Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Barty blows big lead; Nadal stunned; Gibbs retires at 27

Ashleigh Barty of Australia fell to 25th-seeded Karolina Muchova of the Czech
Republic in the Australian Open quarterfinals. 2019 photo by Harjanto Sumali
   The home-country drought in the Australian Open will continue for at least another year.
   Top-ranked Ashleigh Barty of Australia blew a big lead today and lost to 25th-seeded Karolina Muchova of the Czech Republic 1-6, 6-3, 6-2 in the quarterfinals in Melbourne.
   Barty, the 2019 French Open champion, bolted to a 5-0 advantage in the first set while dropping only six points. She led 2-0 in the second set, and Muchova took a medical timeout after winning the next game. 
   "I was a bit lost on the court, and my head was spinning, so I took a break," the 24-year-old Muchova, who reached her first Grand Slam semifinal, said in a post-match interview. "And it helped me."
  No Aussie man or woman has won the singles title in the Australian Open since Chris O'Neil on the women's side 43 years ago.
   Muchova is scheduled to meet 22nd-seeded Jennifer Brady of Boca Raton, Fla., on Wednesday (PST) after the 7 p.m. semifinal between third-seeded Naomi Osaka and 10th-seeded Serena Williams (ESPN2). 
   Fans will be allowed to return to the tournament Thursday, ending the five-day COVID-19 lockdown in the state of Victoria.
   Brady, 25, eliminated compatriot and close friend Jessica Pegula, who was unseeded, 4-6, 6-2, 6-1 to reach her second Grand Slam semifinal. A first-time major finalist is guaranteed.
   Both Brady, a former UCLA All-American, and Pegula, who skipped college, starred in Northern California Challengers. 
   Pegula, the daughter of Buffalo Bills and Sabres owners Terry and Kim Pegula, reached the Sacramento final in 2012 at 18 and the Stockton semifinals in 2018.
   Muchova edged Brady 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (2) in the second round on clay at Prague in 2019 in their only previous meeting. 
   Fourth-seeded Daniil Medvedev advanced to the men's semifinals with a 7-5, 6-3, 6-2 victory over fellow Russian Andrey Rublev, seeded seventh. 
   Medvedev, the runner-up to Rafael Nadal in the 2019 U.S. Open, will play seventh-seeded Stefanos Tsitsipas, who stunned the second-seeded Nadal 3-6, 2-6, 7-6 (4), 6-4, 7-5 in 4 hours, 5 minutes. 
   Nadal, the 2009 Australian Open champion, had lost only once in a Grand Slam match after winning the first two sets. That occurred in the third round of the 2015 U.S. Open against Fabio Fognini. 
   Nadal and Roger Federer remain tied with a record 20 major singles titles.
   Medvedev is 5-1 against Tsitsipas.
   Rajeev Ram, a volunteer assistant coach at the University of California, Berkeley, advanced to the semifinals in men's doubles and mixed doubles.
   Defending champions Ram and Joe Salisbury of Great Britain beat unseeded Marcus Daniell of New Zealand and Philipp Oswald of Austria 7-6 (6), 6-2. Daniell, 31, announced last month that he will donate 10 percent of his prize money for the rest of his career to charity.
   Ram and Salisbury are set to face sixth-seeded Jamie Murray, Andy's older brother from Great Britain, and Bruno Soares of Brazil. Murray and Soares won the Australian Open and U.S. Open in 2016.
   Both Ram and Murray won a doubles title in the now-defunct SAP Open in San Jose, Calif., Ram in 2011 with former Stanford All-American Scott Lipsky and Murray in 2007 with Eric Butorac.
   In mixed doubles, sixth-seeded Barbora Krejcikova of the Czech Republic and Ram downed third-seeded Gabriela Dabrowski of Canada and Mate Pavic of Croatia 7-6 (3), 6-3.
   Krejcikova seeks her third consecutive Australian Open mixed doubles crown after triumphing with Ram in 2019 and Nikola Mektic of Croatia last year.
   Kenin undergoes appendectomy — Kenin, last year's Australian Open champion, underwent an emergency appendectomy this week in Melbourne. 
   Kenin, who also won NorCal Challengers in 2017 and 2018, lost to Kaia Kanepi of Estonia last week in the second round of the Australian Open. 
   Gibbs retires — Former Stanford star Nicole Gibbs announced her retirement on Monday at 27. 
   Gibbs, a petite 5-foot-6 (1.54 meters), is ranked No. 172 after climbing to a career-high No. 68 in 2016. She reached the third round of the 2014 U.S. Open and 2017 Australian Open and the final of the 2018 Berkeley Challenger, losing to Kenin in the latter match.
   Gibbs went public with her battle against depression in early 2018 and overcame oral cancer in 2019.
   The personification of feistiness, Gibbs once stomped on her racket face during a match because she didn't like the string tension, and she likely had the most menacing stare in pro tennis.
   Win or lose, Gibbs answered reporters' questions thoughtfully. Whether she was asked about her depression or engagement to her now-husband, no subject was off-limits.
   Gibbs won three NCAA titles, two in singles and one in doubles, in her three years at Stanford.
   A strong social critic on Twitter, Gibbs plans to enroll in law school this fall and eventually work in public service.

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