Ice-cool Ashleigh Barty produced a commanding performance to beat power-hitting Aryna Sabalenka and hand Australia a 2-1 lead in their Fed Cup semi-final against Belarus in Brisbane on Sunday.
The world number nine breezed past a player ranked one place below her 6-2, 6-2 to leave her country in prime position to make their first final since 1993, with either France or Romania awaiting them.
Belarus are bidding to reach the final for the second time in three attempts, after being beaten by the United States in 2017.
The task now falls to either Samantha Stosur to book the team’s place in the decider or fellow Grand Slam champion Victoria Azarenka to take the tie to a fifth rubber doubles match. They play each other next.
“A really clean match today. I stuck to my game plan well and was able to execute under pressure,” said Barty. “Certainly nice to return (serve) so well.”
Barty is in red-hot form after bursting into the top 10 by winning the Miami Open last month and is now on a 13-match Fed Cup winning streak.
Sabalenka had a 2-1 edge in career meetings coming into the tie, but Barty was the more composed, with the Belarussian’s serve letting her down.
The Australian got the crucial break in game five of the first set, when Sabalenka fired down four double faults, including on break point.
Her serving wobbles continued with Barty exploiting the weakness with her all-court play and broke again to pull 5-2 clear when Sabalenka hit a forehand into the net.
She served out to love and took the set on an ace.
A tight second set also went with serve until the fifth game, and in a mirror image of the first Barty again broke when Sabalenka double faulted as the pressure mounted.
She broke again for a 5-2 lead as Sabalenka’s error count mounted, before serving out for the match, again with an ace.