Ash Barty has earned a free passage into the Yarra Valley Classic final after Serena Williams pulled out of their semi-final showdown citing a right shoulder injury.
World No.1 Barty’s successful comeback following a near-year-long hiatus continued with a steely 7-5 2-6 10-4 win over American Shelby Rogers on Friday, before Williams edged out Danielle Collins 6-2 4-6 10-6 in her all-US quarter- final.
Both matches were decided by match tiebreaks, with the class and experience of Barty and Williams prevailing to set up the mouth-watering showdown on Saturday, two days out from the Australian Open.
Williams gave no indication that she was considering withdrawing when asked about the upcoming blockbuster against Barty.
“It’s going to be great for me and for her,” Williams said.
“She’s obviously the crowd favourite and whenever I’m not playing against her, I’m rooting for her.
“So it’s going to be a good match. I feel great. I think I have nothing to lose going into that match.”
The severity of Williams’ shoulder injury remains unclear, but there are no indications it’s serious or that it will put her Australian Open campaign in doubt.
Clutch under pressure, Barty raised her game in the cut-throat tiebreaker after losing five games in a row to drop the second set.
“I feel like I did well to hang in there at times and then Shelby was able to hit me off the court during other times,” Barty said.
“It was an important start to that third-set tiebreak in a bit of an unusual sort of scoring system for us.
“But I’m happy to get through and get another opportunity tomorrow.”
Barty also found it tough to adjust to indoor conditions, after the roof was closed because of rain in Melbourne.
“Regardless of what conditions you’re dealt with, it’s about me coming out here and trying to do the best that I can,” the top seed said.
“There were certainly some challenges today but I was happy to click into gear and find a way in that third set.”
Barty will take on either Garbine Muguruza or Marketa Vondrousova in the final.
In a rematch of last year’s Australian Open final, Muguruza gained some revenge with a 6-2 6-2 rout of American world No.4 Sofia Kenin in their quarter-final.
Czech Vondrousova beat Nadia Podoroska 4-6 6-3 10-4.
Elsewhere on a jam-packed schedule at Melbourne Park following Thursday’s total wipeout, resurgent two-time Open champion Victoria Azarenka, a finalist at last year’s US Open, continued her encouraging summer form to reach the Grampians Trophy quarter-finals.
In an event staged primarily for the players who’d been confined to hard quarantine last month, Azarenka beat Kazakh Yulia Putintseva 6-4 1-6 11-9.
Three-time major winner Angelique Kerber also progressed to the last eight, but Swiss world No.12 Belinda Bencic bowed out with a 7-5 6-2 loss to Romanian Sorana Cirstea.
In the Gippsland Trophy, world No.2 Simona Halep suffered an Open setback with a 6-2 6-1 quarter-final loss to Elina Alexandrova.
Australian Open favourite Naomi Osaka booked her passage into the semi-finals with a 7-5 6-1 win over Irina-Camelia Begu.