Barty back from the brink after Adelaide thriller
A TOURNAMENT stripped of a trio of its biggest stars has retained its Australian world No.1, but only just.
Ash Barty advanced to the quarter-finals of the Adelaide International on Tuesday, following a gutsy come-from-behind win over Russia's Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova at Memorial Drive.
The reigning French Open champion dropped the first set, before overcoming some wobbles on her serve to down the world No.31 4-6 6-4 7-5 in a gripping contest.
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It secured the Queenslander's first singles victory of 2020 and delivered a much-needed confidence boost heading into next week's Australian Open.
The success also ensured the inaugural event held on to its marquee name, after the withdrawals of five-time Wimbledon-winner Venus Williams, world No.2 Novak Djokovic and Australia's highest-ranked male, Alex de Minaur.
Barty, who received a bye in the first round, had been bundled out of the Brisbane International in straight sets by Jennifer Brady five days earlier.
She again produced a patchy display in just her second match of the year, as she served 11 aces as well as six double faults.
But she stepped up in the decider, after the pair exchanged two breaks each, to eventually progress to the last eight.
Barty looked solid on serve early, having been given a rousing Centre Court reception by the healthy daytime crowd at the revamped North Adelaide venue.
But she was broken in the fifth game of the first set and squandered a break point in the following game, before Pavlyuchenkova coolly served out the set.
The Queenslander dug deep in the second to finally secure her first break of the encounter.
She had to survive another break point in the following game, before dropping serve two games later.
But Barty again broke back in a see-sawing set and held to take the match to a third.
Coach Craig Tyzzer joined the 23-year-old courtside for a much-needed pep talk at the change of ends ahead of the deciding set.
It appeared to pay dividends as Barty saved two break points to level at 2-2, before prevailing on Pavlyuchenkova's serve in the next game.
She broke again in the seventh game of the set, but dropped serve twice more with the match on her racquet.
Barty capitalised as the plucky Pavlyuchenkova also faltered on her serve, then closed out a rollercoaster match.
Meanwhile, Australian qualifier Arina Rodionova pulled off a shock, downing former US Open champion Sloane Stephens in straight sets in their first-round clash.
World No. 201 Rodionova saw off Stephens (No. 25) in a highly-impressive 6-2, 6-2 success in Tuesday's first match on Centre Court.
Russian-born, Melbourne-based Rodionova broke the American in the first game of the match and again in the seventh, thanks to a string of forehand winners.
She repeated the trick in the opening game of the second set and once more in the third, following a beautiful topspin lob.
Rodionova served out the match with a minimum of fuss to book a meeting with eighth-seed Marketa Vondrousova in round two.