Australia beat Spain, set sights on Hopman Cup final
Australia are one victory away from finishing on top of group A and claiming a place in the Hopman Cup final after a thrilling 2-1 victory against Spain in Perth.
The host pairing of Ashleigh Barty and Matt Ebden remain unbeaten after coming from one set down to beat David Ferrer and Garbine Muguruza 3-4 (3-5), 4-3, 4-3 (5-3) in a tight mixed doubles rubber on Wednesday.
To reach Saturday's final though, Australia need to beat the tournament favourites Germany – world No.4 Alexander Zverev and world No.2 Angelique Kerber – on Friday night.
Ebden will face Zverev for the first time.
The ledger stands at 2-2 between Barty and Kerber though, with the Australian claiming wins in two of their past three outings, including a straight-sets victory the last time they met, in China late last year.
So, although Kerber is unbeaten in six singles matches in two years at the Hopman Cup, she is wary of the improving Barty.
Its always tough and good to play against her, Kerber said.
We played so many tough matches in the past. And here at home, she loves to play here.
Shes a tricky opponent because she can play everything. Shes a really good mover, but also shes hitting the balls good, flat. Having a good serve. Shes going to the net. She can play everything, and that makes her very good.
Barty got Australia off to a strong start against Spain with an impressive 6-3, 6-4 victory over two-time grand slam champion Muguruza.
But Ebden was outplayed by 36-year-old former world No.3, Ferrer.
Ferrer jumped on Ebden's 42 unforced errors to claim the match 7-6 (7-1), 7-5 and level the tie.
Neither Ebden nor Ferrer settled in to the opening set and after six breaks of serve they battled out a tiebreaker that the Spaniard dominated to win 7-1.
Ebden recovered to lead 4-2 in the second set but several missed volleys on crucial points cost him.
Despite some decent form to start the year, Ferrer said he had no intention of going back on his decision to retire during this year.
"I am 100 per cent I will finish my career in Madrid," he said.
"I am not playing bad. The problem is that I can't play more than two matches.
"My fitness is not the same; I have great pain. It's for that my ranking is not there."
Expectations are building around Barty after her strong start to the summer.
The world No.15 did not drop one service game against Muguruza and produced 15 winners and six aces to claim the first set.
The 22-year-old was very happy with her service game.
"Garbine returns extraordinarily well and I knew I would have to look after my service games," she said.
"I didn't really give myself a chance in a lot of her service games, but when I did, I made it count."
Barty also beat France's Alize Cornet in straight sets earlier in the tournament.
But she knows she will need to lift her game even further if she is to get past Kerber.
She is one of the best competitors in the world; its another level again, she said.
I will have to serve well again. And its a little different against a left-hander with a serve coming in.
Well just focus on my end of the court; try to be aggressive when I can; try to move forward when I can and try to control the tempo.
Kerber has also beaten both Cornet and Muguruza in the past week, but dropped a set to each.
Ebden has had a mixed tournament, beating Lucas Pouille of France, but losing in straight sets to Spanish veteran David Ferrer. Zverev beat both players, but like Kerber, also dropped a set in each victory.
Both Germany and Australia are chasing their third Cup titles. The host's last win was in 2016 when represented by Nick Kyrgios and Daria Gavrilova. Boris Becker and Anke Huber last claimed the championships for the Germans in 1995.
Saturday's final will most likely feature Switzerland's defending champion pairing of Roger Federer and Belinda Bencic, who remain unbeaten in group B.