Brilliant Barty in French Open semis

 

Ashleigh Barty rates her French Open quarter-final demolition of Madison Keys as the best claycourt display of her career as the laidback Queenslander covets drought-breaking Roland Garros success.

"It's probably the best I've played on clay," Barty said after surging past stunned Keys 6-3 7-5 to reach her maiden grand slam semi-final.

"I was really happy with the way I executed and got the job done.

"To be in this position now is incredible. I'm very happy and excited about the opportunities."

Three years to the day on returning to the sport ranked world No 623, Barty has secured a rise to No 4 in the world.

And her success is partially due to a strong Richmond connection.

A dedicated Tigers' supporter, Barty was indirectly alerted by Trent Cotchin to life mentor Ben Crowe, who has changed the immensely talented right-hander's mindset since Wimbledon last year.

"I've just found this tournament incredibly quiet," Barty said, alluding to an uncomplicated attitude.

"I don't spend a lot of time onsite here. I get in and get out as quickly as possible.

"I speak to my family and keep things normal.

"I like to follow the other sports, too."

One of the first things Barty did on banishing Keys was to check Australia's World Cup cricket score against West Indies at Trent Bridge.

Hailed by Wimbledon champion Pat Cash as the "smartest player" in the women's game, Barty faces 17-year-old Amanda Anisimova for a place in the final.

The unseeded American rocked defending champion Simona Halep 6-2 6-4, leaving world No 8 Barty as the highest-ranked surviving contender.

Halep anointed Ashleigh Barty to emerge as her Roland Garros successor, the Romanian declaring the coveted Coupe Suzanne Lenglen trophy as Barty's to lose.

"I know Barty has a big chance also because she's very talented and she feels the ball," Halep said.

"She played also well in the previous tournaments on clay, so I think she has the game to win the tournament."

 

Ash Barty celebrates her quarter-final win over Madison Keys. Picture: AP
Ash Barty celebrates her quarter-final win over Madison Keys. Picture: AP

Barty, 23, will on Friday night clash for the first time with fearless Anisimova, the youngest player to reach the Paris semis since Nicole Vaidisova in 2006.

Ranked No 51 in the world, Anisimova is one of two teenagers left in semi-final reckoning.

Czech 19-year-old Marketa Vondrousova, who plays Sydney-born Briton Johanna Konta, is the other.

Barty is the only player left in contention ranked in the top 25.

Konta sits 26th, Vondrousova 38th.

Barty is two wins away from ending Australia's 46-year French Open drought after storming into the Roland Garros semi-finals.

The Queensland conjuror eased past US 14th seed Madison Keys 6-3 7-5 with a signature display of slices, measured power and unflappable temperament to advance to the last four.

She is the first Australian since Sam Stosur in 2016 to reach the Paris semis and the 11th in the sport's Open era (post-1968).

Barty will play unseeded Amanda Anisimova, the US 17-year-old who shocked defending champion Simona Halep 6-2 6-4.

Briefly lost to cricket before returning to tennis three seasons ago, Barty's grand slam fairytale will deliver a minimum payday of $950,000 - and a rankings rise to world No 4.

The Ipswich right-hander joins the elite of the Australian women's game in progressing this far.

It is her first major semi-final, continuing a stunning rise under coach Craig Tyzzer and mento Ben Crowe.

Over the past 51 years, only eventual champions Margaret Court and Evonne Goolagong and eight Australian women have advanced to the final four at Roland Garros.

And while dual champion Lesley Bowrey (1963, '65), Karen Krantzcke, Dianne Balestrat, Wendy Turnbull, Nicole Bradtke and 2010 runner-up failed to lift the title during that time, the door is open for Barty.

 

Ash Barty hits a return to Madison Keys on her way to a straight sets quarter-final win. Picture: AP
Ash Barty hits a return to Madison Keys on her way to a straight sets quarter-final win. Picture: AP

Barty's quest to become to Australia's first grand slam champion since Sam Stosur (2011 US Open) appeared inevitable as Keys struggled for rhythm from the outset.

The hard-hitting American was regularly unhinged by Barty's beguiling variety.

And, serving at 3-4 (30-40), she was punished on a rare foray to the net as Barty rifled a backhand winner into open territory.

Barty sealed the set after 27 minutes, clinching a precious lead with her fourth set point.

Keys inability to come to terms with Barty's testing returns meant the American was under building pressure.

 

Barty celebrates winning a point against Madison Keys. Picture: AP
Barty celebrates winning a point against Madison Keys. Picture: AP

Keys dug in during the early stages of the second set, but had to weather another crisis in the fifth game when Barty created a break point.

The American unloaded a massive body serve, cramping the Australian to survive.

It was the briefest reprieve.

Two games later, Keys cracked as Barty's defensive scrambling created more opportunities.

Keys obliged by pummelling a backhand long, gifting the Australian another service break.

 

Madison Keys in action against Ash Barty on Thursday night. Picture: AP
Madison Keys in action against Ash Barty on Thursday night. Picture: AP

 

Barty cruised to within two points of victory (30-30) but couldn't close out the match, netting a forehand as Keys mounted a desperate counter-push.

The American held a game point to take the lead, but imploded with more butchered groundstrokes and, fatally, a double fault.

This time, there was no mistake as Barty won the biggest major match of her career in 69 minutes.


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