Ash Barty sliced and diced her way into the fourth round of the Australian Open on Saturday night, in a performance that left fans salivating on social media.
A day after compatriot Nick Kyrgios' thrilling five-set loss to Dominic Thiem in front of a raucous John Cain Arena crowd, Barty's match against Ekaterina Alexandrova couldn't have been any different.
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Playing in front of an empty Margaret Court Arena following Victoria's five-day COVID-19 lockdown that saw fans banned from attending, Barty advanced to the fourth round courtesy of a routine 6-2 6-4 win.
The 25-year-old feeds off the legion of passionate and vocal fans that cheer on her every shot at the Australian Open, but walking onto court on Saturday night it was an eerie sensation for the Aussie star.
The roars from the crowd that fill the stadium when Barty strolls out onto court were replaced with an eerie, almost deafening silence.
Barty went into the third round clash under somewhat of an injury cloud, with her heavily strapped left leg a source of concern for fans.
The 25-year-old pulled out of her scheduled doubles match on Saturday, further fuelling the idea that her left thigh issue was worse than she was letting on.
The World No.1 insisted after her second round win that she was "fit as a fiddle" and that the strapping was just a precautionary measure that looked more serious than the issue was.
Barty was slow to get out of the blocks against Alexandrova, with the Russian capitalising on a loose opening service game from the Aussie to take an early break.
The home favourite found herself 2-0 down after 29th seed Alexandrova held her own serve, before Barty turned the first set on its head.
The World No.1 steadied things on her own racquet to take her first game of the match, before a stunning resurgence that included three breaks of the Alexandrova serve.
From 0-2 down, the Aussie rattled off six games in a row to take the opening set in style.
Barty backhand carves up Alexandrova
Time and time again, the Aussie battered her Russian opponent with a ruthless backhand slice that Alexandrova simply had no answer to.
The World No.1 even managed to hit a rare backhand slice winner that crept low over the net and bounced deep into Alexandrova's back court.
In the end it was a relatively comfortable victory for Barty, who powered past the 29th seed 6-4 in the second set, with viewers left to marvel at her mastery of the backhand slice.
Barty's backhand slice has some real leg spin on day five in a dustbowl turn about it. #AusOpen
— Bert Handsome (@_BertHandsome) February 13, 2021
— Chris Stevens (@TheLadfromAus) February 13, 2021
Ash Barty 🤝 My mum
Whips up a devilish slice
— Chicken Treat Fan Club (@GrouseGrant) February 13, 2021
Wow, that slice winner 🔥
— Praveen C (@whatupbiyaatch) February 13, 2021
Barty is so good! Her slice backhand is insane
— Duyilemi Awolalu (@Sheduyi_A) February 13, 2021
— Jamie Scott (@JCScott4) February 13, 2021
Does Ash Barty have the best slice in women's tennis since Steffi Graf? #AusOpen
— Neil McMahon (@NeilMcMahon) February 13, 2021
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