Kiki Bertens hits a forehand on the run at the Sydney International.
Kiki Bertens hits a forehand on the run at the Sydney International.Source: AFP

Ashleigh Barty has continued her giantkilling run at the Sydney International with a thrilling three-set semi-final win over big-hitting world No.9 Kiki Bertens.

Barty withstood 15 aces from Bertens and rallied from a set down to beat the Dutchwoman 6-7 (4-7) 6-4 7-5 in a quality two-hour, 18-minute encounter on Friday to advance to her second-successive final in Sydney.

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The Australian No.1 will play Czech fifth seed Petra Kvitova or Serbian qualifier Aliaksandra Sasnovich in Saturday’s final, hoping to complete the perfect lead-up for next week’s Australian Open in Melbourne.

After taking out 2017 French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko in the first round, Barty has toppled world No.1 Simona Halep, the 12th-ranked Elise Mertens and Bertens to send an ominious warning to her Open rivals.

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It was a much improved performance from the Socceroos as they comprehensively beat Palestine 3-0 in the second match of their Asian Cup title defence.

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Jamie Maclaren’s finally found his first goal for the Socceroos – at the 10th time of asking – as young gun Chris Ikonomidis turned in a man of the match display as he replaced the much maligned Robbie Kruse out on the left wing.

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While the victory answered some questions recently levelled at Graham Arnold’s side, it also posed a range of new ones which will no doubt cause some headaches for the manager.

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Another yellow card for Trent Sainsbury has created a big selection call with the centre-back suspended for the final group game against Syria. Meanwhile, the showings of promoted trio Ikonomidis, Jackson Irvine and Rhyan Grant – as well as Maclaren – could also reak havoc at the selection table.

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HERE ARE THE BURNING QUESTIONS FROM THE SOCCEROOS’ 3-0 WIN OVER PALESTINE….

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HOW DO THEY HANDLE THE SAINSBURY SUSPENSION DILEMMA?

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Trent Sainsbury picked up his second yellow card of the tournament, meaning he will be suspended for the Socceroos’ final group match against Syria.

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Graham Arnold may opt to simply replace Sainsbury with Matt Jurman at the back, or shift Mark Milligan to the defence. The latter option would require a reshuffle of the midfield, something the Socceroos coach may be reluctant to do given how commanding a role Milligan played against Palestine. A straight swap with Jurman would seem the more likely scenario but nevertheless its another headache for Arnold.

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IS KRUSE’S TIME AS A SOCCEROOS STARTER UP?

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Purely based on Chris Ikonomidis’ performance against Palestine, it would be hard to bring Robbie Kruse back into the starting lineup. When Robbie Slater was asked on the Fox Sports’ coverage of the match if replacing Kruse with Ikonomidis was the right call, he replied: “You would have to say yes”.

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Ikonomidis put in a man-of-the-match performance and made a telling difference in attack for the Socceroos against Palestine. He looks set to be a key player for Australia, not just in this tournament, but moving forward. Kruse boasts 73 caps for his nation, but with the young gun seemingly set to take up residence on his favoured left wing, the maligned attacker’s days could be numbered.

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SHOULD THEY STICK WITH MACLAREN UP FRONT?

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Andrew Nabbout was all set to start for the Socceroos in their opening match against Jordan, before he pulled up with a groin strain on the eve of the match. Jamie Maclaren was the beneficiary of that and, while he failed to grab the opportunity against Jordan, he did go some way to making up for that against Palestine. He pulled off a clever header to score his first Socceroos goal on his 10th appearance and easily could have added to that.

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But if Nabbout recovers in time for Tuesday night’s match against Syria, Arnold may opt to start him in a bid to rotate his squad. The goal will no doubt be a boost for Maclaren’s confidence, and make it considerably less likely he would be dumped from the No. 9 role.

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LUONGO OR IRVINE?

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Graham Arnold tinkered with his midfield three for his team’s second clash of the Asian Cup. An uninspired display from Massimo Luongo saw him dropped to the bench in favour of Jackson Irvine as the central composition of the Socceroos shifted. It would have been a bitter blow for Luongo, who didn’t see a minute of action during the Socceroos’ World Cup campaign.

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Irvine looked strong in midfield from the get-go, provided a vastly increased aerial threat and looked a creative outlet as he took his opportunity to show his wares. Despite conceding six fouls – largely for the use of his arms in duels – the long-haired 25-year-old was a strong presence and helped to distribute the ball as the Aussies moved forward.

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It leaves Arnold with a big choice to make. Does he stick with Irvine after an impressive outing, or revert back to Luongo who has been trusted as the primary starting option up until this match? The move could prove pivotal for the final group match, as well as any potential knockout clashes against tougher opponents.

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WILL RHYAN GRANT BE THE LONG-TERM RIGHT BACK?

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Josh Risdon’s injury may prove to have been remarkably poorly timed for the Western Sydney Wanderers right back. Having made the position his own with a string of excellent performances at the World Cup, his absence has opened the door for a former favourite of Graham Arnold to snatch up the role.

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Rhyan Grant was called upon at halftime in the opening clash after Risdon suffered an injury, and he added a spark almost immediately with strong endeavour down the flank – and a somehow AFC-approved haircut. With the incumbent Risdon still sidelined for the Palestine match, Grant was handed a starting berth and made the most of his opportunity.

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