Barty to face Collins in bid to end Australian title drought

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MELBOURNE, Australia — Ash Barty ended a 42-year drought just by reaching the Australian Open final.

The top-ranked Barty, who beat Madison Keys 6-1, 6-3, needs one more victory to be the first Australian woman to win her home Grand Slam title since 1978.

Danielle Collins is in her way. The 28-year-old American was dominant in a 6-4, 6-1 win over 2020 French Open champion Iga Swiatek in the second of the two semifinals.

The women’s final is set. Collins said the chance to take on Barty for the title at her home Grand Slam is going to be “spectacular.”

Barty is the first Australian since Wendy Turnbull in 1980 to reach the women’s singles final at the tournament. Chris O’Neil was the last Australian to win it, two years before that.

Barty has already won major titles on grass at Wimbledon and clay at the French Open. Collins is into her first Grand Slam final.

Both semifinals were over quickly.

Barty hit 20 winners to only eight for Keys. She converted four of her six break-point opportunities, and saved the only two break points she faced on her serve against the 2017 U.S. Open champion runner-up. In six matches so far at the tournament, she has dropped one service game.

“It’s unreal. Honestly, it’s just incredible,” Barty said in her on-court TV interview. “I love coming out here and playing in Australia.

“As an Aussie, we’re exceptionally spoiled we get to play in our own back yard. Now we have a chance to play for a title. It’s unreal.”

The 27th-seeded Collins took only 78 minutes to beat the seventh-seeded Swiatek. Her forehand cross-court winner to set up her first match points was typical of her semifinal form. She hit 27 winners, had only 13 unforced errors and imposed her relentless energy on the match.

She opened each set with a break of serve and raced to 4-0 leads both times.

Collins’ run to the semifinals in 2019 was her best previous result at a Grand Slam tournament. She’s determined to go one better.

“We’ve had some incredible battles,” she said of Barty. “To play the No. 1 in her home country, it’s going to be spectacular.”

Keys was playing in the Australian Open semifinals for the first time since 2015, when she lost to eventual champion Serena Williams. That year was the last time a No. 1 seed won the women’s title at Melbourne Park.

Keys was on a career-best 10-match winning streak ahead of the semifinals, including a run to the title in a tune-up tournament in Adelaide – her first WTA title since 2019 – and a first-round win over 2020 Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin. Her full tally of 11 match wins this month already equals her total for 2021, when she dropped into the 50s in the rankings. She’s expected to return to the top 30 next week.

The stadium was limited to two-thirds capacity, with the state government allowing an increase from the earlier 50% restriction on ticketed courts late this week as part of the easing of rules in place for the COVID-19 pandemic.

Most of the support in the first match, obviously, was for Barty. Chants of “Let’s go Barty, Let’s go!” – combined with coordinated clapping – were regular at each changeover, with pockets of fans wearing the yellow shirt synonymous with the Australian player scattered around arena. Rod Laver, the aging Australian tennis great, was in the stadium himself.

While Barty is potentially one win away from giving the host nation a title, there’s a guaranteed win in another competition.

Nick Kyrgios and Thanasi Kokkinakis, dubbed “Special K,” ensured an all-Australian men’s doubles final with 7-6 (4), 6-4 win over third-seeded Marcel Granollers and Horacio Zeballos in a nearly full Rod Laver Arena. Fans were allowed into the main stadium with grounds passes during the day session and didn’t need stadium tickets for the afternoon session.

On a near-empty adjoining Margaret Court Arena, Matthew Ebden and Max Purcell beat the second-seeded team of Rajeev Ram and Joe Salisbury 6-3, 7-6 (9).

Also on Day 11, Dylan Alcott’s farewell tournament ended with a loss in the wheelchair quad final to Sam Schroder of the Netherlands.

Alcott was named Australian of the Year at celebrations for the national day and attended a ceremony in the capital of Canberra between his win in the semifinals and the final.

Alcott retires with 15 Grand Slam titles in wheelchair quad. He completed an unprecedented Golden Slam last year, winning all four majors as well as the Tokyo Paralympics gold medal.

After her win, Barty paid tribute to Alcott’s career.

“He’s inspired a nation,” said Barty, who watched the wheelchair quad final with her physiotherapist. “We were watching his match today (and) when he was saying his acceptance speech, we were crying. I couldn’t be more proud of him.”

Alycia Parks reaches 1st WTA quarterfinal in Ostrava

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OSTRAVA, Czech Republic — American qualifier Alycia Parks is having quite the breakthrough tournament in Ostrava.

The 21-year-old Parks earned her first win against a top-10 ranked opponent by beating fourth-seeded Maria Sakkari 5-7, 7-5, 7-5 at the Agel Open on Thursday to reach her first WTA Tour quarterfinal.

The 144th-ranked Parks ousted former No. 1 Karolina Pliskova in the opening round – her first win against a top-20 opponent – and showed off her power by hitting 59 winners against Sakkari, compared to just nine for her opponent.

“I came out here not expecting anything, just playing my game, and it got me through the match,” Parks said.

Parks will next face former French Open champion Barbora Krejcikova, who advanced via walkover when Belinda Bencic withdrew with a left foot injury.

Caty McNally, another American qualifier who is playing doubles with Parks in Ostrava, also reached the last eight by beating wild-card entry Karolina Muchova 6-1, 3-6, 6-1. McNally is also into her first WTA quarterfinal and will face top-ranked Iga Swiatek, who advanced Wednesday.

Djokovic beats Van de Zandschulp to reach Astana quarters

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ASTANA, Kazakhstan — Add Botic van de Zandschulp to the long list of players to have been schooled by Novak Djokovic.

Djokovic eased past Van de Zandschulp 6-3, 6-1 on Thursday in his first career meeting with the 27-year-old Dutchman to reach the quarterfinals of the Astana Open.

Van de Zandschulp earned one break point in each set but couldn’t seriously threaten Djokovic, who is looking for a second straight indoor hardcourt title after winning in Tel Aviv last week.

“(In the) second set I think I started to read his serve better and just started swinging through the court more,” Djokovic said. “Botic is a quality tennis player. When he has time, he can hurt you, so I tried to take away that time from him and I’m very pleased with the way I played, particularly in the second.”

Djokovic will next face Karen Khachanov, who rallied to beat Marin Cilic 2-6, 6-3, 6-3. If the 21-time Grand Slam champion gets past that one, he could come up against fellow former No. 1 Daniil Medvedev. The second-seeded Russian beat Emil Ruusuvuori of Finland 6-3, 6-2 to move one match away from a potential rematch of last year’s U.S. Open final, when Medvedev beat Djokovic to deny his attempt at a calendar-year Grand Slam.

Medvedev will first have to beat Roberto Bautista Agut, who advanced Wednesday.