Ash Barty walks away from another Australian Open empty-handed and with plenty to ponder after losing in the quarter-finals for the second time in three years.
Karolina Muchova recovered after dropping the first set to beat the top seed 6-1 6-3 6-2 as Barty’s game crumbled, ensuring the wait for a local to win the trophy at Melbourne Park will drag into a 44th year.
Barty looked unstoppable early, giving up just one game as she roared through the opening set before going up a break in the second. But the momentum swung dramatically after Muchova took a medical time-out, emerging from the locker room nine minutes later a different player while her Australian opponent fell to pieces.
The sudden shift has sparked furious debate over the merits of medical time-outs, which all too often are used by players on the back foot to stall and interrupt their rival’s rhythm.
Muchova’s reasoning seemed genuine, suggesting she felt dizzy as the Melbourne heat took its toll.
“I was a bit lost (gestures at head) on the court and my head was spinning so I took a break. It helped me,” Muchova — an unlikely friend of Hollywood star Rebel Wilson — said.
“It was more they just checked my pressure because I was a bit lost. I was spinning. So they cooled me down a bit with ice and it helped me.”
Some believe Muchova used the devious tactic to her advantage by slowing Barty’s roll, and others have said the rule itself is to blame, not the player.
However, the overwhelming sentiment in the tennis world has focused on the world No. 1’s inability to cope with the interruption.
How she went from hero to zero in the space of minutes is the most jarring question Barty must answer. If all it takes to rattle the best player in the world is to leave her twiddling her thumbs on court for a little longer than usual, then she has bigger issues to conquer.
To her credit, Barty in no way suggested the medical time-out was to blame for her loss, even as the Aussie press pack pushed for a headline-making answer. Instead, she looked inward to explain her shock defeat, like the class act she is.
“It’s completely within the rules for her to take it,” Barty said. “That shouldn’t be a massive turning point in the match. I’m disappointed it did become a turning point.
“I felt like I lost my way a little bit there in the second set and lost that momentum I built. We go back to work and learn from this today.”
That Barty made it to the quarters is extremely admirable given she sat out almost the entirety of 2020 once the pandemic hit, and only returned to competitive action a couple of weeks ago. Winning a grand slam without match practice is a tall order — even for the world No. 1 — so she deserves praise for getting as far as she did.
But there will be concerns the Australian Open may be her bogey tournament, with the pressure to win the most prestigious trophy on home soil unlike anything else she faces in her career.
It’s too early to say just yet — she’s only 24 after all — but there remains the risk the Australian Open will be for Barty what Wimbledon was for Brit Tim Henman — a suffocating pressure cooker where lofty expectations were impossible to meet.
Barty lost to Petra Kvitova in the quarterfinals in 2019 and to eventual winner Sofia Kenin in the semis last year, before falling to Muchova this time around. Worryingly, in the past two years the Queenslander has lost to players ranked significantly lower than her at Melbourne Park.
BARTY CRACKS UNDER THE PRESSURE
Barty couldn’t arrest her slide.Source:AFP
While some attacked the legitimacy of Muchova’s time-out, many others put the spotlight on Barty’s inability to rise to the occasion.
Former Australian player and tournament director Paul McNamee tweeted: “This is a shock. Ash Barty went from complete dominance to completely losing her way and unable to make basic shots.
“There must be a reason as she’s far too good a player. For now, it’s a complete mystery.”
Sports reporter Marc McGowan wrote: “Let’s stop blaming the MTO for why Ash Barty lost. She had mid-match lapses throughout #AusOpen and Yarra Valley Classic. This time, Barty didn’t recover. She’s a gem, but she was ordinary after the MTO. It happens.”
Rugby league commentator Dan Ginnane said “Barty choked”.
“The world number 1 has to be above a dodgy tactic,” he tweeted. “She had a bad day. It happens. Let’s not do the small person thing and make excuses.”
Tennis writer Ricky Dimon was another who said Barty has to shoulder the blame for dropping her bundle so badly.
“The amount of bad takes on Muchova’s medical time-out is even more nauseating than Barty’s level of play throughout the final two sets,” he said.
“It’s not Muchova’s fault that Barty couldn’t handle a normal medical time-out. Happens all the time.”
Broadcaster Shane McInnes is no fan of the medical time-out rule but said Barty simply should have been better.
“Medical time-out debate aside, Barty played poorly from midway through the second set,” he added on Twitter. “Her unforced errors went through the roof, and Karolina Muchova was clearly able to capitalise.”
DON’T HATE THE PLAYER, HATE THE GAME
Muchova was struggling in the Melbourne heat.Source:AFP
Sceptics questioned whether Muchova pulled a swiftie by taking the medical time-out but as Barty pointed out, the Czech star was within her rights to ask for treatment — even though it came at a time when she was staring down a straight sets defeat unless something changed.
Muchova said in her post-match press conference “the heat got to me”, which almost caused her to faint, and told reporters the main reason for her turnaround was being cooled down by ice during the break.
It’s not the first time the momentum of a match has shifted dramatically after a medical time-out — tactical or otherwise — but that it cost hometown hero Barty a shot at the trophy she covets most shone a brighter spotlight on it than usual.
ESPN analyst Brad Gilbert was filthy with what happened, saying “Ash Barty got penalised”.
“I am not blaming her (Muchova), absolutely blaming the ridiculous rule that allows this to happen,” he tweeted.
Former American tennis star Pam Shriver also questioned how the match unfolded after the time-out.
“The MTO by Muchova at 1-6 1-2, a break down seemed legit, but it still does not sit well when it pivots a match on a dime,” she tweeted.
Plenty of American sports give teams the option to pick and choose when they take time-outs, and veteran tennis writer Christopher Clarey suggested it’s time tennis followed that lead.
“If a sport wants to allow players to take a break because they are a bit lost on the court, let’s just allow them one time-out per match,” he tweeted. “Stop calling it a medical time-out.”
AFL journalist Jon Ralph was fuming, but at the same time acknowledged Barty was at fault for imploding like she did.
“I am going to get really angry at that disgraceful medical time-out which is clearly a rort and an embarrassment to tennis so it distracts me from the fact Ash was very ordinary after the first set,” he wrote. “Might never have a better chance to win her home slam.”
There’s always next year.Source:AFP
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