By Tucker Verdi

Miami Gardens, FL — No. 12 seed Ashleigh Barty defeated No. 3 seed Petra Kvitova in the quarterfinals of the 2019 Miami Open presented by Itaú, sealing the win with a dominant third set in the early hours of Wednesday, 7-6(6), 3-6, 6-2. Barty navigated the pressure of being down 1-5 in the first set tiebreak and dropping the second set to get her first win against the two-time Wimbledon champion.

“Petra’s someone I respect most on tour,” Barty said on court after the big win. “She’s an absolute champion. It’s always a real pleasure to play her. I had to try to take her serve away from her as much as possible. I thought we did that really well today. I’m really pleased.”

Ash Barty, as she’s known affectionately, knows what it’s like to play under immense pressure. At age 16, she played in the women’s doubles final of the 2013 Australian Open. Before a packed house there to see the young Aussie sensation — seen as the next great hope for Australian tennis — and her partner, fellow Australian Casey Dellacqua, they faltered. Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci took the crown 6-2, 3-6, 6-2.

It wasn’t long after that Barty took a break from tennis, spending two years playing professional cricket in her home country — despite no formal training in the sport. Tennis came calling again, however, and in 2016 she returned to the sport she loved. A much-needed break reignited the fire within her, and she was ready to face the pressure again.

The pressure doesn’t get any bigger than when she plays on home soil, she admits. And earlier this year, she got the chance to play in two of the biggest matches of her career in Australia: the final of Sydney International and her first Grand Slam quarterfinal at the Australian Open.

The problem? Petra Kvitova was standing in her way both times.

The left-handed Czech gave the crafty Australian fits in both of those matchups, coming back to win in three sets in the first match and dominating from the start to win in straight sets in the second. Kvitova’s success — winning the title in Sydney and reaching the final in Melbourne — came at the expense of Barty, defeated and disappointed in front of her home crowd both times.

Barty isn’t disappointed anymore. Playing fast and loose, and aggressively going after Kvitova’s powerful serve, the 12th-ranked player in the world — who will make her debut in the top 10 on Monday by way of her quarterfinal victory — scored the upset as Tuesday turned into Wednesday, fending off the 2011 WTA Finals champ for the first time in four tries. Barty was asked how it felt to break the top 10 after such a tumultuous tennis journey.

“Bloody good,” she shot out, grinning sheepishly. “I think it’s been a goal of mine. That’s no secret… We have done a lot of hard work over the last, oh, eight, nine, ten months, whatever it is, to try and just get that little bit better and try and tick every box that we can. I feel like it’s made an amazing difference in my tennis, both me as a person and a player.”

Barty will see No. 21 seed Anett Kontaveit in the semifinals — her first at the Miami Open and Premier Mandatory level. She will play the game the way she has always played it, slicing and dicing her shots in a way that aggravate and frustrate her opponent. Another big hitter, like Kvitova, awaits her in Kontaveit.

Tennis, despite the pressure, is what Barty wants to do and does best. Only 22, Barty is wise beyond her years in recognizing her good fortune in getting to play it professionally.

“It’s amazing what happens when you put your hopes and dreams out into the universe and do the work. You know, it’s amazing… It’s a pretty beautiful thing being able to play tennis for a living.”

A reporter attempted to harken back to her days playing cricket, but Barty was quick to shoot it down, saying “Let’s not talk about cricket.”

Let’s talk about tennis then, Ash Barty. You seem to be pretty darn good at it.