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13 February 2021

Ashleigh Barty through to fourth round of Australian Open despite lack of fans

13 February 2021

Ashleigh Barty shrugged off the absence of a home crowd as she eased into the fourth round of the Australian Open.

Having stayed in Australia when the tour resumed largely behind closed doors last summer, this was a new experience for Barty as Melbourne’s coronavirus lockdown kept the fans away for the first of at least five days.

Barty trailed Russian Ekaterina Alexandrova in both sets but recovered strongly to win 6-2 6-4 and set up a clash with American Shelby Rogers in the last 16.

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Barty said: “It doesn’t change for me. Obviously tonight was something I have never experienced before. It was new. I almost had to cut myself some slack and give myself the time to get used to it and adjust to it.”

The top seed even felt there were some advantages to playing in an empty stadium, saying: “You can narrow your focus in to listen to the sound of the ball. I find it a way where I can listen to the spin the opponent is hitting on the ball, the pace it’s coming.”

Barty had her left thigh strapped but is confident it will not affect her title chances.

“It feels good,” she said. “We had to give it time to rest and recover. We are doing all the right things to make it as good as possible. It’s a pretty small tape job that looks a little more dramatic just from wrapping it to try and keep it on. It won’t affect me at all.”

Ashleigh Barty played with strapping on her left thigh (AP)

Rogers is through to the fourth round in Melbourne for the first time after beating 21st seed Anett Kontaveit 6-4 6-3.

Adjusting to a lack of fans again was a challenge for all the players, and fifth seed Elina Svitolina said she had to remind herself she was playing at a grand slam.

The fifth seed has been impressive so far in Melbourne and claimed another straight-sets win, beating Yulia Putintseva 6-4 6-0.

“It was very different conditions,” said Svitolina, who like Barty chose to miss the US Open last year. “I played a night match at 7pm with a good crowd. Now it was completely different. It was for sure a bit disturbing, I would say, in some ways sad.

“But it is what it is. I had to accept. I had to have a good mindset, not thinking too much about that. I just tried to focus on my game.

“I actually had a few thoughts about it, it feels like a practice match. I tried to convince myself that it’s a grand slam and that we are playing an important match.”

Svitolina came back from a break down in the first set to rattle off nine successive games and book her place in the fourth round, where she will play unseeded American Jessica Pegula.

The stands at Melbourne Park were empty for the first time this tournament after Victoria was placed in lockdown (AP)

Sixth seed Karolina Pliskova was punished for smashing a racket off court after losing her cool during a 7-5 7-5 loss to fellow Czech Karolina Muchova.

After breaking one racket during the first set, which earned her a code violation, she took her frustration out on a second racket as she left the court and received another violation, which saw Muchova awarded the first point of the second set.

Pliskova, who has now failed to reach the quarter-finals at the last seven grand slams, stormed into a 5-0 lead in the second set only to lose seven games in a row.

Karolina Pliskova gave her racket some rough treatment in her defeat to Karolina Muchova (AP)

Donna Vekic was staring defeat in the face before staging an impressive comeback to beat Kaia Kanepi.

Kanepi, who beat defending champion Sofia Kenin in the second round, had another seed in her sights when she led by a set and 3-0 only for the Croatian to produce her best and claim a 5-7 7-6 (2) 6-4 victory.

Vekic will take on 22nd seed Jennifer Brady next while Muchova will meet 18th seed Elise Mertens, who is having another fine run in Melbourne and raced past 11th seed Belinda Bencic 6-2 6-1.

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