 6-1, 6-4 to reach the quarterfinals of a major for the first time, and becoming the first Australian woman since Jelena Dokic to reach the last eight at Melbourne Park.

She’ll next play two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova, who beat 17-year-old American Amanda Anisimova 6-2, 6-1 to return to the Australian Open quarterfinals for the first time in seven years. Kvitova is on a nine-match roll, including a win over Barty last week in the Sydney International final.

Barty lost a tight first set before Sharapova started struggling on serve – the Russian finished with 10 double-faults in the match. After dropping the second set – midway through Barty’s nine-game winning roll – Sharapova took an extended break in the locker room and was booed when she came back to court. That’s a rarity for the five-time Grand Slam winner in these parts.

A comeback was always on the cards, though, and Sharapova pushed it the distance. A four-time finalist at Melbourne Park, she recovered from 4-0 down in the deciding set, forcing Barty to serve it out, and saved three match points in the last game.

Barty was elated but the celebrations contained. In her on-court interview, she saluted her former cricket team the Brisbane Heat and told the crowd she’d watched her former teammates on TV as they qualified for the final of Australia’s Women’s Big Bash League.

It’s a bit of a theme for Barty. She earlier told the host broadcaster that she didn’t watch a lot of tennis during the tournament because she got enough of it in practice and on court.

Asked later if she thought she’d be in the same position now if she hadn’t spent time away, Barty said her time in cricket was a good tonic.

“No, absolutely. I needed to take that time away,” she said. “I feel like I came back a better person on and off the court, a better tennis player.

“Yeah, for me, having that 18 months off was vital.

Coming into 2019, the 22-year-old former Wimbledon junior champion said she set herself some goals, and it primarily revolved around making the second week of the majors. She’d never been beyond the third round in Australia, and her best previous run at a Grand Slam tournament was a fourth-round exit at last year’s U.S. Open.

“So excited that we have been able to give myself a chance here to go deep, which is one of the ultimate goals for `19 was to try and really get my teeth sunk into slams and get deep into the second week,” she said.

Barty has been troubling rivals with her slice backhand and unconventional style, which she describes as her own.

“I love to play with freedom and fun and try and create as much variety as possible,” she said. “Obviously my game is built around my serve and forehand and bringing in a variety with the slice.

“But there are no secrets in tennis. I think every day I try and challenge myself to add another string to my bow.”

Joao Souza provisionally suspended

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LONDON — Brazilian tennis player Joao Souza has been provisionally suspended again amid a corruption investigation by the Tennis Integrity Unit.

Souza had already been provisionally suspended on March 29 but was reinstated on April 8 following a successful appeal.

The TIU says that the provisional suspension has been put back in place “following consideration of additional evidence submitted by the TIU,” adding that no more appeals will be accepted.

No further details were given for the reason of the suspension.

The 30-year old Souza is currently ranked No. 422, having reached a career-high of No. 69 in 2015.

Also in 2015, Souza played in the longest Davis Cup singles match ever, losing to Leonardo Mayer of Argentina 15-13 in the fifth set after 6 hours, 42 minutes.

The TIU is a joint initiative of the Grand Slam Board, the International Tennis Federation and the ATP and the WTA tours.

Medvedev shocks Djokovic to reach Monte Carlo semis

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MONACO – An erratic Novak Djokovic suffered a surprise 6-3, 4-6, 6-2 defeat against Daniil Medvedev in the Monte Carlo Masters quarterfinals Friday.

The 10th-seeded Russian was appearing in the last eight of a Masters tournament for the first time but was not overawed. In fact, it was the top-ranked Djokovic who made the most mistakes. The two-time champion looked out of sorts in tricky conditions and produced 47 unforced errors.

“On a windy day like today, conditions are changing every game,” Djokovic said. “It’s tough to find rhythm and he doesn’t give you much rhythm. He was very patient and played well tactically.”

After failing to serve out the match, when his Serbian opponent broke back to 5-2 down, Medvedev broke for the fifth time to seal a memorable victory.

Djokovic double-faulted at 30-30 to give Medvedev his first match point and a backhand winner secured a first win against his top-ranked rival at the fourth attempt, and a first victory against a No. 1.

“It was amazing,” Medvedev said. “He played worse than before and I am gaining more experience. He was not so good in the first set and made a lot of mistakes.”

Medvedev twice had his thighs massaged during changeovers in the third set. “Cramp didn’t affect my game,” he said.

The 23-year-old Monaco resident next faces the unseeded Dusan Lajovic, who also reached a Masters semi for the first time when he beat Italian qualifier Lorenzo Sonego 6-4, 7-5.

Lajovic has not dropped a set at the clay-court event and is more surprised than anybody.

“I didn’t expect this. I was sick before the tournament and taking antibiotics,” the 28-year-old Serb said. “But it’s the best week of my career.”

The same goes for the 23-year-old Medvedev, who is ranked 14 and is chasing a fifth career title.

He had lost the three previous matches against Djokovic, including a tough four-setter in the fourth round of this year’s Australian Open.

“In Australia he was at his best, but I made him run for his win there,” said Medvedev.

Djokovic won that tournament to secure a third straight Grand Slam title and 15th overall, moving two behind Nadal and five adrift of Roger Federer’s record haul of 20.

But Djokovic has now failed to reach the last four in three straight tournaments, after also falling short at Indian Wells and Miami.

“I am lacking that determination to go for shots on some points,” he said.

At times it looked like Djokovic would take control and he clinched the second set with two aces. But his shot-making was below its usual high standards and his drop shot rarely worked.

Nadal has won at Monte Carlo a record 11 times. The second-ranked Spaniard plays the unseeded Guido Pella of Argentina later.

The other match is between No. 9 Borna Coric of Croatia and No.13 Fabio Fognini of Italy.