Brave Barty opens 2022 season in style

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  • Ashleigh Barty
    Australian tennis player
  • Cori Gauff
    Cori Gauff
    US tennis player

Feeling the love, Ash Barty has credited her fervent home support for willing her out of a deep hole in the world No.1's much-hyped season-opener at the Adelaide International.

Barty showcased every bit of her unflinching fighting spirit in battling back from a set and a service break down to pull off a steely 4-6 7-5 6-1 comeback victory over Coco Gauff on Wednesday night.

Without a match since the US Open in September, Barty took a while to shake off the rust as 17-year-old Gauff played very much like the young woman in a hurry that the American prodigy is.

After nabbing the opening set with two breaks of Barty's serve, Gauff forged to a 4-2 lead in the second and appeared set to add another big scalp to her growing list as the top-seed's alarming unforced error rate mounted.

But, in the blink of an eye, Barty burst to life.

Opening her shoulders, the Wimbledon champion and Australian Open title favourite reeled off a stunning run of clean winners to force a deciding set.

With Barty officially boasting the best three-set record in women's tennis last year, the writing was on the wall for Gauff.

Looking resigned to have missed her moment, the world No.22 dropped serve meekly again - then again - as Barty won 11 of the last 13 games to clinch the match in two hours and 12 minutes.

"I felt like I played a pretty good-quality match, considering it was the first match in a few months," Barty said.

"Coco played great; she made me hit a lot of balls tonight and I got better and better as the match wore on so it was nice to come out here and get some court time."

For more than a set and a half, though, the great Australian summer hope looked all at sea.

But the poker-faced star credited the crowd's electric energy for igniting her fightback.

"It's felt like an eternity since I've been playing back at home and, I tell you what, it's so nice to hear so many kids out here and so many Australian accents because you genuinely miss it when you're away," Barty said.

"We had a big stint away from home this year so there's absolutely no place I'd rather be here right now than enjoying my time here in Adelaide."

Barty's impressive win came after world No.2 Aryna Sabalenka made a shock early exit earlier on Wednesday day with 7-6 (8-6) 6-1 loss to 100th-ranked Kaja Juvan.

A semi-finalist at Wimbledon and the US Open last year, Sabalenka entered 2022 eyeing a maiden grand slam title and Barty's top ranking.

Instead the Belarusian fell victim to a shocking dose of the serving yips.

Incredibly, Sabalenka racked up 18 double faults alone, including 11 in the second set, and 49 unforced errors in total.

Even Juvan sympathised for Sabalenka rather than bask in the glory of her first top-10 win that catapulted the long shot into the quarter-finals.

"I was feeling a little bit sorry at some points," the Slovenian said.

"Because knew she's not doing the best with the serve and we all know how that feels."

While Sabalenka departed, Barty set up a last-eight clash on Friday with either compatriot Ajla Tomljanovic or the USA's 2020 Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin, who square off on Thursday night.

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