The 2021 Australian Open is being played without fans in attendance because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
That meant Monday’s fourth-round showdown between Shelby Rogers vs. World No. 1 Ashleigh Barty at Rod Laver Stadium featured just about everything except the “Barty Party” – a group of fans who support and cheer for Australia’s best player, Barty, who carries the hopes of a nation on her shoulders.
The stadium might have been empty but Barty’s physical and emotional tanks were full when she battled Daniel Island native Rogers, who was nearly flawless in her best Australian Open to date as she steamrolled her first four opponents of the Grand Slam event without losing a set.
But Barty, who is seeking to become the first Aussie woman since 1978 to win the open, was ready for Rogers and posted a 6-3, 6-4 victory to reach the quarterfinals in Melbourne for the third straight year.
Barty won in straight sets against Rogers, who entered the first major of the year with a World No. 57 ranking. But Barty, 56 rungs up the rankings ladder, was challenged.
“She’s a player that can take away the match from you very, very quickly, so I needed to have my running shoes on, but serve well and try and be in control of as many points as I could,” Barty said of her battle with Rogers.
The 28-year-old Rogers advanced to the fourth round of the open with a 6-4, 6-3 victory over No. 21 seed Anett Kontaveit of Estonia on Feb. 13. Rogers also defeated Francesca Jones of the United Kingdom and Serbian Olga Danilovic in the tourney.
Barty and Rogers battled in an Australian Open tune-up two weeks ago, the Yarra Valley Classic, with Barty surviving for a 7-5, 2-6, (10-4) victory in a tiebreak.
Rogers’ resume of Grand Slam events now includes the fourth round of the 2021 Australian Open, the 2016 quarterfinals of Roland Garros and quarterfinals of the 2020 U.S. Open.
“I'm excited again to play the best player in the world,” Rogers said prior to her match against Barty. “That's what we all strive to do every day and you've got to beat the best to be the best.”
Rogers has suffered some serious injuries that have sidelined or sidetracked her climb up the rankings ladder.
Barty can relate. Barty beat Rogers at the 2017 Australian Open when she was beginning a tennis comeback from injuries. She entered the open that year as a wildcard ranked outside the top 200.
Today, she has completed her comeback and needs three more victories in Melbourne to become the first Australian woman since Evonne Goolagong to win the open. Barty and Goolagong are the only Australian women who have been ranked No. 1 in the world.