A third consecutive Australian Open quarter-final beckons for Ash Barty but the world number one is far from satisfied as she eyes a drought-ending title in Melbourne.

Barty produced a masterclass to blitz American Shelby Rogers 6-3 6-4 in the fourth round on Monday.

Not since Wendy Turnbull in 1984 has an Australian woman reached three successive quarter-finals or more at Melbourne Park, where Barty will meet Karolina Muchova in the last eight.

But 2019 French Open champion Barty is dreaming big as she looks to become the first Australian woman since 1978 to take the title.

"We're not done yet," Barty,a semi-finalist last year, said. "Obviously it's exciting to be in another quarter-final of a grand slam, particularly here in Australia.

"If we had looked at the way we were preparing during our pre-season, to have the start that we have had so far is really encouraging, but certainly not satisfied with where we're at at the moment. 

"We will keep chipping away and keep trying to do the right things to progress as far as we can."

Barty arrived in Melbourne at the start of the year having not played in a competitive WTA Tour event since February 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Asked about the prolonged break, Barty – who stepped away from tennis in 2014 before returning in 2016 after playing cricket – said: "I think I know that I've done the work. I know that we prepared in the right way during the pre-season. 

"We've done all the work to try to give myself the opportunity to play a good level of tennis and to a level that I know I'm capable of. It's just knowing that I put the trust in the work that we've done, more than surprising myself.

"I think I've known that I've done the work. I have the ability to play at this level and then it's just about going about all of our processes, our routines the right way. All of those came back quite naturally.

"It's something that I've practiced a lot, and I gain my confidence from that practice and from those preseasons as opposed to just match results."

Jessica Pegula said she "can't be more confident" after upsetting Elina Svitolina to reach her first grand slam quarter-final and Ash Barty stayed in the hunt for Australian Open glory on Monday.

Pegula, the daughter of NFL and NHL franchise owners of the Buffalo Bills and the Sabres, beat fifth seed Svitolina 6-3 3-6 6-3 on Rod Laver Arena to set up a showdown with her fellow American and friend Jennifer Brady.

Brady made it all the way to the semi-finals of the US Open last year and has now put together her best run at Melbourne Park after seeing off Donna Vekic 6-1 7-5.

World number one Barty has not dropped a set in her home major and started the second week by dispatching Shelby Rogers 6-3 6-4.

The top seed from Queensland's next assignment will be a meeting with Karolina Muchova, who saw the back of Elise Mertens 7-6 (7-5) 7-5.

Muchova, the 25th seed from the Czech Republic, has made it through to her second grand slam quarter-final - having also reached this stage at Wimbledon in 2019 - without losing a set.

 

Pegula to put friendship to one side

Pegula and Brady are close friends, but they will have to put that to one side when they meet in the quarter-finals.

The world number 61 claimed her first victory over an opponent ranked in the top 10 just over a month after Svitolina beat her in straight sets in Abu Dhabi.

Pegula hit 31 winners to Svitolina's 19 and won 21 points from 29 when she made a trip to the net as she broke new ground at a major

She said: "I can't get more confident, it's my best result yet and I'm playing good tennis. Today was a hard-fought win, so, yeah, feeling pretty good."

Pegula added on the prospect of facing Brady: "We're here to have fun and compete. If I can do it against somebody that I like, that I wouldn't mind if they beat me, hopefully not, but if they did, why not?"

Brady benefited from strict lockdown

Many players understandably struggled during and after being in a strict two-week lockdown in a hotel room following their arrival in Australia.

Brady was among the players who were not allowed out of their rooms for a fortnight, but said she used the situation to recharge her batteries before the first major of the year.

The 22nd-seeded Pennsylvanian said: "I think it was a little bit of a benefit for me, just taking a break from tennis. I had been going non-stop since World Team Tennis in June. I didn't take any time off.

"I was playing from June and then played US Open, the U.S. tournaments, and then went straight to Europe, then finished there and was training in Europe, then went home for Christmas and then came and started in Abu Dhabi.

"So obviously I didn't really feel super fresh mentally coming into Abu Dhabi. And then when I was away from tennis for two weeks, I felt like I wanted to play again to compete and I think that helped me."

Much improved Czech

Muchova had not been beyond the second round of the Australian Open before last week but now has a semi-final spot in her sights.

The 24-year-old was 4-0 down in the opening set as Mertens got off to a flyer but warmed to the task with her battling spirit and positive approach.

Muchova converted five of the six break points she earned on Margaret Court Arena, also coming from a mini-break down in a first-set tie-break.

She struck 25 winners to Mertens' 15 and advanced despite making 31 unforced errors, getting her rewards for throwing caution to the wind.

World number one Ash Barty secured another quarter-final berth at the Australian Open after outclassing Shelby Rogers 6-3 6-4.

It was a Barty party on Rod Laver Arena, where the 2019 French Open champion dominated from the outset to see off unseeded American Rogers in a little over an hour on Monday.

Barty, who appeared in the semi-finals in Melbourne last year to become the first Australian woman to reach that stage since Wendy Turnbull in 1984, raced past Rogers to set up a meeting with Karolina Muchova.

Home hope Barty and Rogers renewed acquaintances behind closed doors in the last 16 after the former won a match tie-break against last year's US Open quarter-finalist en route to claiming the Yarra Valley Classic.

Barty was unstoppable from the start, striking first in the fourth game and breaking for a 3-1 lead after precision play left Rogers helplessly scrambling around the court.

There was a test for Barty after Rogers earned a pair of break points in the seventh game, but the former saved both.

It was the only real challenge in a first set controlled by Barty, who continued where she left off in the second.

While Rogers showed glimpses, Barty – moving freely with all eyes on her heavily strapped thigh – was firmly in the groove as she broke for a 2-1 lead.

Another break followed but there was a blip for Barty, who was broken for the first time when serving for the match at 5-2 in a late Rogers resistance which only delayed the inevitable.

 

Data Slam: ​Three in a row for Barty
Barty will contest her third consecutive Australian Open quarter-final. Not since Wendy Turnbull in 1984 has an Australian woman enjoyed such a run. Barty is bidding to become the first Australian woman to win the grand slam since 1978.

WINNERS/UNFORCED ERRORS
Barty – 21/16
Rogers – 14/25

ACES/DOUBLE FAULTS
Barty – 5/3
Rogers – 5/1

BREAK POINTS WON
Barty – 3/6
Rogers – 1/3

Ash Barty may have her focus on winning the Australian Open right now but suggested a career change could be on the cards in the future.  

The world number one made sure she will still be competing during the second week of the tournament in Melbourne by beating Ekaterina Alexandrova in straight sets.  

But, having played international cricket for Australia before switching to tennis, could the multi-talented Barty be considering trying another sport?  

Elsewhere in Saturday's action, Karolina Pliskova lost her cool – and also a couple of rackets – as she slipped to defeat against the impressive Karolina Muchova in an empty Rod Laver Arena, with fans not able to be present due to a five-day lockdown in the state of Victoria.

Elina Svitolina had no such problems in her third-round match, while Elise Mertens was victorious in just over an hour against Belinda Bencic. Jennifer Brady ended Slovenian qualifier Kaja Juvan's run in the first grand slam of the year.


AUSSIE RULES, OK? 

After winning 6-2 6-4 without ever needing to be at her peak, Barty was cheekily asked by former doubles partner Casey Dellacqua – now working in the media – whether she may be set to switch paths again, once her tennis career has come to an end.  

Australian rules football was the answer – but Dellacqua maybe got more than she bargained for from her former playing partner during the on-court interview. 

"I thought it was our deal, we're going to AFLW. It's ABCD [the nickname for the pairing from their doubles career]. We come as a package, and I know we will be going to the [Richmond] Tigers that is for sure," Barty said. "You can't go to Carlton. You have to come to the 'Tiges' with me."

Dellacqua replied: "I need to get out there and start practicing some kicking, but you are good. I would love to do that one day." 

For Barty, though, the next challenge facing her is Shelby Rogers, who knocked out 21st seed Anett Kontaveit during the evening session.  


MAKING A RACKET 

A disgruntled Pliskova was not impressed when punished for smashing up a racket during her match with compatriot Muchova. 

Having received a warning when throwing a racket to the floor during the course of the final game in the opening set, the sixth seed then vented her frustration again on another while in the players' tunnel.  

An official witnessed the incident and reported it to chair umpire Alison Hughes, who punished the Czech with a point penalty before she began serving to open the second set.  

"It's off court, I'm allowed to do what I want," Pliskova insisted when querying the decision to the official. She would go on to hold before recording two successive breaks, yet somehow failed to force a decider.  

Muchova rallied from 5-0 down in sensational fashion, winning seven games on the spin to triumph 7-5 7-5 to make it through to the last 16.


CONTRASTING PROGRESS FOR SEEDS

Svitolina has still yet to drop a set in the tournament after overcoming 26th seed Yulia Putintseva by a 6-4 6-0 scoreline.  

The fifth seed was twice down a break in the first set but, after eventually coming out on top to take a 1-0 lead, breezed through the second in a hurry.  

"She has a very different game style from what I played my last two rounds, so it wasn't easy at the beginning to adjust," Svitolina said. "As soon as I was feeling better, I just stepped my game, and it was quite a comfortable win after." 

Next up will be Jessica Pegula, who is through to the fourth round at a slam for the first time in her career after thrashing Kristina Mladenovic 6-2 6-1.  

There was also success for another American in the main draw, Brady defeating Juvan in straight sets. Her reward is a clash with Donna Vekic, the 28th seed having to save a match point before eventually seeing off Kaia Kanepi 5-7 7-6 (7-2) 6-4 after two hours and 38 minutes on court. 

Ash Barty battled back to win both sets against Ekaterina Alexandrova and book a place in the fourth round of the Australian Open. 

The world number one triumphed 6-2 6-4 after one hour and 21 minutes on court, though there was no crowd present to cheer on the home favourite due to the five-day lockdown in place in Victoria. 

Barty admitted that, with fans having been allowed into Melbourne Park earlier in the tournament, there was a different – if not completely unpleasant – atmosphere to proceedings in the evening session on Margaret Court Arena.

"It's very strange, it changes the sound of the court a little bit," the Australian – who played with her left thigh heavily strapped having pulled out of doubles duty on Friday – said during her on-court interview.

"I love the crowd, but I love the sound the ball makes. It feels a bit like practice."

Barty lost her opening service game as she quickly fell 2-0 behind at the start of the contest, though she hit back impressively to take the opener against the 29th seed.

The 2019 French Open champion claimed six successive games, hitting just five winners as the policy of keeping the ball in play paid off thanks to 16 unforced errors from her opponent. 

Alexandrova was more consistent in the second set, leading to a break of serve that she quickly consolidated to make the score 4-2. 

However, the Russian was unable to cling on to her advantage and, when serving to stay in the match, let slip two opportunities to extend proceedings. Barty will next face Shelby Rogers, who knocked out 21st seed Anett Kontaveit in straight sets.

Ash Barty and partner Jennifer Brady withdrew from their doubles clash at the Australian Open amid fitness concerns over the world number one.

Barty is in the spotlight after her thigh was heavily strapped during Thursday's 6-1 7-6 (9-7) victory over fellow Australian Daria Gavrilova in the women's singles.

Australian star and 2019 French Open champion Barty was scheduled to team up with Brady for Friday's doubles contest against Elise Mertens and Aryna Sabalenka, but the duo pulled out in Melbourne.

Barty did play down the severity of the thigh issue after defeating Gavrilova, with 29th seed Ekaterina Alexandrova awaiting in the third round at Melbourne Park.

"The bandage is very big, but that's more just support so that the tape itself doesn't fall off. It's not a very subtle tape job, you often see it on a lot of the girls," Barty told a news conference on Thursday.

"The guys can hide it beneath their shorts a little bit better. Just a little bit of support. I played a lot of matches in the last 10 days after not playing for 12 months, which is natural.  It's more of an assistance than anything else."

Barty added: "It came on early Tuesday, warming up for the match. But, yeah, obviously it's not affecting the way that I can play in any way.

"It's just more giving the leg some assistance to make sure it doesn't get to a point where it's going to affect me."

Last year, Barty became the first Australian woman to reach the Australian Open semi-finals since Wendy Turnbull in 1984.

The most recent finalist from the home nation was Turnbull in 1980, while Chris O'Neil was the last champion in 1978.

Sofia Kenin's title defence came to a shock end in the second round of the Australian Open, where world number one Ash Barty advanced amid injury concerns.

Kenin was looking to become the first woman to defend her crown at Melbourne Park since Victoria Azarenka in 2013, instead, she was a high-profile casualty in warm conditions on Thursday.

Barty, who lost to Kenin in last year's semi-finals in Melbourne, stayed alive with a straight-sets win over fellow Australian Daria Gavrilova.

Former world number one Karolina Pliskova also progressed beyond the second round as fifth seed Elina Svitolina blitzed American sensation Coco Gauff.

 

KENIN OUSTED IN BOILOVER

The American star arrived at the year's first grand slam with high expectations and looking to become the first woman to go back-to-back at a major since Serena Williams in 2016.

But fourth seed Kenin fell to experienced Estonian Kaia Kanepi 6-3 6-2, having tallied 10 winners and 22 unforced errors in windy conditions in Melbourne - the scene of her breakthrough slam more than 12 months ago.

It was Kenin's first defeat to a player ranked outside the top 50 since going down to then-number 54 Iga Swiatek in the 2020 French Open final.

Asked why she was nervous pre-match, Kenin told reporters: "It's like the outside pressure. I felt really nervous. I haven't felt my game for, I don't know how long, but I haven't really felt my game so well, even in my first round. 

"I played well, but still haven't felt 100 per cent game-wise. It's obviously tough."

 

STRAPPED THIGH? NO WORRIES FOR BARTY​

Barty's left thigh was heavily strapped amid concerns but the 2019 French Open champion still booked her spot in the third round with a 6-1 7-6 (9-7) win over countrywoman Gavrilova.

The first Australian woman to reach the semi-finals in Melbourne since 1984, following last year's run, Barty gave up a 5-2 lead in the second set before saving two set points in the tie-break.

Reflecting on Kenin's surprise exit, Barty talked up the standard of the WTA Tour.

"There are no easy matches," said Barty, who next meets 29th seed Ekaterina Alexandrova for a spot in the round of 16. "There are no easy matches in any tour event, any slam, anything. I think every time you walk on the court, you have to try and be able to bring your best tennis to be able to compete with everyone. 

"That's just the level that there is now on the women's side. That's something really exciting about women's tennis now, is that every single match, it's a fair match. You go out there, you play hard, you try to do the best that you can."

 

PLISKOVA AVENGES LOSS, SVITOLINA TOO GOOD FOR GAUFF

Beaten by Danielle Collins in the third round of the Yarra Valley Classic just eight days ago, sixth seed Pliskova got the better of the 2019 Australian Open semi-finalist this time around.

Pliskova - also a semi-finalist at Melbourne Park two years ago - defeated Collins 7-5 6-2 and next plays 25th seed Karolina Muchova.

"I just played better in some moments, which I didn't last week. Then she was not playing that well as she did last week," Czech star Pliskova said. "I knew if I at least maintain little bit, just play at least similar as I was playing last week, I knew it's going to be difficult for her to repeat what she played last week. I think she really played great."

Owning a 6-1 record in the second round at Melbourne Park - falling only at this stage in 2016 - Svitolina produced a mature performance to conquer 16-year-old star Gauff 6-4 6-3 on centre court as 26th seed Yulia Putintseva awaits. 

Elsewhere, seeds Belinda Bencic, Elise Mertens, Anett Kontaveit, Jennifer Brady and Donna Vekic moved through.

Ash Barty insisted her leg issue was not impacting her at all after reaching the Australian Open third round.

The world number one overcame Australian compatriot Daria Gavrilova 6-1 7-6 (9-7) on a warm and windy Rod Laver Arena on Thursday.

But Barty's left thigh was heavily strapped and she gave up a 5-2 lead in the second set before saving two set points in the tie-break.

However, the 2019 French Open champion played down the severity of the issue.

"The bandage is very big, but that's more just support so that the tape itself doesn't fall off. It's not a very subtle tape job, you often see it on a lot of the girls," Barty told a news conference.

"The guys can hide it beneath their shorts a little bit better. Just a little bit of support. I played a lot of matches in the last 10 days after not playing for 12 months, which is natural.  It's more of an assistance than anything else."

Barty added: "It came on early Tuesday, warming up for the match. But, yeah, obviously it's not affecting the way that I can play in any way.

"It's just more giving the leg some assistance to make sure it doesn't get to a point where it's going to affect me."

Barty will face Ekaterina Alexandrova in the third round.

Ash Barty overcame Daria Gavrilova in straight sets at the Australian Open on Thursday amid some concerns over a suspected thigh injury.

Barty lost just 10 points in her first-round win against Danka Kovinic and the world number one got past Gavrilova 6-1 7-6 (9-7) on a warm and breezy Rod Laver Arena.

But she struggled to close out her fourth victory in five meetings with her fellow Australian amid worries over heavy strapping on her left thigh.

She will face either Barbora Krejcikova or Ekaterina Alexandrova in the third round, which she reached at Melbourne Park for the fifth straight year.

Barty was broken in the first game after three unforced errors, but Gavrilova was unable to consolidate and it proved costly.

A double fault from Gavrilova handed Barty a 3-1 lead and the 2019 French Open champion capitalised to claim the first set in 27 minutes.

Barty served three double faults in the second game of the second set, yet she again broke back immediately and proceeded to take a 5-2 lead.

But the contest started to turn from then as Gavrilova reeled off four straight games, with errors proving costly for Barty.

However, a pair of forehands into the net saw Gavrilova squander two set points in the tie-break and she was punished as Barty finally closed out victory.

 

Data Slam: Barty builds Aussie dominance
With her win over Gavrilova, Barty improved her career record against fellow Australians to 26-6. It marked her first meeting with a compatriot at a grand slam.

WINNERS/UNFORCED ERRORS
Barty – 20/34
Gavrilova – 10/29

ACES/DOUBLE FAULTS
Barty – 7/6
Gavrilova – 2/6

BREAK POINTS WON
Barty – 6/6
Gavrilova – 4/10

A "calmer" Garbine Muguruza made a fine start at the Australian Open, while defending champion Sofia Kenin was left annoyed despite her victory.

A finalist at the Yarra Valley Classic last week, Muguruza's good form in Melbourne continued with a rampant 6-4 6-0 victory over Margarita Gasparyan in the first round on Tuesday.

Muguruza was runner-up at Melbourne Park last year, with the two-time grand slam winner looking for her first major success since 2017.

The Spanish star, who will face Ludmilla Samsonova in the second round, said she was reaping the benefits of a changed approach.

"I was for sure working very hard, and frustrated that the results weren't there for quite a few months. Sometimes you work hard, you want it so much, that doesn't help you," Muguruza said.

"It's hard to explain, but I felt like for a moment I was working hard, I was putting all the effort out there. The time that I had to go and compete, I wanted it too much. I was getting frustrated too early. At the end I couldn't let the racquet talk.

"I feel like now, after that experience, I managed to stay a little bit calmer and to just go and compete, probably have less expectations. I'm always, like, there and always so pumped. I'm just knowing myself a little bit better now, finding ways to compete and not let that energy and that desire, too much desire, get in the way probably."

It was a relatively good day for the top women's seeds, with Kenin – who conquered Muguruza in last year's final – winning through.

Ash Barty, Elina Svitolina, Karolina Pliskova and Belinda Bencic also advanced, while Victoria Azarenka's poor recent record in Melbourne continued.

KENIN ANNOYED DESPITE WIN

Kenin started her title defence with a 7-5 6-4 victory over Australian Maddison Inglis.

But while the American fourth seed mixed 23 winners with 27 unforced errors, Kenin said she felt her nerves as she defends a major crown for the first time.

"I was obviously quite annoyed the whole match. I felt like the first two points I started off well, then wasn't able to close out the first game. Obviously nerves happen," she said.

"She obviously played really well. She's a tricky opponent, tricky player. Yeah, it was quite hard on myself today, quite annoyed, as you said."

Kenin's next clash is a tough encounter against Kaia Kanepi, who brushed past Anastasija Sevastova 6-3 6-1.

BARTY, SVITOLINA AND PLISKOVA AMONG WINNERS

Barty made a spectacular start with a 6-0 6-0 thrashing of Danka Kovinic.

The world number one won the first 16 points and ended up losing just 10 for the match in an impressive start.

A two-time quarter-finalist at the Australian Open, Svitolina was tested but overcame Marie Bouzkova 6-3 7-6 (7-5) on Rod Laver Arena.

A huge challenge awaits Svitolina, who will next face Coco Gauff after the 16-year-old American beat Jil Teichmann 6-3 6-2.

Czech sixth seed Pliskova made quick work of Jasmine Paolini, wrapping up a 6-0 6-2 victory in just 47 minutes.

Bencic and Anett Kontaveit were among the other seeded winners.

NO EXCUSES FOR AZARENKA

A two-time Australian Open champion, Azarenka suffered a surprise 7-5 6-4 loss to Jessica Pegula in the first round.

The Belarusian's last win at the event came in 2016, having made first-round exits in 2019 and 2021 and missed the tournament in 2017, 2018 and 2020.

Azarenka was among the players forced to quarantine ahead of the major and while she said it played a part in her exit, she offered no excuses.

"Of course, it has impacted. Somebody who's coming out of hard quarantine and maybe has been able to adjust well, they'll go, 'Oh, maybe it hasn't impacted'. Somebody who lost early will say, 'Yeah, of course, it's impacted'. It would be hard to say," she said.

"Was that the best preparation for me? No. But try to sit here and find an excuse because of quarantine and this is just something that, as I said, it is what it is.

"I am disappointed that I wasn't able to perform that I knew I could. That's a bit hard to accept today because I knew I can play better, a lot better. At the same time I feel that I've tried everything I can to be able to be prepared, but unfortunately that hasn't worked out for me."

Greek 20th seed Maria Sakkari also bowed out after a loss to Kristina Mladenovic, while British 13th seed Johanna Konta retired injured while leading Kaja Juvan 6-4 0-2.

Ash Barty made an impressive start to the Australian Open, thrashing Danka Kovinic in the first round on Tuesday.

Barty, who last year became the first Australian woman to reach the semi-finals of the tournament since Wendy Turnbull in 1984, hammered Kovinic 6-0 6-0 on Rod Laver Arena.

Winner of last week's Yarra Valley Classic, Barty won the first 16 points against Kovinic and never looked back.

The world number one wrapped up victory in just 44 minutes, finishing the contest having lost only 10 points.

Kovinic's unforced errors piled up early – the Montenegrin made 14 in the first set – as 2019 French Open champion Barty quickly took control and the opener.

There was a very brief test for Barty to begin the second set, but the Australian was untroubled as Kovinic had no answers.

Barty will meet either Daria Gavrilova or Sara Sorribes Tormo in the second round.

 

Data Slam: Barty blitz sets up win
Barty made an incredible start, racing into a 4-0 lead without dropping a point. Her hopes of a golden set were ended when she sent a backhand long, but the start put her in immediate control.

WINNERS/UNFORCED ERRORS
Barty – 10/5
Kovinic – 3/28

ACES/DOUBLE FAULTS
Barty – 5/0
Kovinic – 2/2

BREAK POINTS WON
Barty – 6/8
Kovinic – 0/0

World number one Ash Barty ended her Australian Open preparations with a title after defeating Garbine Muguruza in the Yarra Valley Classic final.

Barty – gearing up for the year's first grand slam which gets underway in Melbourne on Monday – defeated sixth seed and 2020 Australian Open runner-up Muguruza 7-6 (7-3) 6-4 on Sunday.

Looking to add to her 2019 French Open crown, Australian star Barty claimed her ninth WTA Tour trophy and second on home soil.

"It was some of the better tennis I played throughout the whole week," Barty, who had not played in a competitive tournament since last February, told reporters in her post-match news conference.

"Garbine forced me to play at that level. It was a great final."

Barty added: "Overall it was a pretty solid performance. I'm still my harshest critic at times. That's the challenge of sport every day, is trying to get better and better."

Elsewhere in Melbourne, Elise Mertens clinched the Gippsland Trophy with a 6-4 6-1 win over Estonian veteran Kaia Kanepi.

Mertens – the seventh-seeded Belgian – returned to the winner's circle following two runner-up finishes in 2020.

As for Anett Kontaveit and Ann Li, they shared the Grampians Trophy on Sunday.

The Grampians Trophy did not have a final, the WTA announced, due to time running out before the Australian Open begins. Thursday's play was cancelled as a precautionary measure after a case of coronavirus involving a worker from a hotel that had housed quarantining tennis stars.

Kontaveit outlasted fifth seed Maria Sakkari 2-6 6-3 11-9 in the first semi-final, while Li upset seventh seed Jennifer Brady 7-6 (7-5) 6-7 (5-7) 10-6.

Serena Williams has withdrawn from her semi-final at the Yarra Valley Classic due to an injury to her right shoulder.

As a result, home favourite Ash Barty will progress to the final of the Australian Open warm-up event at Melbourne Park.

Williams, who is chasing an eighth Australian Open crown and an historic 24th grand slam singles success, had been in impressive form this week, demolishing Tsvetana Pironkova in straight sets.

Friday's quarter-final against American Danielle Collins proved a harder slog, as she was forced into a match tiebreak to win 6-2 4-6 10-6.

An anticipated showdown against Barty will now not come to pass, with the world number one to pursue a ninth career title against either Garbine Muguruza or Marketa Vondrousova.

"I think the rust is always there for everyone the first few matches of the season. But without a doubt, I felt better and better each match," Barty told reporters after being taken the distance by Shelby Rodgers.

"Each match has been very different, different challenges, different things I've had to overcome, which is the best thing, to be able to work through those and give myself another chance to play a little bit better the next day, focus on some new challenges for the next day."

Williams is due to face Germany's Laura Siegemund in the first round of the Australian Open on Monday.

Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic could face Dominic Thiem in a mouth-watering semi-final after being handed a tough path to success at Melbourne Park, where Serena Williams will continue her quest for a 24th grand slam singles title.

The Australian Open draw took place on Friday, with world number one Djokovic set to play Frenchman Jeremy Chardy in the opening round of the year's first major tournament.

Amid coronavirus concerns in Melbourne, where Swiss great Roger Federer is absent, Djokovic has set his sights on a ninth crown and 18th major success, but the top seed's title defence is far from straightforward.

Djokovic could face Gael Monfils (fourth round) and sixth seed Alexander Zverev (quarter-final) en route to a possible semi-final against US Open champion and third seed Thiem.

The Serb overcame Thiem in a five-set thriller in last year's Australian Open final, before the latter broke through for his maiden major trophy at Flushing Meadows.

Djokovic could then meet second seed and 20-time major champion Rafael Nadal in a blockbuster final – he blitzed the Spanish superstar in the 2019 Australian Open decider but lost in three one-sided sets in their previous meeting in the French Open final.

Nadal will go head-to-head with another Serb in the first round – Laslo Djere – while Stefanos Tsitsipas could await in the quarters, with 2019 US Open final opponent Daniil Medvedev also on the same side of the draw.

Meanwhile, Williams' bid for a record-equalling 24th slam will begin against German Laura Siegemund.

The 39-year-old Williams has been stuck on 23 majors since winning the Australian Open in 2017 – losing finals at Wimbledon (2018 and 2019) and the US Open (2018 and 2019).

World number one and local hope Ashleigh Barty will meet Montenegro's Danka Kovinic in round one and defending champion Sofia Kenin faces Australian wildcard Maddison Inglis.

The last 16 could see Williams clash with Aryna Sabalenka, Barty meet Petra Martic, Kenin tackle Johanna Konta and three-time major champion Naomi Osaka do battle with last year's runner-up Garbine Muguruza.

One in eight women in the Australian Open draw have already won a grand slam title.

One in eight. It is staggering that of the 128 players who set out in the hope of singles glory at Melbourne Park, there are 16 major champions among them, and perhaps never has it been so difficult to predict who will carry off the title.

Compare it to the men's draw, where there are just five grand slam singles winners, and where you would struggle to make a compelling case for any more than three of those this year, with apologies to Stan Wawrinka and Marin Cilic.

As long-running dynasties near their end on the men's and women's tours, the WTA is a lengthy step ahead of the ATP with a cast of appealing characters already assuming leading roles.

The leader of the pack

Three-time grand slam champion Naomi Osaka is at the forefront of a school of rising stars, but she has impressive rivals for company.

The last four years have seen the 15 women's majors won by 12 different players, whereas in the men's game, Rafael Nadal (6), Novak Djokovic (5), Roger Federer (3) and Dominic Thiem (1) have creamed off all the top prizes in the same period.

Often criticised in the past for a perceived lack of depth, in the years when Serena Williams won seemingly at will, the women's tour has exploded with a rush of bright and young talent.

Osaka is a revelation and a leader, on and off the court. Twice a US Open champion now, and a winner in Australia two years ago, the 23-year-old Japanese star took a powerful stance for racial equality at Flushing Meadows back in September, at the height of Black Lives Matter protests. She wants to achieve even more off the court than on it, where she looks assured of one day leaving an impressive legacy.

If there is any area where Osaka's game falls down it is consistency. She has surprisingly not passed the fourth round in 14 of her 17 grand slam appearances, but on every occasion she has gone beyond that stage it has been en route to lifting a trophy.

In hot pursuit

Last year's three slam champions were, at the times of their triumphs, just 21 (Sofia Kenin - Australian Open), 19 (Iga Swiatek - French Open) and 22 (Osaka - US Open).

The women's game has not seen anything comparable in terms of youthful winners of its blue riband tournaments since 2004, when the 21-year-old Justine Henin won in Australia, Anastasia Myskina landed the Roland Garros title at 22, Maria Sharapova was a 17-year-old bolter to Wimbledon glory and 19-year-old Svetlana Kuznetsova scored a stunning Flushing Meadows victory.

Last year does not touch the 1997 season, when a 16-year-old Martina Hingis won the Australian Open, Wimbledon and US Open, denied a grand slam clean sweep by 19-year-old Iva Majoli's shock French Open final win over the Swiss.

But women's tennis is still seeing a remarkable shift to relative youth.

The 2019 season saw a then 19-year-old Bianca Andreescu scoop a stunning US Open win, while Ash Barty took the French Open.

Andreescu has been sidelined with a knee injury since the 2019 WTA Finals, but she is back for Australia, where Queenslander Barty, now 24, is the home hero.

Brace for the prospect of Andreescu and Barty joining Kenin, Swiatek and Osaka in a group of five who can take the women's game boldly into the post-Williams era.

But the Williams era isn't over

This is true, and again Serena will make another attempt to land that elusive 24th grand slam, the one that would move her level with Margaret Court on the all-time list.

She remains, at the age of 39, a magnificent competitor and a beguiling player, as does sister Venus, who turns 41 in June.

Serena has lost her last four grand slam finals, however, and the most recent run to a title match came almost 18 months ago in New York, where Andreescu had her number.

As the new gang of five threaten to pull away from the old establishment, perhaps Williams is now in the next group, along with the likes of Simona Halep, Victoria Azarenka and Petra Kvitova: still perfectly capable of winning another slam or even multiple slams, but it feels important to strike now.

Serena has not won any of her last 10 slams, making it the longest span in her professional career without winning a major.

Barty party, or Sofia the second?

Osaka begins the Australian Open as favourite with bookmakers, but world number one Barty will have home support and could make that count. How she performs will be keenly watched, given she chose not to travel once the COVID-19 pandemic hit last year, sitting out 11 months.

Should Barty get on a roll, hopes will be high she can become the first Australian woman to take the title since Chris O'Neil in 1978. Last year, Barty fell in the semi-finals to Kenin, and she will be eager to land a second slam title.

Kenin, whose intense concentration and steely resolve helped her pull off last year's shock Melbourne win, and follow up with a run to the French Open final, can be a match for anyone. She will be aiming to become the first woman to win back-to-back Australian Open titles since Azarenka in 2012 and 2013.

Success on this level has come perhaps ahead of schedule for the American, and the same can be said for Swiatek, whose demolition of the field at Roland Garros in October made a mockery of her being ranked number 53 in the world.

The teenage Polish player became her country's first grand slam singles champion, and with that status comes the expectation she will follow it up. How that turns out for her will be one of the most intriguing of sub-plots in the new season.

Changing priorities

Halep said in a recent WTA interview that winning an Olympic medal was her "main goal" for 2021, although Osaka will also have the Tokyo Games firmly circled in her diary.

For the likes of those other players among the 16 slam winners in the Melbourne draw, there will be differing targets this year, too.

Angelique Kerber, Sloane Stephens, Jelena Ostapenko and particularly Garbine Muguruza may yet come good again on the big stage at some point this season.

For Venus Williams, Kuznetsova and Samantha Stosur, it may be a case of one final hurrah.

As the likes of Coco Gauff emerge as potential future big-stage winners, and fledgling ambassadors, the women's game looks in safe hands.

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