Ashleigh Barty gets play back under way in Australian Open tuneup events

Australian Open tuneup events resumed on Friday following an unscheduled day off because of a COVID-19 case.

Ashleigh Barty waves after defeating Shelby Rogers at the Yarra Valley Classic. - AP

Ash Barty got things started as the Australian Open tuneup events resumed on Friday following an unscheduled day off because of a COVID-19 case stemming from one of the tournament quarantine hotels.

SCORE CENTRE

A day after all matches in six tournaments were postponed so that 160 players could isolate and undergo testing, there were 70 matches on the order of play as organisers tried to cram all scheduled lead-in matches into three days before the year’s first major starts on Monday.

Top-ranked Barty got her first taste of the modified scoring system introduced to shorten matches in a disrupted schedule, dominating a match tiebreaker to beat Shelby Rogers 7-5, 2-6, 10-4 and move into Yarra Valley Classic semifinals. She’ll next meet 23-time Grand Slam winner Serena Williams, who beat fellow American Danielle Collins 6-2, 4-6, 10-6.

“I felt good to get through that in a tiebreaker,” Williams said. “Definitely different.”

In a reverse of the result of last year’s Australian Open final, Garbine Muguruza beat Sofia Kenin 6-2, 6-2 to advance to the semifinals. Kenin beat Muguruza in the 2020 final in three sets, including by 6-2 scores in the final two sets.

Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley did a radio interview before play started and announced that 507 people with connections to the tournament quarantine hub test had been tested and 495 had already returned negative tests for the coronavirus. He said results for 12 people were pending.

Play was halted as a precaution after a quarantine worker tested positive this week, days after his last shift at the hotel, and all players and tournament-related people at the Grand Hyatt were regarded as casual contacts. State health authorities on Friday said there were no further cases of community transmission in the previous 24 hours.

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To speed things up a little, 17 courts were being used and women’s matches were reduced to two regular sets with a 10-point match tiebreaker if required.

Barty opened proceedings on Margaret Court Arena and after some up-and-down form in the first two sets, she raced to a 6-1 lead in the match tiebreaker and finished the tiebreaker off in 12 minutes.

“A bit of an unusual scoring system for us,” Barty said. “Happy to get through and have another chance tomorrow.”

“It’s the challenge, regardless of what conditions you’re dealt with,” she said of the situation so close to the year's first major.

AZARENKA ADVANCES

Two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka beat Yulia Putintseva 6-4, 1-6, 11-9 to advance at the Grampians Trophy, an event staged for the players forced into hard lockdown during quarantine. Sorana Cirstea upset Belinda Bencic, the highest-ranked player in the tournament, 7-5, 6-2 before a clap of thunder and a rain shower suspended play on outside courts.

SPAIN INTO SEMIS

Pablo Carreno Busta clinched Spain a spot in the ATP Cup semifinals with a 6-3, 6-4 win over Michail Pervolarakis in the opening singles match against Greece. The win ensured Spain had enough points to top Group B, which also includes Australia.

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No. 2-ranked Rafael Nadal was skipping the encounter against Greece to give his sore back more time to rest, leaving No. 16-ranked Carreno Busta and No. 13-ranked Roberto Bautista Agut again to fill the singles spots.

“I knew we needed this point,” Carreno Busta said in his on-court interview. “With this victory, we are into the semifinals, so it was very important to us.”

Spain lost the final in the inaugural ATP Cup to Serbia last year.

In other ATP Cup matches, Serbia was playing Germany for top spot in Group A, setting up a big singles encounter between top-ranked Novak Djokovic and Alexander Zverev, and Austria was playing France in Group C.

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