Top-ranked Ash Barty built a big lead in her quarter-final match at the Australian Open before her opponent took a medical timeout and left the court.
More than an hour later, it was Barty heading abruptly through the exit. She was upset Wednesday by Karolina Muchova, 1-6, 6-3, 6-2.
Seeded No. 25, Muchova earned her first semifinal berth in a Grand Slam. Her comeback win ended Barty’s bid to become the first Australian woman to win the title in Melbourne since Chris O’Neil in 1978.
“It’s heartbreaking, of course,” Barty said. “But the sun will come up tomorrow. You’re either winning or you’re learning, and today is a massive learning curve for me.”
Muchova’s opponent Thursday will be Jennifer Brady, who beat fellow American and good friend Jessica Pegula 4-6, 6-2, 6-1. Brady reached her second consecutive Grand Slam semifinal.
WATCH | Muchova tops Barty in quarter-finals:
“I hope I make it a habit,” she said. “Hopefully I have a new habit of making finals.”
Seeded 22nd, Brady struggled at times and gave her racket an angry toss midway through the second set. The unseeded Pegula, who advanced beyond the third round at a major for the first time, appeared to tire down the stretch.
“We’re such good friends,” Brady said. “I’m really happy for her success. I know we’ll be having a lot more tough battles.”
Muchova played poorly at the start of her second major quarter-final, and Barty raced to a 5-0 lead while losing only six points. After nine games, Muchova had one winner and 18 unforced errors, and early in the second set, she took a medical timeout that lasted nearly 10 minutes.
Sunny weather, with the temperature in the mid-80s (30 degrees Celsius), was a factor, Muchova said.
“I think it was a bit of the heat,” she said. “It got to me, and I was feeling kind of dizzy, really lost and almost fainting. I just asked for help.”
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Medical personnel took her temperature, checked her blood pressure and gave her ice before she left the court. When the Czech returned, she played much better.
“I tried to play a bit faster rallies so we don’t play long ones as in the first set,” Muchova said, “and it worked well.”
Barty had no complaints about Muchova halting play.
“It’s within the rules,” Barty said. “She’s within her rights to take that time. That shouldn’t be a massive turning point in the match. I’m disappointed I let that be a turning point.”
Comebacks have been a staple in the tournament for Muchova, who rallied in earlier matches to win sets after trailing 5-0 and 4-0.
Against Barty, she began moving into the court to hit her groundstrokes earlier. Barty, pushed behind the baseline, became indecisive and erratic.
During one stretch Muchova won eight of nine games. Barty finished with 37 unforced errors and lost serve four times in the final two sets.
“I just overplayed,” Barty said. “I just pressed a little bit too much, and gave up too many cheap errors at some pretty critical times.”
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Muchova’s only other victory over a Top 5 player was against No. 3 Karolina Pliskova at Wimbledon in 2019.
Brady was in a two-week had lockdown before the Australian Open because she was among the players who shared a charter flight to Australia with someone who later tested positive for COVID-19.
The former UCLA star reached her first major semifinal at the U.S. Open in September before losing to eventual champion Naomi Osaka.
Fans to return Thursday
The Australian Open will be able to open its gates to fans for the last four days of the tournament after the state of Victoria announced that a snap coronavirus lockdown would be lifted at midnight on Wednesday.
Victoria State Premier Dan Andrews announced the lifting of the lockdown but said the crowds allowed into Melbourne Park for the semi-finals and finals of the Grand Slam might be reduced from the originally agreed 25,000 a day.
“There will be meeting early this afternoon … where we go through and work through exactly what is a safe number and that decision will be made as soon as possible,” Andrews told reporters.
“They were already reduced, they may have to be reduced a little bit further, but that matter will be resolved in the next few hours.”
Tournament organizers said they expected crowds would be back on Thursday and would make a full statement later on Wednesday after the details were worked out.
Fans were shut out of the precincts of Melbourne Park from last Saturday after a small outbreak in the city of the COVID-19 variant associated with Britain. The state reported no locally acquired coronavirus cases on Wednesday.
Tournament organizers will be desperate for fans to return after spending a huge amount of money to get the tournament up and running, including some A$40 million ($31 million) on putting players through 14 days of quarantine.
Tickets were already available for purchase online on Wednesday morning ahead of the government’s announcement, with some seats for Sunday’s men’s final at Rod Laver Arena still available at A$550 each.
“I assume people have bought those tickets, they assume there would be some risk involved in that given that I have only made these announcements now,” Andrews added.
“We’re going to finish up with crowds in lots of different places. We’re going to finish up with people being able to move freely because this short and sharp circuit-breaker lockdown has worked.”