Ash Barty has been sensationally dumped out of the Australian Open after a moment of gamesmanship completely turned the match.
A tactical medical time-out by Ash Barty’s opponent Karolina Muchova flipped their Australian Open quarterfinal on its head as hopes of a first home winner in 43 years ended in controversy.
The world number one was steam-rolling her way into the semis up 6-1 and a break in the second set when Muchova opted for the devious move that is all too common in tennis.
At 2-1 down in the second set, Muchova asked for her neck and wrist to be examined by a pair of trainers before she exited the court for a medical time-out.
The No. 25 seed emerged from the changerooms nine minutes later, and seemed like a different player when she returned to the court, immediately mustering her first break to put the set back on serve.
Muchova gave an unconvincing answer when asked if she’d taken the time-out to have a pre-existing injury treated.
“I was a bit lost (gestures at head) on the court and my head was spinning so I took a break. It helped me,” Muchova said after the win.
“It was more they just checked my pressure because I was a bit lost. I was spinning. So they cooled me down a bit with ice and it helped me.”
Barty’s unforced error count skyrocketed once her momentum was broken. After winning eight of the first nine games of the match, she promptly lost eight of the next nine to drop the second set 6-3 and fall behind a double break in the third.
BEFORE MEDICAL TIMEOUT
Barty — seven winners, seven unforced errors
Muchova — one winners, 18 unforced errors
AFTER MEDICAL TIMEOUT
Barty — seven winners, 15 unforced errors
Muchova — eight winners, four unforced errors
Former English tennis player Sam Smith said in commentary the medical time-out had “made a big difference”.
“I think a lot has changed in this second set in terms of the medical time-out, slowing the game down,” she said. “All in the fairness of the game, but those little things have definitely made a difference here in this second.”
American commentator Jim Courier said: “I tell you what, if I’m ever having a bad day, I’m calling that WTA trainer to help. Miracle worker.
“It’s incredible. Before the medical time-out, look how dominant Barty was across the board. The short points, mid points, long points, sweeping almost all of them. Afterwards, it’s flipped. Complete flippage.”
American tennis great Pam Shriver was uncomfortable with the turnaround.
“The MTO by Muchova at 1-6 1-2, a break down seemed legit, but it still does not sit well when it pivots a match on a dime,” she tweeted. “Muchova has won 7 of 8 games since leaving the court. Thoughts anyone?”
Under current WTA rules, a player is allowed to take a medical timeout if they are experiencing dizziness.
Barty provided a classy response when she was asked about her opponent’s decision to take a medical timeout.
“It’s completely within the rules for her to take it… that shouldn’t be a massive turning point in the match,” Barty told reporters after the defeat.
“I’m disappointed it did become a turning point.”
New York Times tennis correspondent Christopher Clarey tweeted: “If a sport wants to allow players to take a break because they are a bit lost on the court, let’s just allow them one timeout per match. Stop calling it a medical timeout.”
Herald Sun reporter Jon Ralph posted: “I am going to get really angry at that disgraceful medical timeout which is clearly a rort and an embarrassment to tennis so it distracts me from the fact Ash was very ordinary after the first set. Might never have a better chance to win her home slam.”
Barty got off to a flyer on Rod Laver Arena, making one unforced error in the first five games before clinching the opening set in 24 minutes.
Meanwhile, Muchova made 13 unforced errors and hit just one winner in the first set.
The second set started in similar fashion, with Barty immediately breaking serve before Muchova was examined by the trainers.
The Czech player was unstoppable from that point, charging to the second set before securing a double break in the second set and serving out the match.