Tennis: Barty shocks Kerber to reach Zhuhai semis

Angelique Kerber (L) of Germany shakes hands with Ashleigh Barty of Australia after their women's singles match at the Zhuhai Elite Trophy tennis tournament in Zhuhai, in south China's Guangdong province on November 2, 2017.
Angelique Kerber (L) of Germany shakes hands with Ashleigh Barty of Australia after their women's singles match at the Zhuhai Elite Trophy tennis tournament in Zhuhai, in south China's Guangdong province on November 2, 2017.PHOTO: AFP

ZHUHAI, China (AFP) - Australia's Ashleigh Barty stunned former world No. 1 Angelique Kerber in straight sets to reach the WTA Elite Trophy semi-finals on Thursday.

Barty, the youngest player at the season-ending tournament at 21, needed just one hour and 11 minutes to down her German opponent 6-3, 6-4 at the Hengqin International Tennis Centre.

It follows an impressive victory over fourth seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova of Russia on Wednesday, also in straight sets.

"I felt like I served great today," Barty told the media after Thursday's match.

"I... put myself in a good position in my service games to then be super-aggressive and nice and clear when returning so I can, you know, have a little bit more of a crack and then see if I can get some of those early breaks in the sets."

Barty got off to an impressive start against eighth seed Kerber, securing a break in the sixth game and then firing an ace to win the set.

The pair exchanged breaks at the beginning of the second set as Kerber fought back, but Barty prevailed, helped by her 11 aces to the German's two.

The pair's sole previous meeting was in Brisbane in January when Kerber, then world No. 1 and the reigning Australian and US Open champion, survived a big scare from the Australian wildcard entry.

"It was a bit of a, bit of a full circle for us, with the start and the end of the season. But, no, I felt like I was in a very different situation this time around," Barty said.

The 2011 junior Wimbledon champion has enjoyed a resurgence since returning to tennis in 2016 after a spell with the Brisbane Heat cricket team.

She began the year ranked outside the top 300 but has since soared to world No. 20 and recently became Australia's top-ranked woman.

She reached her first Premier 5 tournament final in Wuhan in September after crushing French Open winner Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia, but ultimately fell to France's Caroline Garcia.

Later on Thursday, Latvian fifth seed Anastasija Sevastova overpowered Czechoslovakia's Barbora Strycova 6-3, 6-4, also giving her a semi-final berth.

Sevastova, on a career-high ranking of world No. 15, hammered US Open champ Sloane Stephens on Wednesday.

It was the American's third successive defeat since winning at Flushing Meadows.