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    Sunday, September 5, 2021

    Ash Barty Knocked Out, Underdogs Reign on at U.S. Open

    Shelby Rogers couldn't believe she knocked out Ash Barty
    Ashleigh Barty, the world No 1 and defending Wimbledon champion, is out of the US Open after a 6-2, 1-6, 7-6 (5) defeat to unseeded Shelby Rogers of the United States in the third round.

    Rogers, the world No 43 who had lost all five of her previous career meetings with Barty including four this year, trailed 5-2 and a double break in the third set before fighting back to force a tiebreaker amid a delirious Saturday night crowd at Arthur Ashe Stadium squarely behind the last American standing in the women’s draw.

    The players held their serve throughout the first 10 points of the decisive tie-break until Barty finally blinked with an overcooked forehand early in the rally to go match point down. When Barty then sent a backhand return sailing past the baseline after 2hr 9min, a wide-eyed Rogers dropped her racket and stood with her hands over her mouth in disbelief. One night after third-seeded Naomi Osaka’s shock loss to the Canadian teenager Leylah Annie Fernandez on the same court, the exit of the top-seeded Australian throws the US Open women’s tournament wide open.

    “It’s never nice when you have a couple opportunities to serve out a match and can’t get it done,” an upbeat Barty said in the aftermath. “It’s a tough one to swallow. But it is what it is tonight. I found a way back into my match. I found a way to really turn it in my favour and just wasn’t able to just quite finish off. It’s disappointing but we’ll move on.”

    Barty had appeared to right the ship following a ragged opening set in which she made 17 unforced errors, mostly off the forehand side. She breezed through the second to level the match, broke Rogers early in the third and then again at love for 5-2. But while serving for a spot in the second week of the tournament, Barty made four more unforced errors including her seventh double fault, opening a door for Rogers that she would soon kick down.

    “I told myself I didn’t want to lose the same way I lost the last five times against her,” said the 28-year-old Rogers, whose emphasis on variety within the points marked a tactical shift from their previous five meetings. “I just tried to do things a little bit differently. In the first set I mixed in some high balls, I was super patient with her slice because she’s not going to miss one very often. I know that very well.

    “In the second and third, she definitely raised her level, as she does. I mean, she’s the No 1 player in the world for a reason. But I started wanting to hit the ball a little bit harder, find some winners if I could. That’s the tennis I like to play. That’s what she wants me to do. She wants to redirect and finesse me around the court, wait for me to miss.

    “I was just happy and really proud of myself tonight for problem-solving, if you will, maybe doing some things I’m not super comfortable with, like hitting some high balls like I’m back in the 12s, playing defence honestly.”

    Barty, who has never made it past the fourth round at Flushing Meadows, entered this year’s US Open poised to make a run at her first hard-court major title following previous wins on clay and grass, having won her second career WTA 1000 title on the surface this year and 25 of 28 matches on American pavement since the start of 2019.

    But at the back end of a peripatetic season that’s seen the 25-year-old from Ipswich lead the women’s tour in titles won (five), match wins (42), finals reached (six) and wins over top-10 opponents (seven) despite not having been home since February, Barty refused to hang her head over Saturday’s outcome.

    “There’s a lot tonight that’s disappointing, but a lot that’s positive,” said Barty, who is guaranteed to remain at No 1 in the world rankings for a 93rd week at the conclusion of the tournament regardless of the winner. “Not a match that I’ll dwell on for too long in the sense that there are so many ‘what ifs’. Millimeters could have changed things tonight. You accept that in tennis. That’s the way the cookie crumbles sometimes and you move on it from it pretty quick.”

    The unexpected result ends Australia’s hopes in the singles in New York after Ajla Tomljanović suffered a 6-3, 6-2 third-round loss earlier Saturday to power-serving Czech Karolína Plíšková, the No 4 seed and 2016 US Open finalist who becomes the highest seeded player in the top half of the draw with Barty’s departure.

    Rogers’ ranking had once dropped to 780th in the world after she underwent left knee surgery in 2018, at one point thinking that she might not be able to play again. But she earned her career-best result at the US Open with last year’s surprise quarter-final run and is now one win away from matching it.

    The pride of Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, advances to a fourth-round meeting with the emerging British star Emma Raducanu, who scored a remarkable 6-0, 6-1 win over Spain’s Sara Sorribes Tormo on Saturday afternoon.

    “I’m going to have to do a little bit of scouting I think,” Rogers said. “But she’s fearless. She is playing very well and she’s inspired. It’s going to be a battle. I am ready for it.

    “It’s really cool to see the younger generation coming up in this tournament, getting some big wins. It’s really impressive. Yeah, I’m going to have to bring my best tennis again in a different way I think, though. Every match. That’s the cool thing about tennis, you have to adjust every single time and make a new strategy.”

    Almost immediately after Saturday’s match ended, Rogers and Barty embraced one another in the bowels of Ashe before going their separate ways to fulfill their respective media obligations. Rogers, for her part, expressed nothing but admiration for the world’s top-ranked player despite a rivalry that until Saturday had been one-way traffic.

    “She is one of the most professional people I’ve ever met in my life, as well as a good person, a funny individual,” Rogers said. “I was joking before, every time I lost to her, I can’t be mad because she’s such a nice person. It’s like ‘man, she just kicked my butt’. Then it’s like ‘oh, you’re going to find it one day’.

    “She’s always encouraging to everybody around her. She brings up the energy wherever she goes. I can’t say how much respect I have for her and what a great representative she is for women’s tennis. I want to speak to what she’s done this season. I think a lot of people are taking it for granted. She hasn’t been able to go home since February, you guys. That’s insane. I mean, she’s resetting on the road. She’s worked through some injuries on the road. She’s won five titles. She’s remained No 1. I mean, this girl is everything every player wants to be.”

    Ashleigh Barty was dumped out of the US Open by local hope Shelby Rogers with British teenager Emma Raducanu her next opponent in the fourth round on Monday

    For the fallen Barty, the respect is mutual.

    “There are certain people on the tour that I think no matter the result you know you’re always going to get a genuine handshake, a smile, you’re going to get that genuine respect,” Barty said. “For me Shelby has always been one of those people. She’s one that I respect, one of the most that I respect on tour, and she’s an incredible person. Tonight she showed a lot of fight.”

    She added: “It sucks in tennis that there’s a winner and loser every single day, but sometimes you don’t mind losing to certain people. I think Shelby in a sense of her personality and her character, she’s certainly one of those for me.”

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