Barty levels Fed Cup tie
ASHLEIGH Barty has drawn Australia level with Belarus in their Fed Cup semi-final in Brisbane, producing some top-drawer tennis to beat close friend Victoria Azarenka.
Queensland's world No.9 beat the two-time Australian Open champion and former world No.1 7-6 (7-2) 6-3 to level the tie at 1-1 after Aryna Sabalenko pipped Samantha Stosur in a near three-hour contest, 7-5 5-7 6-3, earlier in the day.
Australian spearhead Barty showed all the traits that have propelled her into the world's top 10 this year to delight a capacity Pat Rafter Arena crowd that Stosur rated better than any home Fed Cup tie in her career.
Barty looms as the key as Australia chase their first Fed Cup title since 1974, while captain Alicia Molik has the option of injecting either Priscilla Hon or Daria Gavrilova in place of Stosur on Sunday.
Barty recovered from 0-40 down at 5-5 to stay on serve and trailed 2-0 in the tie-break before a clever sliced backhand kicked off a run of seven straight points to claim a 59-minute set.
She was able to weather the Azarenka storm with terrific defence and court coverage, and her serve steadied after four consecutive breaks earlier in the set.
The pair traded breaks again early in the second set but Barty found another gear, breaking her current doubles partner to love to go ahead 3-2 and serve her way home to end Azarenka's 13-match Fed Cup winning streak.
Earlier, Stosur played what she described as one of her best matches in Brisbane, only to fall frustratingly short of a surprise defeat of the world No.10.
Her gutsy loss featured 17 breaks of serve, with Sabalenka destructive on two fronts as she mixed brilliant tennis with regular unforced errors.
Every time she looked to seize control, Stosur would find a way back in, with five consecutive breaks of Sabalenka's serve in the second set helping the Australian get back on level terms.
Sabalenka steadied in the third set and a series of brutal forehand winners landed her the crucial break as the rowdy crowd armed with horns and a drum rode every point.
"I hit the ball well, hit it hard ... a couple of moments in that third set she came up with some clutch returns and that's why she's top 10," she said.
The winner in Brisbane will host either France or Romania in November's final.